Fat Cats: An invitation to dialogue
- Kamran Mofid
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N.B. This is an attempt to have a heart-to-heart dialogue and conversation with those known as the Fat Cats. It is written using simplicity as a desired model to communicate, based on a common sense approach, reflecting ultimately on whom we are, what we are; simple human beings, made of blood, flesh and a heart beating for the common good.
Furthermore, I must say at the outset, that I am not against wealth creation, or indeed, against the wealth creators. However…
“As an economist with a wide range of experience, I do appreciate the significance of economics, politics, trade, banking, insurance and commerce, and of globalisation. I understand the importance of wealth creation. But wealth must be created for the right reasons. I want to have a dialogue with the business community. I want to listen to them and be listened to. Today’s business leaders are in a unique position to influence what happens in society for years to come. With this power comes monumental responsibility. They can choose to ignore this responsibility, and thereby exacerbate problems such as economic inequality, environmental degradation and social injustice, but this will compromise their ability to do business in the long run. The world of good business needs a peaceful and just world in which to operate and prosper.
However, in order to arrive at this peaceful and prosperous destination, we need to change the house of neo-classical economics, to make a fit home for the common good. After all, many of the issues that people struggle over, or their governments put forward, have ultimately economics at their core. As I mentioned before, the creation of a stable society in today’s global world is largely ignored in favour of economic considerations of minimising costs and maximising profits, while other equally important values are put aside and ignored.” A Businessman and an Economist in Dialogue for the Common Good: Dubai 2004
“No, Fat Cats. Nobody in the world is here for ever. We have come to this world, and one day, sooner or later, we must go back. On return to our permanent home, your creator, deciding where to send you, pradise or hell, will ask you three questions:
Why did you make money? How did you make money? And what did you do with that money?
You see, life is not all about making money, it is also about its distribution and sharing it for the common good, to please your creator, to show your gratitude, which in turn will give you happiness, contentment and inner peace.”
Dear Fat Cats,
‘There is no time like the present to look at life from its widest perspective’
“It occurred to me that there were two sets of virtues, the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?"
More on the above a bit later. For now, I very much wonder if you really know who you are, what you are. Therefore, allow me to introduce you to yourself. Let me hold you a mirror. Look at it. What do you see: A humane human being or a Fat Cat?
Anyway, who is a Fat Cat?
The term's coinage, as explained in Wikipedia, for political purposes has been attributed to Frank Kent, a writer for the Baltimore Sun whose essay "Fat Cats and Free Rides" appeared in the American Mercury, a magazine of commentary run by H. L. Mencken. Kent wrote:
‘A Fat Cat is a man of large means and no political experience who having reached middle age, and success in business, and finding no further thrill ... of satisfaction in the mere piling up of more millions, develops a yearning for some sort of public honor and is willing to pay for it. The machine has what it seeks, public honor, and he has the money the machine needs.’
The New York Times has described fat cats as symbols of "a deeply corrupt campaign finance system riddled with loopholes", with Americans seeing them as recipients of the "perks of power", but able to "buy access, influence policy and even veto appointments."
It is also commonly used to describe a rich, greedy person who, due to ownership of large amounts of capital, is able to "live easy" off the work of others. In the UK, it is also used to refer to executives whose pay is deemed by others to be excessive.
This is how Cambridge Dictionary defines you :
‘Someone who has a lot of money, especially someone in charge of a company who has the power to increase their own pay.’
Not very nice, is it, Fat Cats?
You see, I want to help you. As I firmly believe that you do need help. I have never experienced it, but I can imagine it must be hell, sweating 24 hours a day, wondering what to do with all the cash you are awarding to your good selves. All day long scheming your next tax avoidance/evasions plans, offshore portfolios, taking it to Panama, perhaps; purchasing your next yacht, your silver bullet Rolls Royce, your private jet plane, your next mansion in London, or your private island in the Indian Ocean, or a fancy villa at the Palms in Dubai, and shop till you drop.
Now, let us be honest: Are you happy? Are you content? Are you enjoying life as it is?
No, Fat Cats. Nobody in the world is here for ever. We have come to this world, and one day, sooner or later, we must go back. On return to our permanent home, your creator, deciding where to send you, paradise or hell, will ask you three questions:
Why did you make money? How did you make money? And what did you do with that money?
Life is not all about making money, it is also about its distribution and sharing it for the common good, to please your creator, to show your gratitude, which in turn will give you happiness, contentment and inner peace.
You don’t believe what I am trying to tell you? OK. No problem. Let me share with you a bit of the life journies’ of some of the BIGGEST FAT CATS before you. Perhaps, then, you will wisen up! Perhaps then, you will accept my invitation to come with me to a joureny of self-discovery in search of a meaningful and rewarding life for the common good.
