Yves here. This post, on how “the munitions for a battle for ideas is information,” and the resulting role that Naked Capitalism plays in this battle, ran in 2015. I think you’ll agree it is still relevant today….particularly to those of you working in finance.
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.
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.