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The Hunt For The Guilty

It is fashionable amongst the chattering classes, when times of trouble loom, and crisis casts its cloak of foreboding across a nervous landscape, to identify the guilty, hunt them down, and crucify them. It’s a full contact sport, with everybody participating. We here, on the cusp of an International Financial meltdown of historic proportions, are in our own time scouring the rocks and scrub for the culprits of the mess – the once invisible Wall Street faces of the corporate guilty, splayed out and nailed to wide screen monitors all along the road to Rome. However, Like Spartacus in Armani, just how guilty are the guilty, and of what offence? Are business “ethics” to blame for this one, or are we pinning tails on donkeys who are guilty of nothing more than following the rules?

If there is anger at all, it is because we all face the specter of having less than we did before. Less of everything, less stuff. For a generation there has never been such an occurrence, never an event of similar gravity and magnitude. Less stuff is sending tremors through everything we know, rocking our world in ways we simply can’t seem to comprehend. Born on second base, the Baby Boom generation thought it hit a home run, only to be thrown out rounding third. The culprit is the system they built from the ashes of World War II, and maintained well beyond its useful life. A global Financial Architecture designed specifically to increase wealth and economic hegemony, infused with the ideals of Democracy and Freedom, nailed to the planet through ever increasing global free markets, and run on fiber optic cable that would have defied the imagination of any alive when the design was struck in 1944.

Freedom, as we in the west have come to define the term, means freedom to get stinking rich, predominantly. Similarly, Democracy allows that each and every one of us has an equal say in how stinking rich we can get. From birth – and no more so than America, “The Gold Mountain” – each member of our culture is taught two things (among others of course); that we should work as hard and as smart as we possibly can so that we may fill our scorecards with enough junk that the Jones’s will never catch us, and that we should at every opportunity disavow exactly this should we at any time be captured by events. As a young Ebenezer Scrooge said so well, a century and a half ago; “This is the even-handed dealing of the world….There is nothing on which it is so hard as poverty; and there is nothing it professes to condemn with such severity as the pursuit of wealth.”

Given those specifications, is it any wonder then the Architects and Financial Engineers – who were born in the Suburbs on the same streets as the Nelson’s, Cleaver’s, Bundy’s and Osborne’s – designed, Democratically, a system that takes full advantage of every avarice of human nature, protected under law, so help me God, Amen. For a generation wealth, status, and beauty have defined the American dream. We celebrated excess, and held it’s winners high. We gloried in its wonder and perfection, and shoved it down the throats of Heathens and Idolaters’, burning their villages to the ground in order to save them. We marvelled at their riches, the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, the Young and The Restless, The Bold and The Beautiful.

And that was before the internet.

Bill Gates – American Icon, Boomer, Geek, and 50 Billionaire – was a game changer. He and his “gentle, this won’t hurt a bit” named, International Mega Corporation, Microsoft, brought the internet to every home in America – and every 50 something Financial Wizard with an office. In an effort to re-live the carefree, all expense paid days of their youth, the Boomer Financiers plugged in, turned on, and tuned out, leaving the computers to do the rest. Imaginary wealth piled up like a virus, the Boomers adding zeros to their scorecards for the glory all Mankind. The earth shook beneath their feet as the “Masters of the Universe” spanned the globe for conquest, the booty floating back in houses, Hummers, and credit for the loved ones left behind. The only “Ethic” they embraced as they built the only world we know, was the one we all embraced together, that is, until right now.

Far from a “lack” of business ethics, it is precisely because of those same ethics that we are in the mess we are. The incessant need for more, better, faster, cheaper –  hard wired into the soul of our culture – and the singular Ethic of Gain, is to blame if there is any blame at all. Not the Hero’s – now myths – with whom we tasked with building the game. If Ethics are to blame at all, they are the Ethics we share, the cross to bear.

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