1980s >> 1989 >> no-1019-july-1989

Fraud scandal shock horror

It’s not often I get a lot of fun out of reading the paper. Mostly I read it just to find out whether to get out the spade and start digging the concrete study with the elegant lead panelling they have in Swiss basements and under English council offices.

But there is one feature that always gives me a delicious thrill of pleasure, and that is when some lotus-eater gets caught with their hands in the till. And haven’t there just been a clutch of those lately! The Japanese stock market took a $40 billion dollar dive after the Takeshita revelations, while Europe squirmed with embarrassment over a billion pound farm fraud, Britain convulsed over accusations that MPs have been lobbying in their own interest, and that British Aerospace moguls have been doing very nicely in bribes while flogging Tornadoes to Jordan (no doubt for strafing a few ungrateful food rioters), and America . . .  Well, what can one say about America except it’s the home of the freebie.

While Bush was failing to emerge, gleaming bright like the former “Teflon President”, from the sticky Irangate affair, and also trying to salvage John Tower’s dignity (the salacious old slob headed the inquiry which originally acquitted Bush of involvement in the Ollie North business, and one good turn deserves promotion, geddit?), the Democrats were watching their own top dog being grilled over a hot fire of sudden morals. Poor Jim Wright wasn’t even a big-league crook but that’s politics. Meanwhile 22 futures traders in Chicago got caught rigging deals, and the president of the giant US insurance group St Paul turned out to be an insider mole for certain members of the London stock exchange.

In the face of these goings-on, Panos Koupparis, the man who promised not to gas Cyprus if he got £9 million by return of post, looked decidedly lacking in finesse, as did Adnan Khashoggi, who after acquiring a larger fortune than the GDP of most of the countries he sold arms to. ended up facing an ignominious 20 years in stir for pinching a few crummy oil paintings for his mate Ferdinand Marcos, that well-known humanitarian and art lover.

Funny Attitude to Work
Now I occasionally meet people who think that the way to get rich is to work hard. They obviously read the papers even less often than I do. What with police faking evidence to improve their bust rates, MPs supplementing £44.000 p.a. incomes with interesting little wheezes on the side, and half of the Common Market engaged in phantom farming, one wonders how anyone these days can be that naive.

Some people have a funny attitude to work and consequently to fiddles that go on at work. Our great little number is taking an extra five minutes tea-break (wow). My colleagues seem to think it has a certain sinful appeal, but no other significance. It’s a “fiddle” to skimp five minutes of the labour which you sell to your buyer (the boss), with undertones even of “naughtiness” about it, but if the boss skimps in heating the workplace, that is a matter of “economics”. Now we expect bosses to be two-faced, but workers shouldn’t fall for it. As a worker you should, arguably, always try to get the most money for the least work—that is the capitalist ethic that all business people scrupulously abide by. If they don’t, they are considered to lack “business acumen”. Workers, even if they accept this ethic, often think of it as “cynicism” or a “bad attitude”. I need hardly say that it is a terrible attitude and thank Christ nurses and firefighters don’t take it. If all workers behaved like business executives and yuppies at the Stock Exchange— “screw them before they screw you”—life for all of us would be very much worse than it is already. When it comes to our social “superiors”, we’ve got nothing to look up to.

Held to Ransom
What puzzles me, though, is why the fat cats bother straying outside laws which were in any case designed with them in mind. If you consider that roughly eighty per cent of all land—on which all property is based—was taken by force (in other words, fenced off and guarded with armies) by about five per cent of the population, whose descendants now are empowered to hold the world to ransom by this “ownership”, and if you further consider that nine-tenths of the Law concerns the protection of property, you see how it is that law is for the rich to use against the poor. Khashoggi, one of whose apartments in Manhattan is worth $20 million, must be reckoned to be suffering from limitless greed and reckless stupidity for deliberately stepping outside laws which already allowed him so much wealth at other people’s expense.

The fact is, the system some people are pleased to call “free enterprise” is itself built on a gigantic fraud, and that is the notion that one human being should be entitled (by virtue of God. morals or the Maxim gun) to own and control exclusively things which another human being depends on utterly for survival. That is quite obviously an instant recipe for violence and hatred across the planet, and there really isn’t any logic to it. The most apt remark I’ve heard on this subject was made by none other than Crocodile Dundee: fighting over ownership of land is like fleas fighting over who owns the dog.

Now those who benefit by this delusion might be expected to defend its honour almost to the death, but the rest of us (the other ninety-five per cent) don’t have to. The whole thing is in the bag for them if we do. They “own” the food, the water, the coal and oil, the land, the sea and when they find a way to bag up the air they’ll “own” that too. All we’ve got left to bargain away is our labour, and that’s a lousy situation to be in. It’s like being thrown out of your own house by burglars, and then being made to shine their shoes for permission to come in out of the rain.

One final observation. In all the furore over the discovery that Prime Minister Takeshita and ex-PM Nakasone had been taking six-figure bribes and greasing the opposition parties with money so they wouldn’t stir things up for the government, it would have been easy to miss the story of Ihei Aoki, one of Takeshita s aides, who committed suicide over his part in the affair. The Reuter report stated:

  It is almost never the bosses who kill themselves: it is the secretaries and low-ranking officials who choose death before dishonour.

You might say that being a boss means never having to say you’re sorry. But it’s not a very funny joke, in the circumstances.

Paddy Shannon