Thought for the day: Life is nature's way of delaying death.

Facebook: making sure you never lose touch with people you don't like.

Internal admin is not "industry".

Flying on a wing and a prayer may sometimes be necessary. Taking off on the same is another matter entirely.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Hungry? Eat the rich

Crivvens, verily and foresooth, Fred Goodwin's been stripped of his knighthood. We might as well go home, lads. The revolution’s over and the good guys won. That £14 million pension pot and guaranteed, index-linked £340K a year for life will be scant recompense for his being addressed as Mister by the few people who like him; the rest of us already had a suitable title for him, one in the vernacular idiom, and he's keeping it but he’ll never have to stand in a dole queue with us.

Of course, the very idea that the man should have been accorded any enhanced status by endorsement of the state as proxy of the crown - or vice versa; these things are never clear - given what we now know of his record over the piece, offends most sensibilities, but in a country where traditions of state ceremony are as fiercely protected as they are here, this compulsion must surely be consistent if nothing else. The prime function of the ceremonial state is to define and maintain its structures; evenhandedness is more than just an imperative, it is its very purpose. Surely in a country as fond of pomp as these sceptred isles there should be protocol for such eventualities?

So long as there exists a suitable reciprocal procedure in event of the dishonouring of a title, one which is accorded equal status with the original investiture, I‘m all in favour of the honours system (with some essential modifications and redefinition of what constitutes outstandingly honourable deeds, naturally) Ordinary citizens on minimal incomes who work for£20 cash undeclared can expect to have their benefits stopped and to be vilified in the press and pub. The disabled know better than to venture outside at all, as the presence of a pulse is now considered clear evidence of fraud of the sort the tabloids and their readership salivate over.

An Olympic champion athlete who is later found to have theoretically benefited from a theoretical quantity of stimulant in an asthma inhaler faces a ban, a fine and removal of his medals and titles. Public shame through media odium forces him into acts of public confession and penance. Our society can bestow any amount of public dishonour without recourse to law when we see fit. Our state is supposed to reflect this and its intercession is arguably more civilised than the baying mob's. It is hard to argue that Fred wasn't a worthy candidate for the chop. Any anguish expressed over the precedent set by Fred Goodwin’s defenestration should consider what mercy is shown to the poorest when they get caught “cheating the system.”

I propose any errant knight of the realm be formally admonished and dismissed with the same pomp with which he was enobled. He should arrive at Buckingham Palace, walk backwards towards and stand facing away from the Monarch, who shall then tap him with her sword on each buttock to the words, “Kneel, Mr Goodwin”. An absurdly-titled and bizarrely-costumed palace functionary shall then ceremoniously boot him in the arse and tell him to leave; for added gravitas, I’d suggest he does so in Latin and Norman French.

Comedian and writer, David Mitchell, rose above the tricateurs and the high-pitched shrill of the media and put it succinctly enough when he suggested that he should have been forced to keep his title as a permanent reminder to us all of a lousy system of mutual backslapping and patronage that feeds off an unaccountable tendency towards obsequious deference, which the English particularly - quite inexplicably given the way their supposed betters have treated them for so long - seem very fond of; one as deeply rooted in the United Kingdom’s archaic political settlements as any nominally-accountable institution of state, that sees looking after its own as an overarching imperative. One thing hasn’t changed, that’s for sure. The bankers are still losing our money hand over fist to their friends and are still helping themselves to their “rewards”. The money hasn't disappeared, it has simply gone into hiding.

If this is all the compensation we’re getting for the havoc caused when the markets were left entirely to their own devices, I’d say we’ve been short-changed. Stephen Hester taking a million less than he could have is not going to balance the books, let alone mitigate the appalling precedent set in the unconditional surrender of representative parliamentary democracy to unquestioned market hegemony, which has become so omnipotent and pervasive that, acting as one, supposedly independent banks now have de facto authority to dismiss elected leaders of sovereign nation states and install their own men - bankers - in Greece and Italy. By any measure, they’d already made sure that Britain, Germany and France had leaders who were on-message, austerity-wise. Smaller European countries are now known as economies first and nations second.

Although the Westminster Government acknowledges the role of now publicly owned banks in the financial collapse, its default is to blame its predecessor’s “light touch regulation”.This is a valid point - key, as they say - but it is interesting hearing it coming from a P.M. who “genuinely believes” it would be wrong to “micro-manage”the banks. His capitulation over bankers' pay and bonuses - not to mention his apparent complacency in the banks' continuing losses - suggests he prefers "no touch".

Would we tolerate any other branch of the public sector – for that is what they assuredly are - using self-declared indispensability as a device by which to blackmail their way to preposterous pay settlements? In any job I’ve had, the firm has set the pay terms and left it up to me whether or not I accept them.

