Archive for September, 2007

Inherited wealth

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

I have been wresting with the concept of inherited wealth for a while now and have reached some sort of conclusion.

Before I had children I resented the aristocracy for keeping land and assets within their family; why should an accident of birth enable some spoilt brat to have all the privileges in life whilst a more talented and deserving poor boy be left to struggle as best they can to free themselves from the poverty which binds them? (I simplify of course).

Then I had children and wanted the best for them so I asked myself, if I acquired great wealth in my lifetime through my own efforts is it not right that I get to choose what happens to that wealth?

Then I heard a story about Dave Gilmour, the fabulously wealthy guitarist from the band Pink Floyd. In his will, the only thing he is leaving for his son is a house in London. I’m guessing this house is not Buckingham Palace but a sufficient residence to allow his son to live comfortably. Dave Gilmours argument was that he had seen too many people slide into dereliction simply because they had everything on a plate and had no incentive to motivate themselves. It was precisely because he wanted the best for his son, that he denied him the easy option.

This is similar to the song idea of ‘A boy named Sue’ by Johnny Cash where, he explains in the song, the boy was given a girls name so that he would learn to stand up and fight for himself.

So even after having children I still had difficulty with the concept of inherited wealth and it occurred to me to think back to ten thousand years ago and what might have happened then. A successful hunter could only pass on his knowledge and possibly his tools to his son. That was it; no material property as such, just intellectual property. The boy either used this knowledge to develop into a successful hunter or his tribe suffered hunger and death (if there were no other hunters). If the boy was a quick learner, dedicated and therefore ‘deserving’ he would thrive. But if the boy was a dullard with no hunting talent whatsoever, he couldn’t simply assume the title of a hunter within the tribe because his father had been a successful one. He would have to find a niche in the tribe that allowed him to perform whatever task he was best suited for.

I can see how ownership developed with civilisation (someone had to manage the cultivation of the fields so it was only a matter of time before they felt they ‘owned’ the land) but I can see an alternative system. One where you can be rewarded for being resourceful and innovative in your lifetime but ultimately the wealth ends with your death and all you can pass onto your children is your knowledge, attitude, creativity, etc. from which they can fashion their own success. The accumulated wealth of the deceased would go into a community pool of some sort – I haven’t thought about the practicalities of how this would work yet but you can imagine how the entire economic model would change with this concept.

How would you behave if you knew you couldn’t leave anything material to your children; would you work less hard? would you spend more time with your children educating them? would society become more dynamic, innovative, altruistic?

Universal standards

Friday, September 21st, 2007

When I was attending film school many years ago I used to marvel at the one universal standard I was aware of; 16 mm film. It’s probably the only thing we have to thank the nazi’s for (they didn’t invent it, but they produced a lightweight camera that made news gathering so much easier).

You could take a 16 mm film to practically anywhere in the world and chances are, you would be able to find a 16 mm projector on which to show it. Universal standards are rare.

What about numbers then, surely they are universal – how can they not be?

Well you would think so, after all they need numbers to transfer funds around the world, send people to the moon, plot global positioning points..

But how about this; if I said, what is five plus four and you had to ask ‘is that an American five or a British five?’ you would think it was some kind of joke. And if I said, it’s an American five, which is equivalent to a four in British terms, you’d quite rightly think it was some kind of joke in a surreal comedy sketch.

But that is the case with millions, billions and trillions.

Say a Nigerian general wants to transfer one billion dollars to my bank account, I have to ask him is that an American billion or a British billion?
An American billion is one thousand millions whereas a British billion is one million millions (so always ask for the British billion if being paid).

It’s insane. Even numbers are not a universal standard (odd that). Anybody think of anything that might be?

If it’s such a good thing…

Wednesday, September 19th, 2007

Just had a cold call from a financial/broking outfit that wanted to advise me on some sure fire, red hot share tips.

These guys just don’t get it. No matter how many times I point out the flaw in their sales pitch (if it is such a sure fire winner why aren’t they remortgaging their house so that they can make the money to get out of their crappy jobs making cold calls) they persist in their scripted pitch.

