25 October 2011

The "Corporate Greed" Protests

I have many sympathies with the protests about corporate greed going on in New York ("Occupy Wall Street") and in London, Rome and elsewhere. The fact is the world is suffering a great deal at the hands of financial mismanagement, and it appears that little has changed to bring any culprits to book, nor to prevent something similar happening again.

Unlike other protests against policy, it is not possible to finger the Government for the most significant stake in causing the problems (though many would say that regulation targeted at what matters was missing). So protesters cannot target the Government and ultimately elect another one that promises to do better, and they are left aiming at big corporates while disrupting normal life.

But what does "big corporates" mean? Apart from the chief executive of a big corporate like a bank - who takes responsibility just by virtue of being the chief executive - who else could be called "responsible"? Any employee, even senior ones, will not feel that they are responsible for corporate greed. They were and still are just doing the job they are paid for. The trouble is, corporate greed is the result of the attitudes of us all.

So I have a confession - I am responsible for corporate greed... just as the protesters are. While I am sure that there are dodgy practices in corporate Britain which are harmful, much of what goes on is only a result of our consumer expectations.

The New York protest was described by the New York Post as "a post-adolescent sleepover complete with face paint and pizza deliveries". While it may not currently be a coherent protest movement which is going to have an immediate impact, I do hope that it represents the beginning of a collective realisation that the direction that society is currently headed in is not a recipe for unmitigated worldwide happiness, even for the rich part of the world in which we live.

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