How capitalism was tested beyond its limits

2010

The ongoing row over bankers' pay has proved too important to be ignored - and the Obama-Volcker reforms, marking the end of organised greed for now, must attract treatment from every interested party. The most uninterested were the robber barons themselves, claiming to be trapped by circumstance. You see, whatever these guilty folk fixed as a true and fair level of pay, it was de facto true and fair. But no longer.

The aim of the proposed Volcker reforms is to shatter this self-centred fantasy once and for all. It's the same song that still rings out over the issue of executive pay. We 'reward' these people with incomprehensible sums of cash, not because of the good things they do or their successful strategies, but to prevent them exporting their brilliance to other institutions; or, worse still, other countries.

The bankers boast, correctly, of having global businesses, which means that the talents are spread widely. In truth, only a few master the globe, and none truly deserve the masterly millions. However, the bonus payment structure has run deep down inside the many thousands who work, some certainly overpaid and under-skilled, in those towering, glossy office blocks.

The bank offices, it transpires, provide another rich example of colossal percentage takes - the architects have become super-rich on the fees paid out by the customers. The more the latter are persuaded to spend, the more gold floods in to the glorification of both the builder and the tenant. No doubt the ability to employ an ace architect is part of the bank brand. But what if the entire global brand is overpriced?

Meanwhile, manipulation of paper wealth creates the illusion of real assets. Resisting all attacks and riding over all its disasters, the money machine has shown amazing durability, embodied in names that have been associated with economic and political power for centuries - Morgan, Goldman Sachs, Rothschild, Rockefeller, and so on, now joined by hedge funds, private equity firms and many other lesser latter-day giants.

The hordes of lesser leaders have grown at an increasing rate, fed by the success of genuine innovators, the designers and makers of mankind's fabulous ability to supply a newer and better product or service.

As they expand or die, the business pioneers accumulate transferable wealth. As they are not financiers, they must employ others to solve the real problem of taking care of with the money they cannot spend. So the financial idea companies get to work, weaving new baskets for the golden eggs - looking after other people's money and extracting a king's ransom for seeking to make the paper wealth grow.

Capitalism has been tested beyond its limits by completely false, inherently risky assumptions. Globalisation transpired to be a trap and a delusion. What looked like a dead cert for the world economy became a sure nightmare. So the reforms could be the start of a new and true reality; but look out for those robber barons; they may attempt to ride again.

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About The Author

Robert Heller
Robert Heller

Robert Heller, who died aged 80 in August 2012, was Britain's most renowned and best-selling author on business management. Author of more than 50 books, he was the founding editor of Management Today and the Global Future Forum. About his latest title, The Fusion Manager, Sir John Harvey-Jones wrote: "The future lies with the thinking manager, and the thinking manager must read this book".