Clive: Naked Capitalism – Your Ammunition in the War for Information

By Clive, an investment technology professional and Japanophile

This is fundraising week for Naked Capitalism. I suspect that many of you, like me, are members of the finance industry who visit the blog, enjoy it and support the editorial aims. So if you want to dispense with the preliminaries and go straight to giving, you can do so here, right now.

Let me continue with the self-disclosure, but it’s perhaps more of a confessional or appeal for absolution. I’ve spent almost 30 years working in the FIRE (Finance, Insurance, Real Estate) sector, my entire adult life. When I first started, it was viewed as a most suitable career choice for middle class not particularly aspirational sorts who wanted security, respectability and a recognisable position in the community. It was never supposed to be a passport to significant wealth or even much more than very modest wealth. It was certainly never supposed to be anything which oppressed or harmed anyone.

By the early 1990’s the rot, which had started to set in during the mid-1980’s, had begun to accelerate. Most regular readers of Naked Capitalism know how the movie ended. If only it was just a work of fiction. For those of you who have suffered financially, emotionally, physically (or all three) through an unlawful foreclosure, fee gouging, predatory lending, junk insurance or scam financial products you will know what the consequences of an industry which threw away its moral compass and any sense of a social contract are.

For those of us on the inside, we don’t deserve any sympathy. But I’d like to offer a glimmer of insight into the conflict that those of us with any sort of conscience wrestle with because it is a conflict which is going to shape our societies over the next generation.

Increasingly, if you want to get and hang on to a middle class job, that job will involve dishonesty or exploitation of others in some way. Industries such as finance have seized and held onto larger and larger proportions of the economy.

The same disproportionate growth can be seen in financialised healthcare and finacialised education. Naked Capitalism has broken story after story of how these businesses have demonstrated a near-endless capacity for scandal, fraud and wrongdoings of every conceivable sort.

If we were to say that it is the “corporations” which are exploiting people, that would be wrong. “corporations” are not people. It is the people – you might be one of them too – who work in the corporations who are exploiting others.

From my experience, some who work in such exploitative enterprises do so willingly, with full knowledge of what they are doing. It is a regrettable human trait. Societies limit such harmful tendencies by placing justified restrictions on individuals and individual acts. It is relatively easy to identify an individual causing harm and deal with them appropriately. It is, unfortunately, much harder to identify and restrict the activities of groups of people when they can hide behind the veneer of innocence provided by a large, successful business.

For those of us who are increasingly appalled by the moral decay exhibited by some of our most powerful private sector operators which, naturally, lack any sort of democratic – public – accountability or oversight, we quickly learn that attempting to effect change from within is usually a futile gesture. Corporate Social Responsibility policies, regulatory compliance, consumer protection legislation and appeals to plain old fashioned decency are largely symbolic, quickly forgotten and ineffectual. They are minor impediments that the corporation has to work a little harder to step around and step over not significant hurdles to block unlawful, illegal or immoral actions. Whistle-blower protections are a quagmire in most jurisdictions and, at best, a gamble for the employee.

And of course, Big Finance and its related partners in crime Big Healthcare, Big Education, Big Energy, Big Agriculture and others do not sit idly by waiting to react to criticism and any attempt to reduce their influence and the cash benefits they obtains from such influence. They want to set societies’ agenda. They want to not only preserve the gains they have made at others’ expense. They want to increase them still further. To give a little context, one Too Big to Fail bank has a PR department employing over 200 people. The budget runs into millions. That is for just one bank. And that doesn’t count paid-for industry lobby groups, consultancies, advertising and think-tanks.

In the face of such seemingly overwhelming disparity of power what can those of us who want to change the balance do? You could quit. But the system would remain – we’re all disposable in the world of the mega corporation. Some might say that you could sell up and go off-grid. But the system would remain – who would you sell to? These and similar reactions are, in my view, an abdication of whatever limited power we possess. We can’t run away and hide. We have to stand and fight. And we have to combine our inevitable small scale individual power into something which, in totality, is greater than the sum of the individual parts.

