What I’ve learnt from talking with City bankers
Recently I’ve had more contact with bankers than I usually do – proper, Square Mile, City bankers. From the things I’ve written on this blog, you’d think we wouldn’t get on. But we did, and we had some really interesting conversations. I want to paraphrase those conversations for you as best I can, and talk about what I learnt from them.
Last Friday night, my partner and I went out with her friend and her new, banker boyfriend. He said he was pro-capitalist, and I felt sure that he thought of me as some sort of revolutionary communist (I’m not, btw). We ended up in an Irish bar, and I mentioned Enric Duran, who set up fake companies, borrowed half a million in about 40 separate loans, and used it to start a cryptocurrency, and gave the rest to various anti-capitalist organisations. Now I’m not advocating bank robbery or breaking the law – I’m a respectable pillar of society. I just did it to wind him up, if I’m absolutely honest.
The conversation went downhill from there, until it got drowned in beer and we went our separate ways. But I liked him, so I sent him an email via his girlfriend. It went like this:
“Following on from our conversation – the problem with capitalism isn’t to do with the free market. I’m in favour of the free market, in case you thought I was a ‘statist’. But the type of capitalism we have now isn’t free – it’s anything but free. Banks get a bailout from everyone else, but small businesses would be allowed go under. Corporations avoid tax offshore, small businesses can’t. Corporations can export their manufacturing to where they can pay virtually nothing, with no health and safety or social security – small businesses can’t. For the first time in history, next year, the top 1% will own as much as the other 99. It’s more unequal now than it was at the height of the British Empire, the Moghul Empire, and even ancient Rome, China and Egypt. And given time, it will be the top 0.1% owning as much as the other 99.9 – and so on, because it’s concentrating all the time. And all that wealth brings power – corporations don’t spend $5 billion dollars on a US presidential election for nothing, and that’s without considering the jobs for the boys, the lobby industry and the financial portfolios of politicians. It’s utterly corrupt.
If by capitalism you mean a truly free market – yes, bring it on, but this type of corporate capitalism, with gambling, interest, debt and imaginary money at its heart, can only concentrate wealth and power at the top of banks and corporations, and as long as that’s the case, that’s where the big decisions will be made. But they’ll be making decisions about things that are potentially so dangerous, that we need better people making them – more intelligent, but more importantly, more honest, kinder (you know the city). Decisions about nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, nuclear weapons, nuclear power, genetic modification – decisions that, if wrong, could wipe us out.
We need to talk about what to do about that. That’s all I’m saying – I’m not a communist or a violent revolutionary or anything like that – I’m just inviting people to talk. Or at least to acknowledge the problem, and maybe support other people if they were trying to come up a solution.”
To which he replied:
“Dave, don’t worry i never thought you were a violent crazy red! And in principle I agree with your email (my italics). This is why the Robin Hood chap does more harm than good. Committing fraud is just bad PR for intelligent conversation and pigeonholes those that want to change a broken system (my italics again) as law breakers, and anarchist – negatively so. It also makes life harder for all those small businesses that deserve equality, as those are the ones the banks tighten on and so suffer. The theft he committed would be a write-off and so just factored into the future costs that small business pay, no corporation will really suffer. As i said the charities he gave to will benefit short term, but at the cost of intelligent debate and small business. I’m not a true capitalist arse….all the time……more of a realistic pragmatist.”
And then there was the encounter with another banker (a City girl this time) at a barbecue last summer. We exchanged pleasantries, and jobs (environmental activist / banker), and this is how the conversation went (more or less – I’m paraphrasing).
She said: ‘hmmm. we’re going to fall out, aren’t we?’
I said: ‘not necessarily’
She: ‘go on then – convince me’
Me: ‘OK – most people are nice, aren’t they?’
Me: ‘but my brother’s motto is: ‘be nice, but remember, some people are c***s’. That’s true as well, isn’t it?’
She: ‘I work in the City. Yes.’
Me: ‘So how do you think those people are likely to get on in this system. Is being ruthless, egotistical and corrupt going to be a handicap?’
