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Samuel Arie

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Ten New Year Resolutions for Capitalism

Posted: 11/01/2012 00:00

The Occupy Wall Street movement arrived at St Paul's on 16 October 2011, so in a week's time the camp will have been going for three full months. Yet the signs are that the protesters will soon be evicted, and infrared cameras have shown that 90% of the tents are already empty much of the time.

So the question we should be asking is not whether the camp will go, but what will happen when it is gone? In other words, what will be different this year, because of this extraordinarily successful protest last year?

Thinking about it this way, it seems that a few New Year Resolutions might be in order. How about the following 10 to get us started:

I will not pay myself a stratospheric salary just because I am the Chief Executive - the CEOs of Britain's largest companies earn 300 times more than their lowest paid employees and last year 25 of the highest paid American CEOs earned more than their companies paid in federal income taxes.

I will pay taxes in proportion to my wealth because the distribution of wealth is even more extreme than the distribution of income - in Britain over half the nation's wealth is owned by the richest 10% of citizens, and in the US a similar share is owned by just the richest 5%.

I will not run a good business into the ground and walk away with millions - not one of the individuals named in Time Magazine's 25 people to blame for the financial crisis has had to join the dole queue, most if not all are still millionaires.

I will not sell a security to my customers while betting with my own money that it will fail - because that's just, well, crazy when you think about it.

I will not collect a bonus based upon a forward looking calculation of the value of some deal I have cleverly concocted, because that calculation is more likely to be bogus than not so.

I will take responsibility for the decisions I have made - and will not rely on securitisation to kick the can on down the road hoping someone else will carry my losses.

I will honour the natural world and look after it for my children, because there is only one natural world to look after; I will not take short cuts (in the Gulf of Mexico or anywhere else) in the name of a short run profit; if I sell something that will end up in landfill, in our rivers, oceans or atmosphere, then I will pay hefty fines and taxes; I will not dump my toxic waste in the Ivory Coast or any other of the world's poorest nations.

I will not donate money to politicians through my company - despite the 2010 Supreme Court Ruling allowing me to do so, which 80% of Americans do not support, and which led John McCain to pronounce that "campaign finance reform is dead."

I will watch my weight - as I promise myself every year - and I will not become too big to fail.

And finally, perhaps most relevant for most of us:

I will not continuously covet more stuff - instead, I will work hard, focus more on the people around me than on things I own, and I will save more for my retirement.

Quite a long list, of course, but perhaps that is the point. The task of turning resolutions like this into real changes in society is not easy, with each idea presenting as it does endless possibilities for disagreement. But there must be little doubt that these are the intuitive issues of most concern to most people, and that the behaviours in question have seemed unimaginably thoughtless, corrupt or insane - even sometimes to the individuals most deeply involved in carrying them on.

So perhaps it is not a bad idea to start the year with a few strong but self-imposed rules that unambiguously set out the path to a higher standard.

We should thank the protest campers for pushing our society in this direction.