By Colonel Smithers
Firstly, thank you, Yves, for the invitation to write a post in aid of Naked Capitalism’s fund raising month. I am delighted to do so, but feel somewhat, to use an equine analogy, of a pack horse in a field of thoroughbreds. Over the years, there have been fantastic posts, so this is exalted company that I now keep.
I imagine that the many financial and other, if not related, services professionals who frequent this blog enjoy the contributions, posts and comments, and share Yves’s objectives and concerns. So I trust if you haven’t done so already, you’ll proceed to the Tip Jar to support our collective exploration of these issues.
To be frank and, extending the horse racing analogy, this blog is competing for the classics. Much, if not most, of the mainstream media and some, but not all, blogs are selling platers, far down the handicap from where Naked Capitalism is rated. This community’s output and breadth of insight and locations puts the media to shame, not just in terms of all important content, but, in comparison with the competition, value for money, too.
I have worked in the financial services for nearly a quarter of a century, my working life. When I began in the mid-1990s, finance was not “big finance” and the behemoth that now dominates, if not perverts, the global economy and society. Finance, along with law, the civil service and what were the UK’s industrial crown jewels, e.g. GEC and ICI, provided security and respect. Neither finance nor the other sectors were perceived as gateways to wealth.
Even after the British scandals of the 1980s, vide Blue Arrow, Guinness and the misselling of personal pensions, and 1990s, vide Maxwell (pere) and Barings (also known as Leeson), finance still had a measure of respectability. Even then, there were still Tories who looked on such misbehaviour with distaste, vide Lonrho. To get on need not mean that one had to become a sociopath, if not worse. There were still partnerships and family firms in the City, although they were endangered species, where High Tory paternalism and “skin in the game”, a phrase that has become common currency as British life and even regulatory talk became Americanised, reigned. Having something in common with the leading lights at the firm, e.g. the turf in my case, often helped bridge some of the differences. It was not that uncommon for messengers and “tea boys”, e.g. David Buik and Brian Winterflood, to join from school and eventually run, if not own, their own firm.
As the millennium approached and the dot com bubble took off, the moral compass was discarded, causing disaster all over the world in the many years ahead. Gordon Gekko became a or even the person to emulate, not just his behaviour, but his vocabulary, hairstyle and sartorial style, too. The process had taken a dozen years from the “Big Bang” City reforms that brought the Square Mile into greater public consciousness. In the mid-1980s, a “barrow boy turned City slicker” explained to the BBC what many, not just in the City, were thinking: “His only aim was to get rich quick, get out of the City and watch the City become a car park”.
Many of us wrestled, and still do, with our consciences. Many of us ended up in the financial services industry, not just in London, as there was little other work available and did not plan to make career in the industry. Few, if any of us, deserve your sympathy. However, as financialisation marches on, what we have to do is increasingly emulated in other sectors, not just the private/for profit sectors, but government, too.
Even in “too big to fail” organisations, whether financial or infrastructure, it’s not difficult to work out who the sociopaths are. Stopping them, whether individually or collectively, is a different matter.
These institutions are broken, demoralised and, despite corporate and enabler propaganda aimed at undermining government and the public sector, often bastions of bureaucracy and inertia. They allow sociopaths to prosper and avoid accountability, but they are quick to punish, including blackballing throughout the sector, employees who are horrified by the lack of a moral compass.
Few people are indispensable. The few who are are quickly bought off.
Legislation, self-regulation and even honour are, to use the late astronomer Patrick Moore’s phrase, “Like using a pea shooter to stop a rhinoceros”.
How and why do firms and their rotten apples get away with it? High pay and blackballing is a disincentive to speak up or out. That applies to employees and those wishing to become employees, e.g. regulators, politicians and journalists.
The firms are also part of networks that allow like-minded persons and enablers to fraternise. This is increasingly on an international scale. The corporate reach into government, policymaking and media has also grown.
Further to my reference to Tory disapproval of corporate misbehaviour, one should compare that with New Labour’s reverence for business and “characters” like Sir Philip Green and Alan Greenspan, especially if one was an apparatchik on the make like Peter Mandelson.
How can we fight back?
