Nobody could invent this hedge fund game and expect to be taken seriously – but that is what has happened.
Judging from the glee that the media have taken in publicising the anti-G20 protests and raising the art of baiting bankers into a new national sport, I wasn’t surprised to get a call from Radio Essex asking me to comment on why are the rich so unpopular.
Certainly, one of the agendas of the G20 is the official declaration of a new social war being declared on the super-rich – in particular the financial classes.
Why else would President Obama – just 24 hours after unpacking his pyjamas in the White House – bother to tell the world that one of the most important issues on his reform agenda is to review US policy on tax havens?
Not Iraq, Afghanistan, or the bankrupt US economy – but tax havens like Delaware, Monaco, Panama and Singapore.
So why do people want to lynch bankers – all bankers, not just the Fred the Shred types who have wrecked banks and paid themselves pharaonic amounts that are totally disproportionate to their worth or value?
The first reason is simply envy – never before in the history of the world has it been so easy – and I am talking the last ten to fifteen years – for a self-selected club of people to make vast fortunes out of Other People’s Money for doing so very little indeed.
Hedge fund managers pay themselves 2% of whatever funds they have under management – whatever performance they achieve, so if you have $2 billion under management, that means you get $40 million just for doing absolutely nothing.
If the fund makes a profit, you make an extra 20% of the profits. If it loses money you lose nothing. Nobody could invent this game and expect to be taken seriously – but that is what has happened.
It was a similar story in the banking world where bankers made vast commissions for peddling products that nobody understood and nobody wanted and now are largely worthless anyway.
In the old days the super-rich were an almost exotic tribe of eccentric reclusives, like John Paul Getty or Howard Hughes. When you read about them you were more likely to feel sorry for them than be envious of their lonely and miserable lives.
But at least they built huge corporations and companies, often taking a lifetime to do so and the price they paid for the labour or genius was often a life of tragedy, pain and unhappiness.
But something changed around fifteen years ago. We entered the Age of Social Pornography. Suddenly, with the invention of Rich Lists, a new moral media order that suddenly made it acceptable for a newspaper like the Sunday Times to call up the Duke of Devonhire at Chatsworth and say, ‘Just checking in, your grace, we’ve got you down as worth about £550 million – would that be about right?’
With this new acceptance of broadcasting the statistics of personal wealth, a new social arms race broke out in the media – and in the world of glossy magazines – in which it was now okay for people to talk about their ‘net worth’ and how much they had stashed away and what they were ‘worth’.
All very vulgar, of course, but it was the most perfect expression of the new cult of consumerism and the cult of money that has now blown up in our faces.
In the Golden Age of Mayfair’s financial boom years – and I am talking specifically from 2000-2008 – a crazy and morally unhinged remuneration system was invented on Hedge Row that made it possible for young men (very few woman seized their chances) to make more money in a year than their parents made in a lifetime. (In America somebody like Bruce Kovner made nearly $500 million.)
In America, CEOs of seven of the biggest failed financial institutions took home $464 million in pay since 2005 whilst their businesses racked up $107 billion in losses in two years alone. When people look back on the G20 Summit in London, they will say, ‘Goodbye to all that’.