Friday, September 3, 2010

Babel Tower of Markets

I have often provided in these blogs essays on the market, the financial situation, the soul of corporations and such meaningful mundane matters (my buddy-sifu will appreciate the alliteration). However, in his half philosophical sessions, my buddy takes it to a level that flickers in the fuzzy boundaries of enlightenment and mockery. Inspired thus by this electric mate, I will try to crystallise some of my recent reminisces into these unrestrained pages.
If I am to view the recent financial collapse in the analytical light, let me offer some statistics. In 2007, Lloyd Blankfein, the Chief Executive Officer of Goldman Sachs got a whopping salary of $73.7 million. Richard S. Fuld at Lehman Brothers earned $71.9 million. Compare this to the average American salary of $34,000 per annum paid the same year. These earnings were nothing compared to the gross earnings of Angelo Mozilo of Countrywide Financials who earned $102.8 million. And all these high and mighty figures pale to insignificance when we find that the new prophet of modern economy, a guy named George Soros, lapped up $2.9 billion. And meanwhile, nearly a billion people worldwide struggled to get by on a dollar a day.
The lopsided economy is set in perspective when one pauses to consider that the net revenues of Goldman Sachs during that year was over $46 billion, exceeding the GDP of more than a hundred countries, some of whom, like Slovenia, are now in the EU. Isn’t a financial situation this unbalanced, bound to topple?
In the illustrious footsteps of my new friend, I have also thought of a parallel, which – because of my protestant background – does reach religious realms, if not the philosophical peaks of the Gita.
The Bible tells us the story of the Tower of Babel. When humans, for personal glory, reached for the skies, to build a massive tower which would traverse the heavens, God came down and confused them with multiple languages. They could no longer understand each other.
Can we map similar parallels in the human quest for wealth? The speculators and Wall Street CEOs earning massive stacks of lucre, trespassing the natural boundaries of balance and harmony. And this endless pile up of riches has ended with the crash of economy, that has brought in its wake, confusion galore. As masses are struggling to understand the different economic jargon they had blissfully ignored and trusted in the heydays of the boom, the financial language is indeed proving to be a discovered obstacle for many who cannot even make out how interest builds on their credit card loans. And the monolithic financial institutions that had towered over the financial world with their mergers and linked economic models are fast retreating to the old banking ways – back to basics.
When I asked my buddy what he thought of the writing (the part I have provided above) he had his own insights.
“I would have added that the financial systems got complicated as they started being built one on top of the other with mergers and acquisitions. This led to a point where the banks were huge organisations that rolled with financial power without anyone understanding the whole – systems and sub-systems that were – Hebrew to everyone to keep with the Biblical theme. This is when people stopped understanding each other. Everything became chaotic and in walked the Indians, celebrated survivors of chaos and masters of the vocation of being middle men.”
New angles of looking at the Indian story indeed.

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Simon van der Wiel is a fictitious character who appears in the novel The Best Seller by Arunabha Sengupta.

These lines are both collected from the novel and extrapolated from it - additional musings of the author through his alter ego

About Simon

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Amsterdam, Netherlands