Monday, November 07, 2011

Their morals and ours

Teaching a fish to ride a bicycle. That’s how even a Daily Telegraph reader describes the pipedream of making the City of London, bankers et al act in some kind of “ethical” way.

And that is a lot more down to earth than Labour leader Ed Miliband, who says that the campaigners at St Paul’s and Finsbury Square reflect “a crisis of concern for millions of people about the biggest issue of our time: the gap between their values and the way our country is run”.

In a patronising and devious way, Miliband implies that the protesters have nothing better to do than camp outside St Paul’s. He opines that the problem is “a system of irresponsible, predatory capitalism based on the short term, rather than productive, responsible behaviour which benefits business and most people in the long term”.

Using the word “values” no fewer than nine times, he calls for “big changes in the way our country works”. But in case anyone is deluded into thinking that Labour has suddenly become hostile to capitalism, he proposes – sharp intake of breath – to “tell the top CEOs that if they are unwilling to justify their rewards – they will not get it”.

So, for the Labour leader, the problem is NOT that there is a huge divide in society between a tiny minority of super rich and the rest of us. The rich have just not worked hard enough to prove that “they are worth it”!

Miliband is simply trying to cash in on the widespread support for the occupations in the City of London and around the world – and to channel it into the safe vehicle of Labour electoral politics. In his dreams!

Along with the CEOs and some bankers, many of whom have admitted they are overpaid, he is worried that things are spinning out of control, ideologically speaking.

The conflicting views amongst those who are supposed to look after morals and values are deepening by the day. On Saturday former St Paul’s Canon Giles Fraser, who resigned over the cathedral’s lack of support for the occupation, said:

"St Paul's Cathedral is built on a deep theological fault line. On the one hand it's set within the boiler room of global capitalism, and on the other it proclaims a theological story that has some pretty fierce things to say about money and wealth.” He was joined by the Archbishop of York of York in denouncing the super rich and unbridled greed.

The history of capitalism in Britain has seen the established church, politicians and the heads of finance and industry working together to keep the lid on discontent and maintain at least a semblance of control over things.

And that is why the church and the City are working might and main to “bridge the differences between the protesters and the City”, as Ken Costa, former chair of Lazards International, puts it.

Costa claims that “the market economy has shifted from its moral foundations with disastrous consequences. I cannot recall when public feeling worldwide has run so high.”

Costa has been asked to work on a “form of ethical capitalism”. He has come up with a far more shocking proposal than Miliband could ever align himself with.

The ex-banker says that “maximising shareholder value” cannot continue to be the sole criteria or object for all companies.

But making profits is the very basis – the bottom line - of capitalism as an economic system. These are the system’s actual “moral foundations”, its heart. A kinder, more caring, not-for-profit ethical capitalism has never existed – and never can.

Yes we need a moral compass and a set of values. But we should reject as hypocritical and compromised those the ruling elites constantly try to impose on us. An alternative set of values and a progressive moral outlook is to be found in the growing numbers of people around the world who seek a democratic future free from corporate power. It really is a case of their morals and ours.

Corinna Lotz

A World to Win secretary

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