But how?

If this is indeed a battle, then it is a battle for ideas. The munitions for a battle for ideas is information. Information has the most vulnerable supply line possible. It can be hidden, stolen, distorted, filtered, obscured, changed and covered over. We therefore need a channel which has the same goals as we do and, if not run by us, is run along the lines we need it to be run along. That channel is Naked Capitalism. And that is why you need to support it.

If, like me, you work in finance or the other finacialised industries, we need to share our stories, experiences, outrage and demands – our information. Naked Capitalism is a place to do that.

The fact that you’re reading this here, now, suggests that you’ve lost your innocence about what you’re working to prop up. Reluctantly or unwittingly propping up maybe. But propping up nevertheless. If you have personally benefitted, or continue to benefit, materially from your participation in these businesses you need to recognise, if you haven’t already done so, that you need to make redress to society for the harms which those business have done and are doing.

You can do that by making a contribution such as in the reader comments sections. Or by sending the editor useful details of what might be the basis for a great article. You and I both know though that the sectors we work in are not, comparatively, poorly remunerated. Naked Capitalism needs to cover its operating costs and we can almost certainly afford to help finance that by making a contribution to this fundraiser which you can do through the Tip Jar. Even if you can only give a little, it’s an important statement, and if you can do more, please give more.

We also know that the exploitative businesses we tacitly support by our continuing to work there do not hesitate to spend their ill-gotten gains controlling the flow of information. Which means that we know how valuable information is. Let’s invest in something that will help us challenge what we know, from our own first-hand experience, needs to be challenged.

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  1. Lambert Strether


    Increasingly, if you want to get and hang on to a middle class job, that job will involve dishonesty or exploitation of others in some way. Industries such as finance have seized and held onto larger and larger proportions of the economy.

    I wonder how this will interact with the compliance culture installed in the school systems, and public areas generally, after 9/11.

    Thanks for the post.

  2. Jim

    Bravo Clive.

    Clive stated above “Increasingly, if you want to get and hang on to a middle class job, that job will involved dishonesty and exploitation of others in some way.”

    You have raised an issue which will become a bigger and bigger elephant in the room as our economic/financial/political/cultural crisis accelerates.

    To begin to talk more publicly about such dishonesty/corruption/exploitation in our everyday lives(and our differing degrees of personal responsibility for it) could become a powerful mobilizing force for structural change– because everyone knows the score– but at this point–there are few outlets available to talk about it– without encountering condescending moral judgments.

    1. readerOfTeaLeaves

      Bravo, indeed.
      It will be interesting to re-read this post in 2 years. I think it will stand a test of time.

  3. Stephen Rhodes

    The following is right on the issue of independent writing and editing, but off in Britain, a kind of mirror of America the beautiful.

    . . .Such moments of breakdown in the BBC’s editorial principles are a consequence not of the imposition of a producer’s or presenter’s personal views, but of the dislocation that Corbyn’s election has produced between the new state of party politics and the broadcaster’s entrenched conception of what constitutes impartiality. Because its notion of political balance between left and right is defined by the Labour and Conservative Parties, its spectrum of opinion has narrowed and its fulcrum drifted to the right in concert with New Labour. Corbyn has reopened the gap, but the BBC has not adjusted. So far as it is concerned, with his election the Labour leadership has put itself beyond the pale. Its norm remains a ‘balance’ between the Tories and the Labour right. By defining himself against the establishment, Corbyn becomes an outsider, an insurgent, who can be discussed ‘fairly’ by the BBC only in the way that, say, Radio 5 Live can ‘fairly’ cover England’s opponents at the World Cup, or the way the Today programme talks ‘fairly’ about Syrian refugees. One should be respectful towards them, but they remain irrevocably other. Meanwhile, when the BBC wants to discuss Corbyn, its instinct is to call in Kenneth Clarke and John McTernan.