Interestingly, employers in the City apparently enjoy an applicant to job ratio of about 100 to 1, so the idea these uniquely talented individuals can just take their supernatural talents“abroad” if they don’t get exactly what they want is possibly worth testing. Plumbers, teachers and engineers have more clout in their chosen job market, perhaps because they have unambiguous social utility - and qualifications, which most in the investment arms famously don’t; their talents lie in their free agency, unencumbered by the baggage of any broad-based education or bothersome moral context.

What both the Coalition and the opposition forget is that it is the State, not Government, who owns the banks. We elect the State. We have not sanctioned million pound bonuses. Indeed, we would like to see some returns coming our direction. This is the traditional expectation of the investor, the protection of whom, above all else, was the prime reason for bailing out the banks. Certain investors, that is.

As with the Great Bail-out, it seems that in the case of financiers’ remuneration, the otherwise immutable laws of the free market have been suspended, having failed to deliver, and the dead hand of State interference is welcomed, rebranded as a "partnership of public/private co-operation" - with open arms and popping champagne corks.

Another line due scrutiny is that only four banks were bailed out and that the others can therefore do what they like. This is, as the jargon has it, bullshit. If the state hadn’t injected£1.3 trillion into the system, the house would have come down. They’d no more have survived than the internal organs whose owner had been decapitated.

This organised kleptomania is justified in terms predicated on market models that make no distinction between healthcare and the rag trade. The central tenets are recited daily by a compliant, self-serving media that mistakes infinite credulity with editorial neutrality and has a few questions of its own to answer.

The financiers would have us believe that national economies and, hence, societies, would fall to pieces without these circus acts conducting thousands of risky transactions of benefit to nobody bar their participants. Modern "Investment Banking" is a contradiction in terms. We see no investment in the things that matter in our lives. In the cuts being enacted it is clear that the raison d'etre of the current plutocracy is to do the diametric opposite; a central plank of free market thinking is that supply should never match demand and this is applied to everything from the supply of smart phones to care for the elderly to employment opportunity. This keeps prices up, wages down and aspirations subdued. It creates a docile, cowed populace who won't argue for fear of losing what they have left. Modern corporate capitalism has mastered the art of social oppression in a way fascism and communism never did.

Those whose money is being gambled - that would be you and me - see only a fraction, if anything, of what is raised by it on the poker tables and bear all losses if the game's a bogey, which it quite clearly is. And we accept this.

More insidious, and indicative of just what sort of personalities we are up against, is the obvious sense of entitlement of the bankers and their assertion that they find themselves in the position they are in entirely through their own efforts and exist in some kind of parallel universe, completely independent from the rest of society.

The vast bulk of wealth in this country and around the world lies in the hands of a fraction of the population. The majority of wealthy have come from generations of wealth; they've had a 90 yard start in the 100 yard race. Thatcher's "trickle-down effect" has become evaporation in the heat of economic meltdown. Wealth is now condensing and being collected by those on the ceiling. Whatever it is, it isn't wealth that is trickling down.

This wealth has been created within a societal framework. How and where else? For the multimillionaire financier to turn around and say, “I did this all myself, why shouldn't I take what I like? Why should I contribute more in tax?” demonstrates just how detached the rich have become from the reality and most popular precepts of social morality.

Advantage begets advantage. It has ever been thus. Who wouldn’t want to hand on their wealth to their children? But it has long been recognised, if never adequately acted upon, that a civilised society needs to have constraints in place to keep the money moving in order for the earned wealth of the many not to become the unearned wealth of a few who have secured themselves in inpenetrable gated estates, all the money safely under their stewardship.

Society can live without a super-rich, but chooses to humour one. If pushed - and the current bean-feast in the City is definitely pushing it in my book - society may just demonstrate that the bankers cannot exist without it and feel constrained to point out that it vastly out-numbers an increasingly detached and parasitic elite.

The coups d’états by central banks and ratings agencies in Greece and Spain means it’s official now; democracy has been usurped by capital as the seat of ultimate power. Essentially, the driving thrust of over two centuries of democratic reform in Europe has been inverted. The power invested in the hands of rampant privateering is no more politically valid than that of the rotten boroughs and pot-boilers of the pre-1832 era. We are now where the Chartists were and heading back to Tolpuddle.

1% of the population now control the movement of all money, a mechanism designed in antiquity and that has served us well, provided people promise to pay the bearer on demand, a deal the majority of us generally comply with. It makes the transfer of goods and services far simpler than marching our goats to Tesco for the weekly shop. This minority holding the rest of us to ransom form a new aristocracy, but with power 18thcentury spivs could only have dreamed of as they got dragged to the scaffold. In the interim, we’ve given up on the ultimate sanction. We can’t take their heads any more but we can, by way of a start, in the words of Dennis Healey, tax them until the pips squeak.