It wasn’t the gold diggers who got rich, it was the shovel sellers.

Show me the money…

Tuesday, September 18th, 2007

Today, I put my money where my blog is; I bought some Northern Rock shares.

Still running..

Monday, September 17th, 2007

On the news today, the queues were still growing outside the doors of Northern Rock. Anyone with a bit of intelligence knows that the Bank of England will not let this bank fail. Yet, the images of people panicking invokes a more primitive response; conscious intelligence is out of the window and animal instinct takes over. I’m reminded of a couple of stories that illustrate this, one true, the other fictional.

The first involves a storm at sea. It was a big one, a hurricane I think, and all the ships in the storm’s path were told of its approach. All the fishing boats made a run for safe harbour, except one which ran into the teeth of the storm. The boat that sailed into the storm knew that it didn’t have enough time to get to a safe harbour before the storm overtook them, so the sensible thing to do was to try and ride it out, facing the waves. The other boats who sailed for safe harbour also knew that they wouldn’t make it before the storm overtook them but the instinct to run was too powerful and so they sailed away from the waves.

Now I am sure the captains of those boats created supports for their decision – maybe the forecast was wrong, maybe the storm will change course, maybe they will just make it etc. but consciously they must have known it was the wrong decision. And it was the wrong decision.

All the boats that sailed away from the storm were sunk, the only boat that survived was the one that sailed into the storm.

The other story involves an old black and white film I saw as a child. In it, a couple of hustlers wanted to increase the odds on a favourite horse. They were going to do this by going to the racetrack and spreading a rumour that another horse in the same race called ‘Doughboy’ which had no chance of winning, was actually a dark horse. They pretended to let slip the secret whilst talking to several gamblers. Within minutes the rumour had taken hold and frantic bets were being placed on the horse. Eventually, the entire betting crowd were screaming ‘Doughboy!’ and placing huge bets on the hapless creature.

Such was the hysteria of the crowd that the two hustlers who started the rumour, were taken up by it and deliriously placed bets on Doughboy instead of the horse that they knew had the best chance of winning.

Needless to say, Doughboy came in last and the horse they should have bet on came in first.

I found this scene hugely funny without really understanding why. I now know the best jokes are funny because they are true.

The point I am making here is that the media are perpetuating the panic by showing long queues outside the bank branches. If they didn’t show these scenes, I’m pretty sure the queues wouldn’t be so long (”Did you see me on the telly mum, I was bringing a bank to its knees?”).

I half expect the news presenter, midway through their presentation, to remember that they have an account at this bank too and that they had better join the queue before all the money dissapears.

The other misleading part of the report is when they state one billion pounds has been withdrawn so far. The fear is, other banks will become involved and they will have to pay out billions as well. What nobody is asking is, where is all this money going – under the mattress, into another bank?

Although Northern Rock is suffering, someone else is going to be flush with money.

A run on the bank

Friday, September 14th, 2007

Wow, an old fashioned run on the bank is in progress right now in the UK. The bank of England has had to be called in to bail out Northern Rock. Investors are queuing up outside the branches to draw their money out.

If I had money in the Northern Rock I would sit back and relax. In fact I might consider opening an account there as it would be the safest place to put my money.

Because the truth is, the Bank of England would rather go to hell and back than let this bank fail. The entire edifice of capitalism rests on this situation. Anyone who has the slightest understanding of high finance knows that all of it is founded on confidence; take that away and you are left with a naked emperor.

If everyone were to go to the bank on Monday morning and ask for their savings back the entire financial system would collapse because the financial institutions don’t have the investors money. They have loaned it out many times over to whoever is prepared to pay the higher interest rate. This is why banking is so profitable; they lend money that they don’t have. The system survives because it lives on a promise, one that they hope will never be called in.

We’re living an illusion and I can see it is only going to take a little knock which no-one will see coming which will bring down the whole capitalist structure.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti capitalist; it’s a system which has a lot going for it, but I’m a realist and I can see the flaws in the system.

