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Declan Lynch: Little guys pay, but never get the goods


LAST week a Mr Greg Smith wrote an article in the New York Times explaining why he was resigning as a Goldman Sachs executive director.

Having worked there for 12 years, he has come to regard the culture of the firm as more "toxic and destructive" than it has ever been -- apparently little has been done to improve the environment even after that other famous article by Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone magazine which so beautifully described Goldman as "a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnels into anything that smells like money".

Then again there is an assumption in these critiques, that if the financial services industry continues to indulge in its delinquent practices, it will be bad for everyone, including the perpetrators themselves -- essentially, they will destroy the world.

But they have already done that, have they not? Or at least, they have destroyed a world, the one in which everyone else used to live.

You will note that their own world has not been destroyed in the process, and if anything, they are doing better than ever. They have somehow arranged it that it is actually impossible for them to go down, to lose money, even when they lose, as such.

In some countries, such as Ireland, it may even be illegal for them to lose.

A man like Roman Abramovich, a subordinated bondholder in Irish Nationwide, might well regard this not as a violation of some old-fashioned and sentimental idea of capitalism, but as capitalism perfected.

And if only he could make it happen in football too, with his Chelsea getting back all the Premier League points they lost under Andre Villas-Boas and through bad management in general, truly Abramovich would be a happy man.

In this new and perfect system, we no longer pretend that capitalism involves an element of risk and reward. By explicitly taking out the risk element,

at least everyone knows where they stand.

There was always this great notion that a man became rich because he had some wonderful idea that turned out to be commercially successful. He had thought of a cure for cancer, or failing that, he had invented a special type of bracket that was needed in every oven in the world.

And no doubt a few fortunes were made in that way, without losing sight of the many fortunes which were made by having the inside track, working the system, knowing that a government minister takes a bung -- these have always been vital ingredients for success in business, along with that corporate bullshit about the genius of the entrepreneur.

Certainly that old idea of risk and reward still stirs the blood. But the new idea of the reward without the risk is far more attractive.

And for the money men, the risk/reward concept has now evolved fully into this brilliant reward/reward culture. Brilliant, that is, for them.

It's not brilliant for us, baby!

In perfecting capitalism according to their own appetites, the money men are also developing a mutant strain which is more akin to a kind of old-style Soviet socialism under, say, Leonid Brezhnev -- again, an Abramovich would understand.

There wasn't much of the old risk/reward knocking around those parts, but under Comrade Brezhnev and all the other comrades, there was always an elite whose members seemed to be living very well in the circumstances, a protected class of people who were rewarded no matter what happened in real life, a bunch of guys who couldn't lose.

Unfortunately, if some people can't lose, there are some people who can't win -- that would be the civilian population which is required to finance this way of life, to pick up all the beaten dockets.

And the only thing we get out of it, really, is a greater understanding of how these guys operate. They don't like that, no more than the Wizard of Oz liked being revealed as a reprehensible chancer, not the omnipotent genius of popular myth.

But it's been happening anyway, with the humblest of men, the fans of football clubs such as Man United and Liverpool being among the first to learn the ways in which the money system had indeed been perfected. Their clubs were bought by "leverage" kings, who would "buy" the club with borrowed money that the club itself would ideally pay back, from its own resources.

The notion that such things were even legal, was entirely new and strange to most of us, but at least now we knew how the sausage was made.

Reward and reward -- you give me loads of money, to buy something I couldn't otherwise afford, and I may or may not give it back.

Reward and reward -- and more reward. And that is the law.

It's great, isn't it?

Sunday Independent