‘My word is my bond’ – or – ‘my bonus’?

On the coat of arms of the London Stock Exchange is the Latin motto “Dictum Meum Pactum” which means “my word is my bond”. Throughout its history, the Stock Exchange has operated on the basis of trust – something which has been in very short supply in the City of London and the World’s other financial centres for the last couple of years.

The world of high finance got itself into a mess – and politicians on both sides of the Atlantic have struggled to stop the problem getting worse and dragging all of us into the abyss.

I said to a friend as the problems came to a head at the end of 2008 – that the loudest sound you could hear was chickens coming home to roost. And that the eggs which produced these particular chickens were laid over twenty years ago in the days of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.

One date sticks in my mind – 27th October 1986. That was the day of the so-called “Big Bang”, when the rules and regulations concerning the Stock Exchange and other financial institutions were relaxed. The City of London – so the government told us – was to become the financial hub of Europe. Bankers and traders were freed to trade in new ways.

Similar things were happening on Wall Street. The eggs were hatched – the brave new world of de-regulated trading began.

Which was all well and good as long as the bankers and traders continued to work on the basis of ‘My word is my bond’. But of course – being human – many of them didn’t. Encouraged by a philosophy that said: “Look after number one; greed is good; business is business; and it doesn’t really matter if you walk all over other people on your way to success” – it all went wrong.

People were employed in their thousands specifically to play poker – to gamble – with your money and my money, and – perhaps even worse – with money that doesn’t actually exist. Those are the same people who have been paid such huge and controversial bonuses by their employers.

And it seemed to be working. We had our ups and downs and crises and a change of government. But most of us here have done very nicely thank-you in those years. We enjoyed a consumer boom, rising house prices and a growing standard of living.

But so much of it was an illusion – smoke and mirrors – ‘funny money’. And above all – debt. Debt, debt and more debt. Credit cards, loans, second mortgages.

It couldn’t go on for ever, though, and now the chickens have home to roost. And you begin to think: Well maybe the men who started the Stock Exchange got it right. My word should be my bond. Even further back in history – maybe the principles outlined in the Ten Commandments aren’t so out-of-date after all – especially the bits about bearing false witness, stealing and coveting.

A society needs rules and regulations – whether it’s an ancient wandering group of tribes thousands of years ago or today’s complex, global society.

When it’s the law of the jungle, the weakest always suffer most. In the financial world it’s been the law of the jungle for a couple of decades. But now we must learn and change.

A strong and healthy society isn’t what we see today – under whatever political system. A strong and healthy society is one where mutual love and care and concern are the dominant features.

Capitalism and the free market aren’t going to come to an end this week or next. But they need checks and balances. They are our servants – not our masters.

And I seem to remember that Jesus had quite a lot to say about the love of money and serving two masters. So maybe his message does still has relevance today.

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