She: ‘No – again, you’re forgetting that I work in the City.’
Me: ‘So it’s not a very good system, is it, and we’d do well to start thinking of a new one?’
She: ‘Is that it?’
She: ‘Hmmm. I think I can agree with that.’
So what I learnt from all this is that the idea of systemic change isn’t even unpalatable to city bankers. I think that if a minority of us start the ball rolling towards system change, there wouldn’t be anywhere near as much opposition as you might think – as long as people’s security wasn’t compromised. No-one’s going to support a new system if there’s a chance that their kids might be put in danger. Any kind of change has to be peaceful.
Of course, starting the ball rolling towards systemic change is easier to write than to do – but it’s essential if we want to live in harmony with nature (and therefore survive), or if we want any kind of democracy – and so ideas always emerge. We just have to start talking about them – and that’s what I’m inviting you to do. Let us know your ideas – how can we move on from this damaging, corrupt and violent system? Comment here, or contact us, and you could possibly write a blog article for us.
We can think of people who are being pretty much crushed by this system – and they’re mainly in the corporate plantations and sweatshops of poor countries. They have nothing to lose, and I imagine they’d welcome attempts to introduce a new system – a peaceful revolution, as Russell Brand would say. But City bankers? Who knew? I recently had conversations with guys I grew up with in Dudley – I hadn’t seen them for a long time, and they thought I was ‘pissing into a hurricane’, and that I should focus on younger people – they were too set in their ways to change. That will have to be another blog – but the point is that they agreed about the state of this system, and probably wouldn’t oppose systemic change either. They wouldn’t exactly rush to help, but as long as their security (and beer and football) wasn’t threatened, they wouldn’t oppose it, I don’t think.
So ultimately, what I’m saying is that this could be easier than we think. We haven’t even started talking seriously about it yet. Let’s start.
The views expressed in our blog are those of the author and not necessarily lowimpact.org's
1Keith April 17th, 2015
The most effective and simple way to have an effect against the overall “system” is by refusing to play the game anymore. Its not hard and no one has to start wearing hair shirts or living in yurts……as nice as that may be.
1) BANKING. Start using local credit unions rather than high street banks. Keep the value of your money for the benefit of the local system. Join into a local currency scheme as more of them come along. Watch out for crypto currencies as they become simpler to use.
2) CONSUMERISM. Stop buying “stuff” we dont need. Its really no hardship not to have the latest iPhone etc.
3) GLOBALISATION. Buy locally and engage with local businesses. Grow some of your own food even if its just a window box or patio tub. Involve the kids and from small beginings…..
4) POLITICAL. Vote for local issues and people. History tells us that none of the national parties can really do everthing that they promise so use your vote to influence those that think about bigger picture stuff such as climate change, global warming, renewable energy etc.
The sooner we change the game the better off we will all be, but playing the same game over and over again is getting us nowhere.
2Dave Darby April 17th, 2015
Keith – clearly I agree with your points – individual change is what Lowimpact.org is all about. But think about the most popular newspapers, TV programmes, clothing brands – do you think enough people are going to do this? They are not. This kind of change, great though it is, isn’t enough, not within this damaging system. As well as individual and community change, we have to have conversations about what a new system might look like, and more importantly, how it could be implemented.
3Andrew Rollinson April 20th, 2015
That those bankers sort of agree in principle is no revelation. They epitomise the crux of the matter, which is a relatively simple, and age old issue: they worship the false god of finance, and because of this they ignore their social conscience.
Very few people have the courage to live by their principles and do what is right, and we don’t not need a new Messaih to reveal what is wrong here. Those bankers just sound like tw**ts.
4Dave Darby April 20th, 2015
I think they’ve got into a position where they have a career, a mortgage and a life that are entirely dependent on the current system. Thinking about change would be too much for them – too much of an upheaval and too much to lose. But I think they can be reached with logic, and I suppose my two points were 1. it’s not people, it’s the system, and 2. presented with a better idea, there may not be massive opposition from the kinds of quarters we’d expect it to come from. There are people who would fight to keep a system that is making us extinct, but maybe not as many as we think.