Thursday, February 26, 2015

"Sunset Grill"

I'm looking forward to leaving the city.

I'm probably wrong, and someone out there will wheel out some statistics to prove it, but I'd say very few of the changes that I've witnessed in this city over the last 25 years have been for the better.

Round about the time I began to spend more time traveling to, in and through the city of London, Margaret Thatcher unleashed the earthquake - deregulation of banking - that brought forth a tsunami of crass wealth that plagues us to this day. This had happened long before in the United States,

Full disclosure: I'm a beneficiary to some extent of that earthquake, since I make my living writing about things like "markets" and "trading".

Markets and trading. Two words that you couldn't better to describe what started to happen in the 1980s. Banks, no longer forced to operate like comfortable old gentlemens' clubs, no longer required to behave sensibly and prudently, suddenly developed a bad case of chrome and glass, hiring young, ambitious kids who didn't give a fig for convention or "the way we do things". Quickly finding that the long-established "markets" were booooring, the kids started coming up with new and fun ways to buy and sell stuff. Salaries and commissions soared as everyone started to clock on to the fact that the lunatics had been given the keys to the asylum.

"I can see a lot more meanness in the city;
It's the kind that eats you up inside.
Hard to come away with anything that feels like dignity,
Hard to get home with any pride."

Any sort of sense of "noblesse oblige", if it had survived the death throes of the Empire, was washed aside by Golf GTis, padded shoulders, mobile phones and conspicuous consumption. The 1980s were a truly awful decade in many ways, but their offence was mild compared to what followed. What the 80s encouraged in terms of greed and naked, grasping cupidity was as nothing compared to what we have today.

If London is the alpha city of the U.K., then the City is the alpha district. Competition is that much fiercer, the rewards are that much greater and the temptations are huge. The news headlines are full of scandals where City traders work around the rules to bend the percentages in their favour. And it's almost as if the keys to the jewellery box were lobbed into their lap!

"Respectable little murders pay;
They get more respectable every day."

Certain vital parts of the global financial mechanism, which operated Just Fine back in the day when gentlemens' agreements had some value, were hijacked by a troupe of wised-up kids who calculated that they could pretend to be the same gentlemen, while acting very much unlike the same gentlemen, and pocket large gobs of cash in the process. Hey presto, LIBOR fixing scandal.

And this sickness, this financial cancer, spreads far and wide. A whole multitude of millions now exist to service the needs of these wealthy few. They're forced to compete with each other, to lower their prices and wages in order to get each precious contract. The rules of retail are rewritten to include contracting workers on an hourly wage but not guaranteeing them any hours. Why? Because profit is all.

"These days a man makes you something
And you never see his face.
There is no hiding place."

On my increasingly frequent trips out of the city, I find it's easier to catch one's breath, to pause and think, and to drink in a sunset or two with real appreciation. Here in London, the best sunsets I've seen have been from the train as I head home, and that can't be right.

It can't be right that I hear students, kids, talking about how they're going to leave London as soon as they can, looking for something that improves on the life they have in the city.

"Maybe we'll leave come springtime.
Meanwhile, have another beer.
What would we do without all these jerks anyway?
Besides, all our friends are here."

But, as the song says, what would we do without our friends? Those friends that we grew up with, partied with, watched getting married and now hardly ever see, because we're all in the grip of the same faceless, insatiable need to keep the wolf from the door. Are we thriving or are we surviving?

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