Book of the Month – Tales of Stupidity, Greed and the Shadow Welfare State

Posted: 12 August 2013, in Blog

Ship of Fools is a great read. Written by Fintan O’Toole, it is a tale of stupidity and greed in Ireland and an account of an unsustainable economic boom in a polity defined as blatantly corrupt and dysfunctional. The desire to make money out of property proved to be a disaster and ended up causing the sort of poverty and social harm the Irish used to write songs about. The usual suspects are eviscerated by O’Toole. These are the Gombeen developers, poorly regulated bankers and corrupt planners and politicians. Controversially, O’Toole also has a go at ordinary folk who thought that greed was morally good and that it was perfectly natural to spend fortunes on mindless consumption earned from property speculation.

Anyway, good news abounds as G4S and Serco are in the mire for dodgy invoicing to The State re the tagging of offenders. We’re talking millions here. G4S have come out fighting but Serco are backtracking and won’t be tendering for this contract in future.

Some of you may smile at the notion that a bunch of folk who have issued false invoices are keeping tabs on convicted crooks etc but here is the wider problem – no one is really surprised or shocked. Be sure to expect to read that nothing fraudulent was done but errors and mistakes happened and guarantees will be given that senior management are shocked and that this goes against our corporate values etc (sic).

Of course, the real problem is that this shadow welfare state run by big business is doomed to fail. This is because these firms are not very good at what they do, their values are wrong, they only care about profit and shareholder value and efficiency is code for lower wages for employees and plutocratic salaries and bonuses for the folk at the top. Also when they get caught out lying and covering scandals up, they issue those classic non-apologies and amazingly still get contracts on terms that social enterprises can only ever dream about. Funny old world ain’t it.

Meanwhile, a Russian court has convicted a dead man of tax evasion. He died in custody but nothing wrong happened of course, so move along nothing to see here etc etc. The only other person I can think of who suffered a similar fate was Pope Formosus who was dug up and tried in 897 after Pope Stephen V11, his successor, (presumably) watched Jeremy Irons in The Borgias. Unable to defend themselves the dead (to date) tend to lose these cases.

So, in a mad mad mad world, how do we sell the message that we are not greedy, immoral, corrupt, venal, evil or naive? Is this is the wrong question? Instead of copying the thinking behind “not for profit” which describes what we are not for, can we come up with a phrase that encompasses what we are for? Love, freedom, fairness, justice etc have all been tried but are of course not unique to us. Any marketing gurus out there (I’ll even accept philosophers and mavericks as well) who can coin a new phrase that encapsulates what we are for, what our morals are and what distinguishes us from the bad guys and gals?

Good luck with that one…


NOTE: This opinion piece blog does not necessarily reflect the views or beliefs of Social Enterprise Scotland.