Tuesday 17 June 2014

Are we changing?

As we move forward away from the recession we seemed to have uncovered a world of far reaching smokescreens and mirrors with an in excess of conflicting self-interests. This has magnified a blurred sense of right and wrong justifying poor conduct in an economic system that is fast losing its sense of purpose. Another hot topic this time in the football world that caught my interest is the subject of corruption. This prompted me to ask a friend of mine, a professor in finance in how he would define the meaning of corruption. He came out with a stunning thought provoking definition:

At the expense of the common good, consciously compromising one's principles or timeless ethical standards in pursuit of personal interests

One could almost deduce that based on this meaning, corruption remains ripe and is everywhere. This is seemingly more apparent in politics and in business with many falling victims from perpetrators whilst most are apathetic, in an economic system that many might argue is in free-fall compounded by a minority in business, the media, intermediaries, leaders and politicians at the top causing harm in a human race with such a poor outlook where even our most basic of universal principles such as reciprocity, trust and integrity have vanished in a puff of smoke.

The European Commission argues corruption is costing our economy €120 billion annually yet this is a narrow view related solely to fraud and bribery when in fact the above definition is related to something so much deeper that being our moral interior. €120 billion is just the tip of the iceberg. Our belief, our value system our conscience, our strength of character, our capacity to serve, to teach, to encourage, to lead and contribute to the needs of others has been pulled into the opposite direction by external perhaps inexplicable forces which are really and truly narrowed down to personal or self- interests.

What do I mean by interests? No doubt many large corporations and businesses that work with smokescreens and mirrors have no clear understanding or can distinguish between interests and needs with regard to what they do and their employees. This may have helped lose sight of themselves or their purpose in life. By contrast psychologists from Freud to Maslow clearly differentiate the two describing interests as short term and superficial even transitory whilst needs are basic and far more long lasting. You could say that interests are tangible things like land, jobs or money and they can be compromised or traded. Whereas needs are more intangible and hidden, far more significant such as our identity, security, respect or recognition and are simply not for trading. If we make a fuss over our personal interests rather than real needs and build a mountain out of a mole hill, well then we have simply not matured or evolved as human beings. As a friend of mine poignantly said 'If I want to have a bigger garden, is it the dog in me that will dictate or is it my master?'

Let’s take the stock market for example. This measurement system has simply lost its long term serving benefit that it once had and has instead become tyrannically abused by short sighted wealthy and powerful speculators that are only interested in their short term gain with no higher purpose except one’s own. This is having a devastating perhaps even psychological impact on listed companies which is a true test of their character when making long term decisions. This corrupt out dated and beleaguered system has evidently played havoc in our lives and resulted in a culture of short term insecurity rather than long term fulfillment.

Recently a seasoned US commodity trader with his own business paid a visit to my office and pointed out that the High frequency trading technology used by large Investment banks was impacting smaller traditional traders such as his as it was so fast that the mid prices on the screens became blurred. He could not do his job properly as he was up against superior technology. These machines were sometimes conveniently located as close as possible to the central servers to reduce the time available owned by those who could afford them. Is this how desperate and childish we have become?

A senior Banker mentioned to me in horror that Bonds are now the hottest thing on the market. Corporate bonds that are nicely packaged and passed around and no doubt will be nicely laid into colourful looking funds creating nothing from nothing. Déjàs Vu? A good name for this game could be ‘musical debts’ where you pass the debt by dancing round in circles and cracking over the champagne.  What happens when the music stops?

In an intrinsically corrupt economic system it is very difficult for the weak or for any of us for that matter to rise up and assume responsibility and even the fittest can feel vulnerable. Nevertheless there are always solutions and a chance to show our true colours. We need visionaries for change, visionaries with true character that can lead us away from the devastating impact of the consumer debt culture. Political leaders with the courage that is willing to make sacrifices not for their personal ambition but for the greater and common good.  We need employees in the work place that find the strength to stand up if need be to their bosses when they sense that something is not right. More transparency must be needed in how we make our money. We need people that understand that it is not taxes and regulation or a nanny state that is the answer which instead crowds us out. We need people that care for the needs in our society, the vulnerable, and the ever enlarging widening inequality gap and for our environment. We need people that understand that the race for growth in this economic war carries absolutely no meaning that builds our system on sand and not on rock. We need people that also understand that economic exploitation is cruel to humanity, and that we are not units nor are we a cost not part of a capital group. We need an attitude that wealth creation in its purest form from the cradle to the grave is not an innate right. On this matter, I am surprised neither Forbes nor Fortune has yet to come out with rich lists on who has the most expensive graves!!

