Back to the future

An article in the FT caught my eye this morning (Banker fury over tax witch-hunt). For the first time in weeks I have had the luxury of catching up on the papers and not having to fit it into a never long enough gap between getting up and getting out.

The article highlighted the backlash in the US banking industry to a punitive tax on bonus payments paid to bankers whose employers have received state bail-outs. It seems there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth along with warnings that the best and brightest will leave the industry and we will all go back to the stone age.

I have to admit to being somewhat underwhelmed. There are two issues here, and on both, the direction we seem to be moving in appears more attractive than a year ago.

The first complaint of the bankers is that the brightest minds will be attracted away from the banking industry by other offers. Good. Other industries have suffered from a drain of talent attracted by the prospect of unimaginable wealth. Engineering and science are two areas in particular which would benefit from the best thinkers.

Secondly, after twenty years of the market-driven, profit-orientated, short-term profiteering that has become the foundation of many people’s lives, a return to the stone age sounds like a very attractive idea. Of course the wails of the bankers are hyperbole. We won’t go back to the stone age but perhaps we might go back to a place where values are based on something other than money.

I dream of a future where we do things, not because there is profit or even personal gain to be had, but because those acts are worth doing for their own sake. Our lives should be driven by a value system that is based on something other than money and profit. When we choose a career, be it banking, engineering or science, we should do so because it provides a benefit to others. Profit will never benefit society. It will only ever benefit the owners of whatever is being traded.The most valuable things we have, from the air we breath to friends and love cannot be bought with any amount of money.

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