| Money makes the world go morally bankrupt
While I may bemoan the disappearance of the creativity I so value from London’s schools and the consequent impoverishment of our children’s education, in one area creativity thrives – accountancy.
My husband Mark was an accountant from that past when accountants in small companies kept people’s books in order and advised on running businesses with propriety, within the law.
When a 1970s’ corporate ethics revolution occurred, Mark refused to join the shift from accountant as guardian of financial probity to specialist in speculative sleight of hand.
He became unhappy when, instead of accountants helping bankrupts get on their feet again, speculators – accountants rebranded as consultants with an eye to the main chance – started buying up bankrupt firms, asset stripping, acquiring and taking over companies, expanding, globalising.
Global business is responsible to nobody but its shareholders and, as we see, often chooses to defraud even them.
One business acquaintance summed up its initiative: “You think sardines are for eating but they’re not. They’re for buying up and keeping until the price rises”.
In the infamous Enron scandal, creative accounting by the firm Arthur Andersen – once a pillar of moral rectitude – helped dishonest directors steal billions of dollars from their shareholders, employees and the public.
It was so obscene, Andersen had to cease trading. Sadly, the gap left allowed the remaining ‘big four’ international accounting firms further global expansion.
Mark was a poor boy who obtained free articles and made a successful career.
He was one of that group of people I respect as ‘saints and saviours’ who refuse the siren call of corruption to become ‘torturers and tyrants’.
Some years ago, after his death, the business he founded held a party to celebrate 75 successful years.
All those men in suits, only a few women invited! I didn’t know a soul. An utterly surreal experience for me, not just because it was held in the Dali Museum.
The museum is in the basement of County Hall where I had spent so many years serving Londoners as a co-opted and elected member and of which I have so many good memories.
County Hall now represents the worst changes wrought on British society. This magnificent building, constructed over several decades through public contribution for the benefit of all London and beyond, was handed over by Thatcher to developers for the sole profit of shareholders.
It now belongs to a Japanese property firm. At a stroke, a building devoted to public service was transformed into a private speculator’s paradise.
Now it houses hotels, aquarium, high-tech entertainment centre, luxury flats and private offices.
Next to it on the privately owned and controlled South Bank stands the London Eye – a colossal reminder of Thatcher/Blair’s faith in the market and antagonism to planning, all symbolising the destruction of genuine local democracies, epitomising Thatcher’s belief that “There is no such thing as society”.
Instead of helping people by stewarding society’s resources, accountancy/ consultancy manipulates figures to enrich gamblers. It benefits the few at the expense of the many. We only have to listen to Minister of Culture(?), Tessa Jowell, to realise that global gambling is now king.
Like Roman amphitheatres, super-casinos will be the new people’s palaces.
There always were ethical savings societies to benefit the people, mutual insurance and savings societies, co-operatives run by the savers themselves.
Enjoying Britain’s ‘light -touch’ financial regime, most have been taken over, becoming private banking institutions.
The Farepak Christmas savings fund scandal, where prudent, poor people lost £35m of their £41m savings to virulent anti-regulation lobbyist, former CBI head, Sir Clive Thompson, shows how little protection the disadvantaged now have. He lost nothing! Not only were accountants Ernst and Young not vigilant on savers’ behalf, they approved the gambling away of their money.
Relatives and friends treated Mark as mad because he didn’t aspire to be a millionaire, preferring to work only for people who were producing things. Many of Mark’s clients became personal friends and so many of my friends are children of his former clients. Mark remained in old-fashioned accounting because he was not a gambler and we had a very happy retirement in which he worked only with people he liked and respected.
The changes Mark resisted were foreseen by Abraham Lincoln, writing in 1864 of the American Civil War – or was it Iraqistan, America’s and our latest war?
“… this cruel war is nearing its end. It has cost a vast amount in treasure and blood … but I see … a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country.
“As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow… the money power of the country will endeavour to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.
“I feel at this moment more anxiety for the safety of my country than ever before, even in the midst of war. God grant that my suspicions may prove groundless.”