Friday, May 25, 2012

"Incest" - the game all (financial) elites can play!

"A lot of people have been talking about how really what is most essential is not just policy but politics. And, you know, frankly, it’s actually quite easy and quite fun and quite convivial in a group like this of like-minded people over a glass of wine to talk about different policy options and all feel very smart. What is very hard is to go out and get the political mandate to implement those policies. That is really the ultimate challenge!" --- Chrystia Freeland at the recent INET Conference in Berlin. 

Or, using an expression from the dictionary of common sense: "Words are easy, action speaks!"

I love to remember my years in international banking. A lot of get-togethers with like-minded people and highly sophisticated discussions over a glass of wine. And, of course, with a focus on the "big picture". Lesser minds could focus on petty questions like "what are you going to use the money which we lend you for?"

Never before could I read so many interesting articles in financial media as in the last couple of years. What a thrill to be able to challenge one's brain cells all the time. Will the Eurozone survive? Will Greece go bankrupt? Now in retirement, I could easily turn reading the financial media into a full-time job. On the other hand, the 27-year old Marcus Tullius Cicero might have asked "Cui bono?" --- But that was just a small thinker.

It seems that the more prominent the authors/speakers are, the more wisdom is derived from every word they breathe. How can one not be captured by Mohamed El-Erian when he says "it is really important to understand that Europe is going to have to make those decisions". Or when George Soros warns that "the Euro crisis could destroy the EU".

My great luck in professional life was that, after about 20 years in international banking, a pure concidence steered me into dealing with middle-market companies and middle-market entrepreneurs, particularly in the last 10 years of my career. I now dealt with the type of people who did not understand what (financial) elites were talking about. But they understood a lot about employing people for the purpose of generating value from which value all of them would benefit (and the economy around them as well).

I found it fascinating to watch some of the presentations at the recent INET Conference in Berlin. It reminded me of the early years in my career when I once asked a member of the Country Risk Committee what that committee was all about. Fortunately, he was a kind executive. Instead of firing me for asking stupid questions, he said something like: "You know, this is a group of very intelligent people who spend a couple of hours discussing very important issues in a sophisticated way". When he saw that I was puzzled, he gave me the following example.

"Look", he said, "the Chairman of the committee has spent some years in Lebanon before that country erupted. One day, Switzerland's country limit was up for the annual review. The Chairman asked 'how can a country with different languages and different ethnic origins remain stable?' We were up in arms and said to him 'Leo, this is Switzerland! Civil unrest can never happen there!'. And Leo answered 'that's what they said about Beirut before the war, too'. Now you know what the Country Risk Committee does".

With due respect to (financial) elites, the value they are presently adding to the real economy is not quite apparent to me. Their destructive influence, on the other hand, is!

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