    London Review of Books, · 22 October 2015

  4. grayslady

    Excellent writing as usual, Clive, but I have to ask: Did you choose this particular title because Americans are dangerously dysfunctional when it comes to guns, and you thought that an allusion to war and ammunition would appeal to the American psyche? Just kidding–but only just…. To the rest of the world we must look like a bunch of out-of-control vigilantes.

  5. Ulysses

    Thanks Clive! Great post!

    Have you read Zia Haider Rahman’s novel, In the Light of What We Know? I was put in mind of the affluent British Pakistani narrator’s heart-wrenching defense– of his decision to push aggressively the marketing of sub-prime mortgage backed securities. At the time, everyone thought it was brilliant and a good thing all around. Now, after the crash, morality rears its ugly head and our poor narrator is forced to confront the social consequences of these decisions. It’s so unfair!! He was a good student of maths at Oxford! If everything he and his friends in finance were doing was so wrong, why were they lionized at the time as brilliant innovators?

    We need to rethink many of our bourgeois assumptions about the “virtues” of “success” in an inherently exploitative system.

    1. Clive

      No, I’d not read that but it does seem to be a good account of the mentality within the industry. And there are definitely two types of bad actors in it. One are the hopelessly dyed-in-the-wool grifters who know they are scamming people and, if they bother to justify it to themselves at all, it is on the basis of “business is business” or that they are somehow imposing a kind of stupidity tax on what they think are their dumb, there to be exploited, customers.

      The other type genuinely (and yes, really, they do believe this, I’ve known enough people closely to tell they are this captured and in the thrall of the cult of The Great Business Leaders who must be great because, after all, they are really rich) think that designing, selling and defending rip-off products or working in hugely extractive sectors like Private Equity is not at best socially useless and at worse criminal conduct. The shocking thing is they don’t think they might be doing anything wrong at all. This latter group are in many ways the most pernicious and dangerous.

  6. Ian

    Quick query, though I have addbock disabled for this site, I also have Ghostery to block trackers. Is the tracking component part of the pay scale and/neither/or a separate flow of income as well?

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Thanks for whitelisting the site. All that stuff comes from our ad service, which is turnkey. We reject certain types of ads, (like the horrible clickbait celebrity ones with pics) but within the parameters we allow, they sell ads, run the insertions, bill the advertisers, collect the dough, and send us the rest after they take their hefty cut. The horrible trackers are apparently required by the advertisers, so I don’t think they are monetized per se but are required, in part as proof that the ads were “served” (our ads are not paid on a click-through basis, but on a “how many people looked at it” or CPM basis). I’ve repeatedly asked “Can’t you get rid of at least SOME of the stuff that goes along with the ads?” and I’ve repeatedly been told that the advertisers demand it. This new push against ads might lead advertisers to get together and agree on protocols, since from what I can tell, we have services that seem to overlap, which means there seems to be some redundancy that could be eliminated.

  7. rusti

    (The links in the last 5 paragraphs all appear to be “http:///”)

    Thanks Clive, I’ve learned an awful lot from you about IT, Japanese politics, and the King’s English.

    1. Clive

      Agh! WordPress woes strike again. I don’t know how our hosts manage to put up with it, it would have sent me to a seaside rest home years ago. If Yves hasn’t already beaten you all over the head enough for you to succumb, the links are in the usual places.

  8. Matthew

    Sometimes you read something that perfectly encapsulates what you’ve been thinking but were unable to fully articulate yourself. This post was that for me. Although going off the grid is an enticing option.

  9. Larry

    Wow! Great post. I have limited funds to support charities and other worthy social needs but Clive makes the case here that even a small contribution to naked capitalism makes a statement to offset the corporate megaphone that drowns out the individual’s voice that tries to expose the fraud and corruption they participate in.

    So I will make that small statement with my first donation to this site

  10. crittermom

    I’m a single woman turning 64 next week & lost everything when I entered HAMP (Hellbent At Making Profits). For the first time since moving from my parents home while still in my teens into my first home, I don’t own a home.

    I remain heartbroken & in shock & (barely) surviving on $800 SS mth while I’m forced to rent a place below substandard in living conditions (500 sq ft & no septic!), but I am so grateful to NC for bringing out the truth & “telling it like it is”, that I just made a small donation.

