The Academic’s Viewpoint

When badness is institutionalised

The last defence of oligarchic shareholder value capitalism

The Occupy London protest has drawn interesting reactions. It certainly has drawn anti-capitalist sentiment from surprising quarters: the middle class, the elderly, as well as the disadvantaged and the young.  

We are witnessing middle England ready to stamp its feet down (perhaps more accurately - gently tread) and say ‘enough is enough’. The debts of the banks and investment funds are not our debts so why are we paying them off while bonuses continue to the tune of billions?

A most interesting reaction has been from the Church, seemingly deeply split between support for the ‘anti-capitalist’ movement, against a public distaste for disruption and in so doing an exhibition of implicit support for the present social order. The Church finally came down on, ‘… let’s understand these people. I am sure they are champions for good’.

Most fascinating is that so many bankers and fund managers in the privacy of the late evening dinner or the third drink at the local pub are sympathetic towards Occupy London.  Not that they identify with protest but more their recognition that the present financial structures are unsustainable.

The truth is we have caring bankers, but only out of work hours. Regretfully, such temporal care makes little difference.

The reality of Anglo American shareholder value is that greed is institutionalised in remuneration structures, key performance indications, mergers and acquisitions and the transactional fixation of short term deals. The political will to address this concern is zero.

Democratically channelled political will has done nothing. In reaction to the political vacuum, citizens have taken to the streets and are likely to do so more.  We do not have ‘long haired loonies’ upsetting peaceful surroundings or jamming up the pavements and roadways but ordinary folk who can no longer stomach institutionalised injustice.  

Secretly, so many support them, not because of high ground moral sentiment, but because of very real fears such as losing their job or facing enforced pay cuts while working harder.  Not knowing how to pay bills and the deep torment of what will happen to our children is a fear the majority share. Yet publicly politicians like Tony Blair, David Cameron and Nick Clegg support the system and focus on getting ‘it’ working again seemingly oblivious to the pain of the majority.

How can the private fear of knowing that today’s financial structures are unsustainable be reconciled with the public face of "we’re all in this together"?  The answer is, it cannot be!  What, in fact, we are witnessing is the last defence of oligarchic shareholder value capitalism.

So, when badness is institutionalised, what happens to goodness? Good hides and asks for forgiveness, but in private. Meanwhile our social, economic and financial structures become ever more brittle, forcing hardship on an increasing number of our citizens.

And that is all confessionals are worth. Momentarily you feel better while the rest of the world continues to feel just as bad.

Tags: bonuses, debts, leadership, occupy london protest, political vacuum, shareholder value, the city

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About Author

Andrew Kakabadse is professor of international management development at Cranfield School of Management and vice chair, supervisory board of The Academy of Business in Society. His research covers boards, top teams and the governance of governments. He has published 36 books, over 210 articles and 18 monographs.

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