In the era of corporate/oligarch owned media, including employing journalists who freelance for corporates when off air without declaring their conflicts of interest, information and insight, fresh and without corporate filtration, is essential, especially from people who share our hopes, dreams and concerns. The output from that coalescence of like-minded souls is Naked Capitalism. The depth of coverage and insight and the global extent of the poster and reader base is second to none. The comments are not without humour, too, a refreshing retort to the many po faced and sour cups of tea who preach austerity for the many and jam today for the one per cent and their enablers.
If you are able to make a contribution and enable us to find solidarity across borders and begin the long fight back, please do so by contributing with comments on and ideas and insights for posts. If you are able to help with the costs of this mammoth undertaking, please do what you can through the Tip Jar. Whether £10 of £1000, your contribution matters.
Let me explain how I came across Naked Capitalism. In the summer of 2008, not long after joining the City’s main and soon to be notorious trade body, I came across a link to a Naked Capitalism article posted by a reader on a Guardian blog. As per recent comments from The Rev Kev and Denise, I was looking for some insight into the Global Financial Crisis simmering that summer, the period between the demise of Bear Stearns and the gates of hell being opened by Lehman. I was reading at the office and hooked.
On most days and at some, if not much, cost to my productivity, the first thing that I do after logging on at work and logging off at home is to read Naked Capitalism. However, it was many years before I commented. I suspect that there are many more readers who do not comment than those who do.
Which leads me to a plea to readers who don’t comment, please do so. All of us have something to say and share. It would also be enlightening to hear from readers based or with origins in areas far removed from the Anglosphere, as well as from the Commonwealth analogues to America’s “flyover.”
Finally, why Colonel Smithers? The film enthusiasts, especially Carolinian, may be aware of the Bank of England official in Goldfinger. Although not a regulator, I deal with regulators a lot and could not think of any other regulator being depicted on screen.
If Naked Capitalism did not exist, it would have to be invented. One can tell that the blog is doing its job, upsetting the people, a definition that now includes corporations in the US, who should be upset.
Therefore, to conclude, a day, if not life, without sparkling Naked Capitalism would be rather flat, definitely not to the taste of Colonel Smithers. So drink up, and don’t forget a tip to your barkeep!
Thank you, Yves. I am very grateful.
Exceptional, Col. You also have my gratitude. Nuggets scattered througout, as usual. Many thanks for your unique contribution.
I always enjoy your perceptive comments, Colonel. As well as your linkage maps of the interconnectedness of persons in the UK financial, business and social worlds. I love finding out that X went to Eton with Lady Y’s brother-in-law, who is now Permanent Secretary to the Chancellor, who, BTW, has a not-so-secret penchant for cross-dressing. And, not being a James Bond fan, I was unaware of the reference. But I had envisioned Colonel Smithers as being a satirical take on the pompous, red-faced and blustering Colonial rulers of Britain’s far-flung empire, now retired to their country homes in Hampshire, where they sit in splendor at their dining tables, reading The Times, and scolding the cowering maid because she neglected to iron it. Thanks for all the great reading!
That was colourful. For those of us that don’t come from the financial sector the festival of OTC markets, Futures, Derivatives, CDOs, CLOs, MBSs, CDSs was some mystic stuff brougth by the financial Olympo, too complex to be understood. Naked Capitalism did the great job of helping us understand what was behind such complexity: greed and little more. We learnt about the multiple layers of financial instruments&services extracting rents here and there. Services that supposedly brougth security and expanded the reach of the financial industry. ‘Financialization’ is a word I learnt here and I’ve never seen in the mainstream media. Reading NC was demanding, difficult, but the prize was worth the effort. I can trace financialization using the search tool back to 2008 in this blog, a post that discussed why the price of commodities at that time had a lot to do with the extensive use of complex financial instruments rather than the result of fundamentals.
Yes Col. S. one of my comments about Germany was answered by a German commenter. I loved it. In that sense, NC is an even more powerful forum. We all learn constantly. Your insight that if ‘NC didn’t exist, someone would have to invent it’ is exactly what Yves did! And the clarity and intuition it to do it would be pretty hard to recreate. We’d have to invent another Yves. About your frustration having to deal with the financialization of the planet, don’t feel too bad. There had to be an intermediate step to a new way of thinking and as insane as it has been it has taught us a few things. The one I’m taking home is that sovereign money is an extremely useful technology. We can do just about anything we need to do with it. And it remains reasonably resilient. And we have proved this even under the cover of Fed speak and congressional nonsense about balancing a budget. Financialization is paving the way to a more enlightened use of money. As soon as we get inequality and the environment made whole again. I’ll drink to that.
