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This crisis is nothing new

We talk about how the financial market gloom is so bad, and our politicians have now all caught the swine flu too … but it's nothing new.

Life has always overwhelmed us with its speed of change and the turbulence such change causes.

Take this summary from one of my favourite books:

“The pace was so overwhelming that it generated concern over a new disease characterised by neurotic, psychosomatic symptoms and poor health and nerves due to the dislocations wrought by modern civilisation, both socially and economically. In general, overwork, the strain of economic booms and busts, repression of turbulent emotions, and too much freedom of thought contributed to high states of nerves. Finally, the rapidity with which new truths are discovered, accepted and popularised in modern times is a proof and result of the extravagance of our civilisation.”

And the book?

“American nervousness, its causes and consequences” by George Beard.

Published in 1881.

130 years ago and folks were finding the pace of life overwhelming due to booms, busts and technology.

Shift forward sixty years and Polly Toynbee writes in the Guardian that “in the summer of 1944, during the Normandy invasion, surely the nation was proud of its leaders? Not really. Gallup had the effrontery to ask what voters thought of their politicians, and even then only 36% thought them to be acting for the good of the country, while 57% thought they acted only for their own or their party's interest.”

Politician's worked for their own interests and not the country's?  You amaze me.

So then put 2 + 2 together and make five by looking up a chapter of a classic UK TV Comedy, “Yes Minister”.  This is an episode from the first series, which aired in 1980, called “Jobs for the Boys”:

Sir Humphrey (Head of the Civil Service) wants Bernard (the Minister’s Private Secretary) to prevent  Jim Hacker (the Government Minister) from referring to the Solihull-project in a radio interview.

The Solihull-project is a building project financed in a partnership between the government and private sector, except that the private sector partner is on the verge of bankruptcy.

This fact is not known by Jim Hacker and Sir Humphrey desperately tries to persuade the Minister not to refer to the Solihull-project on the air.   However, he won't tell the Minister why.

Since Sir Humphrey cannot provide a good reason why, Jim Hacker assumes that he is just trying to be difficult and decides to bring it into the open by talking very enthusiastically about the Solihull-project with the BBC.

Sir Humphrey discusses the situation over lunch with Sir Desmond Glazebrook, chairman of a large bank who he hopes will take over the Solihull contract and save the government from embarassment.

The Bank is hesitant about this, but Sir Desmond is keen to get appointed to a new government quango (Quasi-Autonomous Non-Governmental Organisation) and this is a gift that the Minister can bestow.

Back at the office Jim Hacker is very dissatisfied with the current quango practice of using it as 'jobs for the boys', and demonstrates this by pointing at the latest proposed appointee: Sir Desmond Glazebrook.

He announces he will definitely not appoint Sir Desmond Glazebrook.

Then Sir Humphrey shows him the file on the bankruptcy threat of the Solihull-project.

Jim Hacker is shocked about this because he has committed himself to the project in a live BBC broadcast, and so begs Sir Humphrey to advise him how to get out of this mess.

Sir Humphrey tells him that the Bank could take over the contract but is hesitant …

It's chairman however is looking for a quango appointment, and that chairman is Sir Desmond Glazebrook.

Aha!  Jim Hacker fully agrees to appoint Sir Desmond.

The reason I mention this is that, from the book of the series, comes this letter from Sir Desmond, the bank chairman, talking about the discussion of which quango Sir Humphrey thought he could join:

“He (Sir Humphrey) went through the most extraordinary routines. He mentioned the Advisory Committee of Dental Establishments and asked if I knew anything about teeth.

“I pointed out that I was a banker.

“As I knew nothing about teeth, he then ruled out the Milk Marketing Board. Can’t quite see the connection myself.

“He offered the Dumping at Sea Presentations Panel, asking if I lived near the sea. I asked if Knightsbridge was near enough, but apparently not. So it seems I’m out of the running for the Clyde River Purification Board too.

“Then, with every bit of the meal, Humphrey had a new idea.

“Rump steak suggested to him the Meat Marketing board; but I don’t know a damn thing about meat. The fact that I eat it is not quite a close enough connection.

“I’d ordered Dover Sole so it reminded Humphrey of the White Fish Authority and, as the veg arrived, he suggested the Potato Marketing Board, the Governors of the National Vegetable Research Association, the National Biological Standards Board or the Arable Crops and Forage Board.

“With the wine he suggested the Food and Drink Training Board and, when we saw a Steak Diane being flambéed at the next table, he offered the Fire Services Examination Board, the British Safety Council and the St John’s Ambulance.

“But it was rather humiliating because after all this he asked me rather querulously: if I knew nothing about any of these quangos, what did I know about?

“I was forced to explain that there was nothing I knew about particularly – after all, I’m a banker. It’s not required.

“Then he asked me if there were any minority groups that I could represent.

“I suggested bankers, as we are definitely in a minority, but he didn’t seem to think that was the answer.”

Nothing like nostalgia is there?

And at least we can be truthful about our banks being quango's now, can't we?

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About Chris M Skinner

Chris M Skinner

Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, the Finanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal’s Financial News. To learn more click here…

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