In 1923, a very important meeting was held at Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago. Attending this meeting was nine of the world’s most ‘successful’ financiers and businessmen. Those present were: the President of the largest independent steel company; the President of the largest utility company; the President of the largest gas company; the greatest wheat speculator; the President of the New York Stock Exchange; a member of the President’s cabinet; the greatest ‘bear’ in Wall Street; the head of the world’s greatest monopoly; and the President of the Bank of International Settlement. This, we must admit, was a gathering of some of the world’s most successful men – or at least men who had found the secret of making money. Twenty-five years later (1948) let us see what had happened to these men: the President of the largest independent steel company had died, bankrupt, having lived on borrowed money for five years before his death; the President of the largest utility company had died a fugitive from justice, penniless in a foreign land; the President of the largest gas company was insane; the greatest wheat speculator had died abroad – insolvent; the President of the New York Stock Exchange had recently been released from Sing Sing penitentiary; the member of the President’s cabinet had been pardoned from prison so that he could die at home; the greatest ‘bear’ in Wall Street had died
– a suicide; the head of the world’s greatest monopoly had died
– a suicide; the President of the Bank of International Settlement had died – a suicide
All these men learned well the art of making money but none of them learned how to live, commented the original compiler of this list. It seems that the business world (who should know better, given what was described above) has changed not one iota. For them economic growth, the corporate bottom line and the pursuit of self-interest are what matters most. More recent observations also show that the self-interested pursuit of wealth brings only misery. Since 1950 there has been much economic growth and wealth creation in the West, but also a tenfold increase in the incidence of depression and a massive rise in the number of people suffering from sub-clinical neuroses, anxiety and pro- found self-dissatisfaction…”
What a powerful and telling story! A lesson to all those Fat Cats that think what matters most is money and money and loads of it!
- I hear you. You now wish to repent. You want to change. You want to be a wealth creator for the common good. This is wonderful. Let me show you the path.
STEP I- In order to become what you wish to be, you need to change your current mindset and begin to imagine a different world, a different life. You must sincerely begin to believe that our crises can only be addressed, reversed and resolved, and our goals can only be achieved, if we change direction, adopt new values and become concerned with life’s bigger questions. We must reconnect ourselves with nature and with our true human and spiritual values. Moreover, as members of the household of humanity, we must provide security, sanctuary and constructive engagement for all of our human family. Sustained by the bounty of all, called by the Sacred, and animated into action by the Spirit of peace, Justice, and Reverence for All Life, we must be guided by values and take action in the interest of the common good, empowering each other to build a better world, for all of us.
And Now I want us to come together and imagine a better world, a world for the common good, a world of peace with justice:
Imagine a political system that puts the public first. Imagine the economy and markets serving people rather than the other way round. Imagine us placing values of respect, fairness, interdependence, and mutuality at the heart of our economy. Imagine an economy that gives everyone their fair share, at least an appropriate living wage, and no zero-hour contracts. Imagine where jobs are accessible and fulfilling, producing useful things rather than games of speculation and casino capitalism. Imagine where wages support lives rather than an ever expanding divisions and separations between the top 1% and the rest. Imagine a society capable of supporting everyone’s needs, and which says no to greed. Imagine unrestricted access to an excellent education, healthcare, housing and social services. Imagine hunger being eliminated, no more food banks and soup kitchens. Imagine each person having a place he/she can call home. Imagine all senior citizens living a dignified and secure life. Imagine all the youth leading their lives with ever-present hope for a better world. Imagine a planet protected from the threat of climate change now and for the generations to come. Imagine no more wars, but dialogue, conversation and non-violent resolution of conflicts.
This is the world I wish to see and I believe we have the means to build it, if we take action in the interest of the common good. And I very much wish to invite you to be the architect of this new world.
To design and implement this new vision of a better world, we must also begin to seriously think, ponder and reflect together on Life’s Big Questions, questions of meaning, values and purpose:
What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to live a life of meaning and purpose? What does it mean to understand and appreciate the natural world? ...To forge a more just society for the common good? In what ways are we living our highest values? How are we working to embody change we wish to see in the world? What projects, models or initiatives give us the greatest hope?
How can we do well in life by doing good? How can we become agents of change for the common good? How to spark a new public conversation framed around human dignity and the common good? Human beings have explored these many questions of value through religion, philosophy, the creation of art and literature, and more. Indeed, questions of value have inaugurated many disciplines within the humanities and continue to drive them today. Questions about values and valuing are fundamental to being human, but rarely are the subject of explicit public reflection.
STEP II- Now is the Time for a new definition of the “Bottom Line”.
You should acknowledge that the new bottom line must not be all about economic and monetary targets, profit maximisation and cost minimisation, but it should involve spiritual, social and environmental consideration. When practiced under these values, then, the business is real, viable, sustainable, efficient and profitable.
Therefore, the New Bottom Line that you should now believe in must read as follow:
“"Corporations, government policies, our educational, legal and health care practices, every institution, law, social policy and even our private behaviour should be judged 'rational', 'efficient', or 'productive' not only to the extent that they maximize money and power (The Old Bottom Line) but ALSO to the extent that they maximize love and caring, kindness and generosity, ethical and ecological behaviour, and contribute to our capacity to respond with awe, wonder and radical amazement at the grandeur and mystery of the universe and all being."
