Thursday, 10 May 2012

Isn’t business brilliant?

A seminal moment in my life came many, many years ago when reading about the end of the Second World War. It emerged that the giant Krupp metal, engineering and armaments  company who had provided the Nazis with weapons and equipment, and who had made a vast fortune out of the untold misery inflicted on swathes of Europe, were still in business and still massive. Yes, many of their factories had been massively damaged and yes, they had used thousands of slave workers captured from invaded territory and yes, they did pay some ‘reparations’ at the end of the war. It was not long though before the Cold War meant the Krupp organisation were rehabilitated into society very quickly. They had provided the Kaiser’s troops with guns and equipment too so they had form. Similarly Henry Ford sold many trucks to the Nazis - without much backlash.
It was all ‘business’  - the magnificent word which covers so much. 
In our recent history we have experience of a Prime Minister scuppering a legitimate Serious Fraud Office (SFO) Inquiry into the Al Yamamah arms deal. This was an arms deal estimated to be worth £90bn brokered between the Saudis and BAE during the reign of Thatcher and had a cast of reprobates, rogues and scoundrels. Among them Jonathon Aitken with his sword of truth and his shield of decency who went to prison for lying. He used his daughters as a cover story. PM Blair was approached by Prince Bandar Bin Sultan who was alleged to have received bribes approaching £1bn to sweeten the deal. As the SFO gained access to Swiss bank accounts it became clear that the deal was under threat. PM Blair, using his ‘good offices’ put pressure on the SFO to drop the case which they duly did. It was ‘business’ after all.
To bring matters up to date we have the spivs and rogues in the City masquerading as people of probity. They are no more than the gamblers found on race tracks across the globe. What is even worse, with the development of ‘futures’ it is possible to bet on the price of commodities not even grown, sewn or mined yet. A tanker leaving the Gulf can have its cargo bought and sold seven or more times as it heads towards Europe. Lyme Bay off the Dorset coast recently had three or more tankers anchored there waiting for the price of fuel to rise. The net effect of all this is that we end up paying ever increasing amounts for our fuel. Because some little City squit wanted his bonus.
Far, far worse is the effect that such betting (or speculating) has on the third world and the price of staple foods, leaving the worst served ill-equipped to provide for their families. It pressurises countries desperate to pay their debts into the last resort of growing commodities such as coffee and sugar which cannot feed their people.
But it is business.
The vast profits engendered by these trades rarely see the exchequer. 
“Offshore accounts old boy - it’s such good business sense.”

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