Do many units of power, like elites, powerful individuals, but also states, punch above their weight? This was a question raised at a seminar I gave about ‘defensive power’ last week at the University of Cape Town. Elites, for example, often loudly object changes that may jeopardise their position – louder than their power stemming from control over resources would justify.
Wachtgeld, bonussen, exorbitante salarissen, de discussie daarover valt vaak terug op de individuele kwaliteiten van de ontvanger. De argumenten die de ontvangers gebruiken zijn veelal in de trant van ‘ik heb er hard voor gewerkt’, ‘als je iemand met kwaliteit wil, moet je een marktconforme prijs betalen’, en ga zo maar door. Terwijl critici beargumenteren dat de individuele kwaliteiten niet uitzonderlijker zijn dan die van iemand anders. Enigszins begrijpelijk voelt de wethouder of bankdirecteur zich dan ook aangevallen als critici commentaar leveren op het geld dat zij ontvangen. ‘Maar ik heb er toch hard voor gewerkt?’, is de reactie op het moment dat ze als graaiers worden weggezet.
I am a bit puzzled about the lack of reorganisation and regulation of the financial sector. Or better said, I am a bit puzzled why a seemingly vital element shaping the lack of progress receives so little media coverage. Or is it just my imagination and not really a vital element?
With the euro-rollercoaster going for another ride, Spain’s banking sector on the verge of collapse and the solvency of states decreasing by the day, I wonder whether the lack of foresighted regulation of the banking conglomerates is coming back as a boomerang. Not, in this case, in the face of the taxpayer directly but in the face of the investors.
Like an invisible cloud waiting to develop in a storm, the financial sector’s unsolved problems have been lingering above us since the economy fell to pieces after the 2007/2008 financial crisis. Some saw the cloud developing behind the horizon, and pushed for substantially reforming the financial sector. Others stopped well short of the horizon, and seemed to have been guided only by the financial markets’ immediate reactions. The latter’s stand is, in my opinion, often the result of a thinking deficiency: it’s about trust (in the long run) and not about whether financial markets are in favour of reform or not.
Once more, a wealthy-turned-do-gooder: David Blood, in a previous life CEO of Goldman Sachs Asset Management, is now preaching for a sustainable capitalism. Together with Al Gore he initiated Generation Investment Management, offering an alternative to the financial markets’ tendency for short-term thinking. It might be a case of wisdom comes with age. And I wouldn’t deny Blood any genuine worries about the state of our globe. Besides sustainability is a trendy topic, and Blood won’t lose any credits among his peers to jump on the bandwagon of business larded with environmental and social consciousness – though, I would say, the verdict is still out as to how sustainable their capitalism really is.
The European project in a severe crisis, a dark cloud over the world economy, and yet banks keep on thinking about their own interests mainly. One could say, ‘hey, banks are just in it for their own stake, for making money’. But even then, this puzzles me. Financiers seem intelligent enough to realise that, in the long run, finding a sustainable solution is also the best for their own survival.