Thank you, Colonel Smithers.
I just want to add my deep appreciation for your perceptive and cogent comments as well as this post.
As someone who was raised in the Deep South of the US, where politeness and cordiality are highly important, I am duly impressed that you always thank the commenter to whom you are replying. To me, good manners are a lubricant that eases communication, especially with those who disagree, as long as it isn’t used for obfuscation.
This is one of the strengths of NC; that the commenters are, for the most part, basically polite to each other (with a bit of help from the over-worked moderators).
I don’t think I could get through the day without reading Links to see what’s going on in the world without having to dig through the bull$h!t put out by the MSM.
Many thanks, Colonel.
To echo Susan the other’s comment, are there NC Russian readers, Russophiles or Russophobes to weigh in on Angelo Codevilla’s commentary about Russia? That international reach of the commentariat has been quite enlightening on so many matters.
Thank you for all your contributions here Colonel Smithers. That also goes to all of you commenters and contributors who add to the astounding depth and breadth of this blog. And, of course, a huge hat tip to our hosts!
Thanks indeed Colonel Smithers.
From here in the Cheap Seats, comments from those “in the know” are invaluable. No other method of the acquisition of trustworthy information of the financial and political fields do I encounter. As in the Law, first hand eye witness trumps all other sources. Thus do we groundlings appreciate even more the largess of those more favoured than ourselves.
Secondly, the experience of reading the comments of such as yourself gives one a reassurance that not all those inhabiting the Corridors of Power are debauched and dissolute. You all fill the niche that the older Enlightenment philosophers described as being the home of the “Well Balanced Person.” That last is the overriding sense I get from Naked Capitalism; that there is a movement still promoting the values of the Enlightenment.
Kudos to you all; the Enlightenment Men and Women of Naked Capitalism.
Having wrestled with my conscience, my conscience won and I quit the UK for good in 1990 – probably one of the three best decisions of my life.
I, too, saw the rot starting in the mid-’80s, under Thatcher. With her famous “there’s no such thing as society” statement the barrow-boys turned city-slicker were given carte-blanche to look after number one and to hell with the rest of a society that didn’t exist.
My field was the law, and I saw it being turned from a structure to serve society with uncrossable boundaries, structures for regulating behaviour and the provision of defences and redresses for the weakest in society against the strongest, into a nuisance to be circumvented, an inconvenience to be fought from behind a defensive wall of cash and a crowbar to be used against the weakest parts of ‘interpretation’ and verbal gymnastics to drive a coach-and-horses through legislative intent, with all too great an enthusiasm from within the profession itself.
Down here in the decent and still well-regulated society in New Zealand, where wealth still isn’t much respected, I can watch on with impersonal horror at Brexit – not just because of the damage it will cause to my mother country but because of its underlying story of despair and the loss of hope in society that gives birth to carelessness and lifts up such tawdry figures as Johnson and Farage.
The society I grew up in and which shaped me no longer exists and Yeats’ “Second Coming” now seems to me an all too horrific prophecy.
This post was a treat, Colonel Smithers.
I hope that some time, you will write a short history of changes in The City (culture, technology, ambiance) during your time there.
I’d like to ‘second’ the hope that other, perhaps newer, readers will comment. Although it means that I spend ‘too much’ time at NC some days, my time is always exceptionally well spent learning from others.
Col., Your posts are always a joy to read and so informative, it’s great to read some background here.
Hear hear. Chapeau, Colonel, et merci beaucoup.
And very good luck with the gee gees.
People who are too brute-force poor to be able to give money can still help. By keeping most of their comments hi-valu, they can keep the site attractive to and retentive of new readers who may be recruited to come here. Or come here on their own.
And read the ads. The more readers who read more ads, the more adspace NaCap can sell and the more money it can make from selling adspace. . . .if the adspace buyers know their ads will be read.
