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A shake – or a hug


Sometimes I want to give the people who run our government, banks and largest companies a shake.

Yesterday at a meeting of the MDHub in Brighton I listened to a fascinating presentation by Jeremy Beckwith of Kleinwort Benson about the state of our global economy. It was a story of how all governments since the last World War, aided and abetted by the banks and large corporations, have systematically grown our public debt to a point where our economy is in such a state that no one will lend us any money. Where we can’t borrow to spend our way out of our troubles. Where things are going to get a lot worse before they get better.

Other highlights:

  • nearly every country in the world is in dire financial state
  • there are many further backed-up economic problems to come
  • some countries will almost inevitably drop out of the Euro, causing untold disruption
  • 40 million Americans are receiving food stamps
  • if you’re relying on a state pension, you better make alternative plans
  • large private corporations are making record profits – based on population growth and a resulting unskilled global labour price of $2 a day
  • economic policy is out of control: we are entering a twilight zone of currency wars and other unknowns.

Oh, and the good news? Gold is at a record high. If you want to live somewhere with a reasonable economy, well you could move to New Zealand, Australia or Sweden. If they’ll have you.

So why do I want to shake them? These people who run our government, banks and largest companies? Because my first reaction is that they seem to be asleep. Asleep as they wave their children off to their private schools. As they play with their Blackberries and laptops. As they tramp from their cars and trains to their glass sky-scrapers.

Obviously these aren’t theoretical problems, in some economic text book. There are real people out there, millions and millions of them, suffering the indignity of relying on a government for benefit, having to leave home and hearth to chase that $2 a day, suffering the uncertainty of losing their home, their job, their income.

But the strange thing is I also know that many government leaders, and bankers, and the leaders of large corporations are, like all of us, trying to do the right thing. They want the best for themselves and their families, yes. But they also want the best for the rest of us too. Just as I do. Just as you do.

Of course, if asked, they’d also say that we sleep-walked too – the rest of us. And, I agree, it would be failing to acknowledge our share of the responsibility to suggest that we didn’t enjoy the good years. Why didn’t we ask those difficult questions – like how does the economy work, or why are we building up all that debt – when there was still time? Do we have so little self-responsibility we’ll just blame them for our current situation?

And I guess, if I think about it for a moment, that it hurts those government leaders, and bankers, and CEOs too – and especially it hurts them to know that all their brains and money and power and effort didn’t help them make things better.

To know that they failed.

So maybe what I really want to do is give them a hug.

Author: Pete Burden

New ways to organise and lead - for people with 'purpose' #leadership #inquiry #noticing #complexity #communication

4 thoughts on “A shake – or a hug

  1. I love this! I don’t know when it started, but over recent years, every couple of months I come across a different “It’s the end of the world as we know it” story.

    I have always been sceptical of Nostradamus style predictions, but I keep coming across news that there will be a new world order emerge in 2012. If what you say is true Pete, then perhaps the economic meltdown will be the precursor for change. Perhaps it’s inevitable? Perhaps utopia will emerge from the ruins of capitalism?

    I watched a Star Trek movie the other day. Capt. Picard explained to a person from an earlier century; “We have no need for money in our century. We all just work to better ourselves.”

    Fantastic. Can’t wait. Bring it on.

  2. You might want to hug them, Pete – I’d prefer to knee them in the groin.

    I don’t think there’s any great mystery as to what went wrong. First, there’s the age-old temptation to believe that things will always be just as they are right now: i.e. a growing economy, low inflation and low unemployment – hell, let’s spend everything now, because what could possible go wrong? Second, the age-old temptation to believe that there’s such a thing as gain without pain: hey, guys, wouldn’t it be like real neat if millions of minimum wage families owned their own property? – let’s encourage our financial institutions to lend billions of dollars to folks who don’t have a hope of ever repaying it! Third, if you allow people in your economy’s major sector to reward themselves for the quantity of business they conduct, rather than the quality – and then don’t bother keeping an eye on what they’re up to – it’s not going to turn out well.

    Hubris and wishful thinking are hardly new human traits – if you want something to come true, just click your heels three times, make a wish, and, gee whillickers! it will come true – but when your government and your major financial institutions are both fantasizing, you’ll quite quickly run out of money. We desperately need governments not to use businesses as agents of social engineering – government and business need a dialogue, not a marriage. Capitalism, as a system, is the best of a bad bunch (ditto democracy) but it only works if business and government act to balance each other: once they’re in league, we’re sunk.

    I was genuinely depressed by Ed Miliband, in his first speech as Labour leader, claiming to be more optimistic than Cameron. Mindless optimism got us where we are today – grim determination, realism, and accepting that gain always requires pain might just get us out of this current mess. And, after a while, we’ll all forget what we just went through and vote for another bunch of wishful thinkers and find ourselves back at square one. Human nature, I’m afraid – no matter what Jean-Luc Picard has to say on the subject!

  3. The really tragic line in your piece Pete, is that they are “waving their kids off to private school”. Isn’t this just the kind of institution that encourages valuing the extrinsic in our society rather than the intrinsic values? Not only have they mindlessly overspent in the name of “success” or “growth”, but tragically they also found time to breed a whole generation of kids who will be trained in doing exactly the same thing.

  4. Pingback: Enough is enough « Conscious Business

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