In short my hope is that one day we find a way to move away from our debt consumption fuelled economy that has trapped our culture into a new era of real freedom and empowerment unleashing humanities ingenuity. As unique individuals willing to contribute including our footballers, we deserve to be respected for our talent and treated with dignity, deserving of a more fulfilling and creative future where there is a place for each and every one of us.

Dignity is a universal right for all

Tuesday 10 June 2014

Are you European?

As a Northern European, (if there is such a thing) who has lived in various countries in the EU, it was around my time in Brussels I had regularly got caught up in conversations about Europe. I recall a moment having watched Andy Murray win Wimbledon on a screen at a tennis club, the Belgians around me were commentating. ‘Les Anglais sera très fière. C’est très bien pour les Anglais.’ I had to correct them in that Andy Murray was Scottish and not English. This is a common error made by the Europeans, i.e. misinterpreting the English with the entire island. I had to explain that in the UK, we have the Union of three nations (and Northern Ireland), and to help us identify with the Union we are known as British. They knew this of course. They pressed on by asking why the Scots were wanting independence when we have the European Union?  Or worse still, how come the UK is arguing for a referendum in Europe whilst the Scottish might be seeking independence from the UK? I asked them that how was it that Flemish political forces were seeking the break-up of Belgium whilst they too were in Union with Europe. Nothing really made a lot of sense.

Naturally these are big questions which are fundamental as it raises so many other issues. They are fundamental because it has everything to do with our beliefs, values, purpose, history, culture, and tradition. In a word, our identity which is about who we are and why we are here which President Hollande of France once argued we seemed to have lost. There is clearly an air of unease in and around our formidable continent. As this Belgian continued to speak, he blamed everything on our liberal and tolerant attitudes (liberalism) as well as individualism. In other words so many of us seems to have a difference of opinion with differing self-interests succumbing to what we want or desire resulting in far too many pointless laws instead of concentrating on what we actually need. This arguably numbs our identity, core values, conviction and beliefs. In addition by making ourselves hostage to the consumer system, this could result in the perfect storm.

How does one turn the tide of liberalism and individualism in differing representative democracies? Somehow we need a new way forward with a new sense of freedom. The solution that this person and I agreed with was that we were Europeans in that we needed a strong identity in Europe which implies we have to change our attitudes. This requires a need for strong leadership and a very strong representative power structure in Europe one in which has a coherent sense of direction to keep everyone together by respecting each other’s nationhood and traditions. Not have everyone going in every different direction linked to a total misconception of individual freedom. With no higher authority this will have a tendency to result in a breakdown in conduct, general standards as well as a general decline in our services as we are seeing daily everywhere. Moreover we cannot just plodder along by simply having a bit of everything in order to satisfy a bit of everything. At some point hard choices and big decisions would need to be made. Perhaps Europe is now ready for a federal system in what the founding fathers, Monnet, Schumann and even Churchill argued for but this time with a different vision fitting to the times of today. The UK with their hands tied will have no choice but to stay in in order to preserve their very own Union. Or with their potential turn of events would we prefer Scotland in and England out?

Similarly in business, with globalisation, businesses went on the global rampage seeking new markets. Some went ahead of themselves where often personal ambition got the better by exploiting resources from other territories and using employment as their just cause whilst others realised that due to the crisis this may not have been the solution and humbled themselves by re-localising again. Often businesses are in direct conflict to how political forces operate which may explain why they hire so many lobbyists. It also depends where the power is. Is it in those that lead large businesses including our banks or is it in those that govern? Or is there simply a struggle between the two, leading to the two coercing with each other impeding our grasp of our very own destiny adding to our inability to advance forward? The solution in business could be that, once Europe has its power structure right and regained its coherent sense of purpose; business can reflect let alone respect that power structure so they too can get it right.

Reverting to our cultural identity, I don’t know about you but if I was to travel abroad outside of Europe, and I meet a German or a Swede, apart from my limited linguistic skills, I can totally identify with them far more than with the local country I am visiting. I may be referred to as some quintessential Englishman, and yet I am also a European. We just poke fun at each other and our differences but somehow we are of the same stock. As for our economy, the Brits can invent, the Italians can design, the Germans can engineer and so can the French. The Dutch can trade, the Spanish can help renew everything and the Scandinavians can make things useful.  As for the Greeks, they founded Western civilization they can help us rebuild it again. We really can stick together and become a winning force to reckon with if we try and help each other with our core expertise in our advance forward. In all this a common denominator will need to be found to help keep us together and by this it would require something more than just the Euro.  It would be sad if we were to breakup, God only knows what would happen. 

Come on Europe! Let’s get the right people in at the top and show the rest of the world what inner steel we are made of. Yes, Mr. Lakshmir Mittal, that very steel that you have helped us to lose which almost defined us so many years ago.

Only with identity, involvement is functonal