Thus, as a businessman for the common good, you must acknowledge that economics , business, and the management of our economy should be built upon the following key pillars:
*It should be built on the belief that leadership is based upon a deep understanding of the self and of the core values that drive one’s actions. Thus effective leadership requires the development of a compelling personal vision that engages others by offering meaning, dignity, and purpose. The ultimate aim of leadership is the building of more humane relationships, organizations, and societies. Effective leaders need to develop the critical imagination required to embrace individual, organizational, and global change from a stance of hope and courage.
*It should address the need for collaborative forms of leadership in a shared-power world. There is an increasing need for interdependent and interrelated solutions to the complex ecological, political, cultural, health, and economic problems facing the people of our planet. These solutions must honour the voices of all global citizens and stakeholders from individuals to small groups to global organizations. These solutions will involve various mixtures of government (global, national, and local), private enterprise, NGO’s, as well as labour and environmental organizations.
All in all, in a world of rising uncertainty — no matter where we live — the key question before all of us is this: How can the debate on global issues become more inclusive and better informed? How can people develop a better understanding of what connects — and divides — nations, societies and cultures in today's world?—and finally how best our business leaders should and could contribute towards the realisation of this vision and goals?
STEP III- To let go of the Fat Cat, and become a good wealth creator, needs a different set of values, which are meaningful and purposeful, in harmony with our true human and humane spirit.
To focus our minds, assisting us to see the big picture, I very much wish to offer for your consideration and reflection the values of the GCGI, which we hold very dearly.
I firmly believe that if these or similar values are adopted by all the stakeholders, and then seriously adhered to afterwards, then the attainment of these goals becomes much more possible.
We value caring and kindness
We value passion and positive energy
We value service and volunteerism
We value simplicity and humility
We value trust, openness, and transparency
We value values-led education
We value harmony with nature
We value non-violent conflict resolution
We value interfaith, inter-civilisational and inter-generational dialogue
We value teamwork and collaboration
We value challenge and excellence
We value fun and play
We value curiosity and innovation
We value health and wellbeing
We value a sense of adventure
We value people, communities and cultures
We value friendship, cooperation and responsibility
Now let me share with you a few practical steps, guiding our path towards a world for the common good, that if adopted can lead us to construct the better world I had invited you to imagine at the beginning:
- the right to a meaningful job and a minimum income to all individuals, guaranteed by society and/or government, and a "Special Fair Deal" for youth employment and a vigorous job creation programme with increased public works spending
- a tax on financial transactions
- access by the poor to credit markets
- limits on executive pay and compensation
- taxing capital gains and dividends at the same rate as wages and salaries
- elimination of too big to fail
- massive use of usury free lending to provide basic human needs, and expand the quality of human life in ways that are environmentally friendly
- a resurgence of financial regulations to reduce moral hazard, adverse selection, and to improve the flow of information to consumers
- increased investment in green technology, with a serious global commitment to dramatically reduce carbon emissions, preserve habitat for endangered species, and to price goods and services with environmental costs in mind
- an increase in funds for education at all levels, with education as a right
- the grounding of Business and Economics education in social, moral, and ethical values and principles
- a dramatic reduction in global military budgets
- creation of an International Fund for Peace, recognizing that true peace must spring from the access of all to the means of life and the ability to be fully functioning members of the global community
- the development of new international standards, institutions, and structures, where all countries and all peoples have an equal voice in holding, heads of state, executives of corporations, and policymakers accountable for their actions and policies according to the standards of insuring basic human needs to all, greater equality, and ecological balance; ensuring institutional integrity and full transparency; and the gradual elimination of the right of veto by major countries at the UN.
Conclusion: Co-creating “The Future We Want” in the Interest of the Common Good
The future is indeed fraught with environmental, socio-economic, political, and security risks that could derail the progress towards the building of “The Future We Want”. However, although these serious challenges are confronting us, we can, if we are serious and sincere enough, overcome them by taking risks in the interest of the common good.
One thing is clear: the main problem we face today is not the absence of technical or economic solutions, but rather the presence of moral and spiritual crises. This requires us to build broad global consensus on a vision that places values such as love, generosity and caring for the common good into socio-political and economic practice, suggesting possibilities for healing and transforming our world.
Furthermore, I invite you to share a common belief in the potential of each one of us to become self-directed, empowered, and active in defining this time in the world as opportunity for positive change and healing and for the true formation of a culture of peace by giving thanks, spreading joy, sharing love, seeing miracles, discovering goodness, embracing kindness, practicing patience, teaching tolerance, encouraging laughter, celebrating diversity, showing compassion, turning from hatred, practicing forgiveness, peacefully resolving conflicts, communicating non-violently, choosing happiness and enjoying life.