Thank you for this piece Colonel. I always take care to read your comments when you post them as they give so much insight into what is going on behind the facade of what we see in the media. Like John Zelnicker, I too have always been impressed with your manners as being something from a more civilized age. As one fictional character put it – “Perliteness don’t cost yer bleedin’ nuthin’.”
Like Eclair, I too imagined that the name came from some Colonel serving on the frontier of the Empire instead of the sophisticated and urbane (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YlkCWzakkVo) Goldfinger character. Well chosen sir. You really should pen your autobiography one day when I think about it.
And you are quite correct in that if Naked Capitalism did not exist that it would have to be invented. If Voltaire were alive today I am sure that not only would he be a reader – and possible contributor – but would also be heading off to the Tip Jar frequently.
Second all above Col. having watched similar experiences across a diverse spectrum of industries and social groups.
Only wish there was a Blackadder series of it ….
Thank you to the commenters and, for the kind invitation, Yves.
Enjoy a pleasant Sunday, everyone.
Your comments are colorful, considerate and so informative! Many thanks for your insights and humor. Which reminds me; off to the tip jar…
Let me third, fourth, whatever these comments. It reminds me that the great glory of the NC commentariat is its multi-disciplinary nature. Every time I dispiritedly flip through the comments on even well-regarded sites, I can mentally divide them into (1) irascible ignorant and (2) irascible slightly less ignorant. By contrast, the NC commentariat is able to approach issues from a whole variety of perspectives and directions, often based on personal experience or specialised knowledge. You, Colonel, make an irreplaceable contribution with your behind-the-scenes information, and I’m sure you encourage others to look for specific ways in which they can contribute in turn.
If you’re reading this, nodding your head, and still haven’t contributed, then DO SO NOW.
Colonel, you are a most clubbable man. & a fine club it is.
Don’t forget the enriched enablers, lawyer and accountants – he numbered them two by two, as they mounted into the Ark they hope will save the industry for the nth time from its own stupidity. Even though every City player should have the motto “the four most dangerous words in finance are ‘this one is different'” embroidered onto their shirt or blouse fronts in large type, and as compulsory screensavers, the past four decades I’ve served mammon suggest the learning curve is flatter than the yield curve.
PS as a long term reader and tip jar contributor, I am also responding to your call for those of us who constitute NC’s devoted readership to speak up a bit….
Thank you, Colonel. Like you, I came to NC in the oughts, just a bit before you, so as to help me explain the crazy events in the financial world.
Well, mainly through the links from Yves and Lambert, but increasingly through the links shared by others, my knowledge of what I thought was going on in the world, not just the finance and economic matters, expanded exponentially.
You came to this place with humility, respect, some insights to share and you were one of those who helped us to exemplify, the courteous commenter.
So, thank you. And thanks also for not giving us any of your tips…
Thank you, Colonel.
A fellow City dweller here.
Yves’ qualifications, knowledge and argumentation are formidable.
I have learnt a stack about politics and commerce (with special callouts to vlade, Clive, PK, redlife, David for their inputs on Brexit and Europe) since making Naked Capitalism my trusted daily source.
Thanks also to the other prominent, witty and regular commentators, and to Lambert, JL-S and the other moderators who keep things civil.
Very pleased to continue supporting this community in a financial manner.
Thank you, Colonel Smithers.
Thank you, Colonel. I too look forward to your insider insight and information.
I do question your narrative of finance losing its moral compass recently. In days of yore, financiers and the City may have upheld a code of conduct in their dealings with each other, such as my word is my bond, while the newer City spivs regard nothing as sacred. But didn’t the comfortably off coupon clippers with shares in slaves and slave plantations demand, and get, compensation when their abominable industry was illegalised? Didn’t the City support the South African apartheid regime with its investments? I stand to be corrected about the details, but the only moral compass I can see points toward their own class interest. Profit and return on investment were always paramount; humanity a distant second, if considered at all.
Good points, especially with regard to the City’s imperial reach. My only response is that the rot / venality was not as pervasive as from the 1980s.
High pay, plus a blacklist, to keep everyone in line?
Colonel, this sounds exactly like the upper echelons of the film business… If not the MSM in general!