Northern Rock won’t fail on its own, but if something else in the world precipitates another financial crisis alongside it… start buying bullion.

A patron of the arts

Thursday, September 13th, 2007

On holiday with bin lookers

Here is the latest commission I have just completed for a patron of mine. It is based on a photograph he took of his daughter many years ago and which always intrigued him because of the two women looking in the bin. He wanted the oil painting as a surprise wedding anniversary present for his wife; I’m glad to know that there are still some romantics about…

How stupid do they think we are?

Tuesday, September 11th, 2007

The Japanese hunt whales for ’scientific research’.

Apparently, they want to measure the size of the whale population. This research costs a lot of money, so they fund it by… killing whales (which they need to do to determine various factors regarding the health of the whales) and selling the whale meat.

The scientists report back to whoever, in the Japanese government. Usually the report goes something like this;

‘Well, we’ve noticed a decline in the whale population as a whole. We’re not too sure why this is happening so we would like to do more research – can we have some money?’

The government usually responds with;

‘Yes, it would be good to find out why the whale population is declining as a whole. We don’t have any money for this but you can fund your research with the whales that you kill (which you need to do, right?). So, thanks for the report and we look forward to next year’s report.’

I can only think the news items I’ve read are having some huge sick joke.

Some things just don’t add up

Sunday, September 9th, 2007

On my jogging route I pass some small dilapidated industrial units opposite the railway tracks and on the edge of a fishing lagoon. At one end of the plot is a screened off area that has razor wire along the top of the high fence. As I jog past, an unseen and lonely barrel chested dog howls at the sound of my footfalls. A perpetual fire, reeking of man made materials, smokes from behind the tarpaulins.

At the other end of the plot is the enclosed car park fenced off with two metre high chicken wire. One of the units appears to do car body repairs. It’s the kind of place you would find underneath some railway arches.

The thing is, the car park always has the most expensive cars you can imagine tucked away in there. I’m talking Bentley Continentals, Aston Martins, Ferraris.

Call me cynical, but either there is a lot of money in car body repair or the owner and his mates have spectacular private means and only work for a hobby.

It’s a bit like when you go into a busy part of town and in the most coveted of convenient disabled drivers parking bays is parked some exotic and ludicrously low sports car which a Chinese gymnast with a hoist would find difficult to enter and exit. In the windscreen is the blue badge of a disabled driver…

Yeah, right.

A box of frogs

Friday, September 7th, 2007

I had a meeting with a fellow trainer today to structure the new SatNav for Leaders course and during the meeting he said every time we got together it was like studying a box of frogs.

I’d never heard this phrase before and I immediately liked this image; although he just said “a box of frogs” it was apparent that the box had to be open. In that way the frogs could unexpectedly ju mp out in random directions (the ‘jump’ word was originally a typo but then I realised how appropriate the space was and so left it in) and surprise the observer. Eventually you could imagine the entire room being populated with escaped frogs looking for a home with the frantic humans chasing after them.

What he meant was that, no matter what we were discussing, I couldn’t help flying off on a tangent with tricky ideas that had a tenuous connection to the subject matter being discussed. His very use of the phrase ‘box of frogs’ had me mentally jumping all over the place; what a great name for a creative consultancy, I was already designing the logo in my head.

The other appealing thing about it was that it was funny. Put it in the context of a boardroom – so many pin stripe suited fat cats around a highly polished table and the young maverick hotshot comes in with his new vision for the company.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I give you… the box of frogs!”

Picturing the ensuing mayhem has an irresistible comic appeal.

And the more I thought about it the better the image became because it goes several steps beyond the cliché’d ‘out of the box’ phrase. ‘Out of the box’ suggests just one idea, whereas a box of frogs suggests scores of ideas coming at you from all angles in unexpected ways which is a more accurate description of the creative process. Not only that, a really successful creative session is almost invariably a lot of fun; again, the image of ecstatic individuals unable to decide which tantalising frog to chase is perfectly apt.

It is no coincidence that I use comedy as the vehicle to demonstrate the creative process.