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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Scrooge Among Us

When I was a kid the notion of the crooked businessperson was as alien to me as a jolly teaparty on the ceiling with ET and Alf. My nearest approximation would have been something close to Ebenezer Scrooge with scoliosis, which would drive me into screaming paroxysms every time I saw an old -an hobbling around with a hunch and a knobbly walking stick. In the mid nineties, when the country was emerging out of a slump into a boom, my reactions were seen as irrational.

Now, I think a Nostradamus award would be in order (if such a thing exists). Maybe my five-year-old self knew what was coming. Unfortunately, I was ignorant to the fact that the new breed of crooked businesspeople don't carry their crookedness in their spine, but rather safely concealed in skinny Dior suits, flaccid handshakes and oddly glassy, impersonal grins. The businessperson is usually accompanied by the Lesser Spotted Accountant, who can be distinguished by his or her capacity to sweat profusely and worry lines on the forehead that resemble an windstruck beach at sunset. Being the small fry that I am, it would be easy to assume that I wouldn't be personally affected by such people. Wrong.
In point of fact, everyone is directly affected. The common consensus is, even if you have little or no grasp on current affairs, that the bad guys win and the little people have to pick up the pieces. Why not have a large business? If you make yourself indispensible, then you will never go bust - the banks will bail you out (bearing in mind that this is speculation and not solid fact).
This kind of devil-may-care nonchalant 'tude looked good on James Dean, but it's beyond frightening to see it transplanted on people who really are old enough to know better. Just because you can play with fire it doesn't mean that you can play with other people's pension plans. The breadth of advantage taken over the little people who are virtually powerless to do anything, the ease with which some people can refuse to pay creditors with no prior warning and the sense of powerlessness that is pervading the national viewpoint is positively Dickensian. Throw in a plucky orphan and consumption and we could conceivably be looking at a 21st century version of Great Expectations. In retrospect, perhaps the childish nightmare of Ebenezer Scrooge wasn't so far off the mark.