    I encourage others to do the same. I want my voice heard & this site expresses it well.

    1. Clive

      Thank-you for your comment crittermom — a salutary reminder just when we need one that financial fraud and theft on an industrial, institutional scale is NOT a victimless crime. It makes my blood boil that you were conned out of your home and treated like crap. For what? So a few people can make a buck? This cannot be allowed to be — or become — the sum total of human evolution.

      I was on a conference call a few weeks ago where the TBTF where I work was discussing tentative plans for a new product which was designed expressely to have hidden “gotcha” features and junk fee trapdoors. It was appalling. The industry has learned nothing — not a single bloody thing. I and a few others tackled the Product Manager that this was extremely dubious but all we could fall back on was voluntary codes of conduct and recounts of history of “isn’t this how we previously lost billions?” but I fear that they just backed off and are now in search of some more malleable henchmen in the company.

      Please be assured, for what little it’s worth, and it is of no practical use to you I’m so sorry to say, there are some of us determined to stop these abuses. You kind donation is all the more moving because of the situation you’ve been put in. I’m hoping a big dollop of good karma comes your way.

      1. crittermom

        No. It is not a victimless crime.
        It has changed my views of the world, & even my views of a God.
        My Libra self (scales of justice) cries out at the injustice of it all.

        My very humble home of 20 years was taken from me over 4 yrs ago & I can still count the days on one hand when I haven’t cried. I’d never intended to ever part with it. I loved it (small 1800’s ranch). Irreplaceable.
        My home has been torn down by the new “owners” (clouded title), to build a vacation home & I can’t even afford to live in the same state I’d called home by choice for 37 yrs.
        Credit ruined, a lifetime of investments gone. Heart broken.

        I was making modified pymts for a year on a refinanced loan $140,000 when they foreclosed on me (dual tracking), “sold” it to Freddie Mac for $187,000+ at auction, who then sold it immediately on the open market for a mere $65,000. How could they??!!!
        And in the 5 yrs of that refinanced loan I never received a monthly mtg statement, despite repeated requests.

        I complained to every govt agency I could, as well as my state rep.
        All gave me the same response. “Sorry. You may want to hire a lawyer.”
        It was impossible to get a modification without an attorney & even then it was a struggle.

        Many lawyers would be happy to take your money, but few knew their stuff enough to help you.
        For that you needed a good foreclosure defense attorney, & they cost $200,000.
        HAMP was advertised as being for those struggling due to illness, loss of job or business….hardship!
        Most of us didn’t have that kind of money & it was far more than the $137,000 I owed on my mtg.

        Is it any wonder that the findings in the SIGTARP report released to Congress Aug 30 found that 84% of us were denied modifications?

        The biggest insult to us victims is to see the govt merely impose fines on those responsible, & then have
        a CEO get rewarded with a bonus of $18.5 million because the fine was so low for their illegal activity.

        And I’m no longer sure if I can refrain from punching someone in the nose when they insinuate I “just wanted a free house”.

  11. susan the other

    Thanks for this viewpoint Clive. I’d just like to add that I do not think it is all the FIRE industry’s fault. I’ve almost decided, after dithering for 5 years, that yes, alot of ruthlessness, immorality and fraud went on but it was like a Greek tragedy. There was no way to stop it or change it. Until now. I sense a change now and I think it is because we all come together on the internet to find each other. And Naked is the absolute best place to be. So how do we set in place the rules to prevent the insidious little seeds of tragedy? So far, I’m not too confident mostly because Congress is pushing so many useless ideas. Think Obamacare, etc.

    1. Clive

      I’m glad it’s not just me — I’ve had this same inkling that maybe, just, perhaps, the fightback has begun. But like you, we’re getting more and more thrown at us so I think we’re still in retreat somewhat rather than gaining ground. But yes, not the end, not the beginning of the end, but possibly the end of the beginning. Just call me Rebecca of Sunnybrook farm !

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