I once berated The Economist for its vapid political coverage complaining, If I wanted a magazine to airbrush the cracks I would buy Grazia. So when I found myself sitting beside a BP executive on a long haul flight, inane banter was never an option. Lowering my book (Stupid White Men by Michael Moore) I asked what he believed in. Without pausing he said "The free market" with an implied "doh".
After vigorously disputing the myth that there's anything free about the market, I asked whether he experienced ethical tensions between his role as father (information I gleaned earlier) and executive, such as explaining the BP Texas explosion in 2005. Although he said he was devastated about the loss of 15 lives, he was adamant that fatherhood had no place in the boardroom. "They don't pay me s**t loads of money to be a father". "No, they pay you s**t loads of money not to be".
The Banking Commission recognised the role of avaricious bonuses, impunity and men in the global banking catastrophe. Its recommendations, published yesterday, are essential but I doubt George Osborne has the back bone to implement them. He has steadfastly resisted any caps on bankers' bonuses and his tough talk on tax avoidance and havens is risible. Osborne will be remembered as the chancellor who robbed from the poor to give to the rich.
In his book, Joel Bakan compares corporations to psychopaths, for whom people are purely a means to making profit. They employ sophisticated control mechanisms, such as excessive pay, to indoctrinate employees into compliance. In order to achieve their goal, conscience and wombs must be left at the door. History is littered with examples of how corporations put profits before people, with calamitous consequences.
Four years after my encounter with the BP executive, the company hit the headlines for unleashing yet more human and environmental carnage at Deepwater Horizon. The cause? Same as the last time, "Management failure which put costs before people's safety". So why weren't lessons learned? Because corporate psychopathy (the delinquent offspring of unregulated capitalism), and political incompetence, has no conscience, feels no remorse and refuses to abide by the same rules as mere mortals.
Obscene pay is vital, not because it attracts the best talent, as David Cameron claims, but because it attracts gluttonous, self serving risk takers. The kind of talent Cameron fears losing when the EU bonus cap is implemented. Take Bob (the gem) Diamond, the man who [allegedly] turned Barclays into a casino, put gamblers anonymous in charge (metaphorically speaking) and gave them taxpayers' money to play with. Recognising the long hours, often involving obligatory forays into lap dancing joints, the resultant expenses (Bollinger doesn't come cheap), and the huge risks associated with gambling [other people's] money, said talent is awarded bonuses that could buy several knighthoods and a racehorse (called Fat Cat in The Hat, for example).
At the height of the recession Diamond famously said "The time for remorse is over". His apparent aversion to remorse was arguably his undoing. While his talent was being escorted out the back door, another star was entering the building. The recent appointment of Hector Sants, the ex CEO of the Financial Services Authority, who has been described as, "being asleep at the wheel at the time of the regulator's most titanic failings", to head of compliance, proves that failure (depending on gender) need not down grade your talent rating.
The Banking Commission also recognized that excluding women from positions of power is harmful to the economy. But this isn't breaking news. In the wake of Enron, The Higgs report found that the old boys club was detrimental to the health of UK plc. Had anyone listened to the warnings then, the global financial crisis could have been averted. There's a profusion of talented women (as opposed to the alpha females) out there with plenty of practice cleaning up after other people's mess. They can't do any worse.
In his book Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work, Dr. Robert Hare highlights the disproportionately higher percentage of people with psychopathic tendencies in positions of power. I'm not suggesting everyone in power (and definitely NOT those mentioned in this article) is a psychopath, but I am perturbed by the proclivity with which we reward dysfunctional behaviours.
Probably half of society's psychopaths are incarcerated (the poor) while the other 1% (the rich) are more likely than people without psychopathic traits, to occupy powerful positions. Both groups are a danger to others (as opposed to themselves), the difference being that one is heavily medicated, the other is the lunatic in charge of the asylum.
George Osborne's persistent failure to tackle the architects of the global financial crisis is morally reprehensible and staggeringly incompetent. Asking bankers to behave ethically is akin to asking Hannibal Lecter's permission to be sectioned. How mad is that?
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