Category Archives: Comment

Pelicans and Galahs

Working-together

Pelicans and Galahs these may seem strange creatures to use in the context that I’m about to write about; however In Aussie speak a pelican or a galah is a synonym for stupidity especially related to an action; ‘you pelican’ or ‘what a bunch of galahs’.  Not totally fair on those exquisite creatures but what in this world is fair. Especially when it comes to the myopic views of our leaders who govern by vested interest many of a personal nature. I don’t presume to be a great expert on the Middle East, however I have spent sometime there on business and I would like to share some views.

Although an Australian with a trained photographic and creative background  having held positions in major advertising agencies as a creative director including the then largest Young and Rubicam working on accounts such as Time Magazine, Time Life books, Michelin, Yamaha, Camel Cigarettes and later financial accounts such as Fidelity, Midland Bank, Royal Life, Eagle Star Insurance and others;  by way of the creative world I drifted for a time into the financial sphere including eventually running and representing hedge funds. Some of the companies that I worked with during my time in the City of London were many of the most successful in the industry including a stint forming SECAVs in Luxembourg for the then second largest UK insurance company Norwich Union, SECAVs were  a form of open-ended fund used mainly by the French, SECAFs being closed ended. I was IMRO(Investment Management Regulatory Organization)  registered, now defunct a bit like me.  The largest unit trust industry is in France but of course Luxembourg was then offshore  using French fund structures. The position with Norwich union gave me the status of a General Manager in a  mutual insurance company this equated to a director’s position. It was through producing creative work for city institutions that I learnt a great deal about how the financial world works.

During this period of my life I became an advisor on product development to the largest of the islamic banking groups Dallah Al-Baraka of Saudi Arabia. I was involved in the creation of a joint venture company between Dallah Al-Baraka and the Johor Bahru corporation of Malaysia locating the joint venture in Bahrain.  I was included in their strategy in order to marry western fund ideas into the Islamic system.

My work in the Middle East brought me in contact with such institutions as ADIA(Abu Dhabi Investment Authority) and its associate ADIC plus many of the private departments of the Shaikhs including the private department of the then Life President of the Emirates Sheikh Zayed Al Nahyan. I spent a considerable time working   throughout the middle East including in Kuwait with the massive fund run by the Kuwait government under the KIO(Kuwait Investment Office). I made many Arab friends and found them to be one of the most hospitable of people.

However as a westerner having worked with Sharia committees made up of scholars who were not banking or financial people but religious academics and judges, I found that there are enormous differences in interpretation and implementation, it is these anomalies that have caused much misunderstanding between people. Couple this misunderstanding in the Islamic world with the total lack of understanding in the western world and the vested oil interests of the West and you have a formula for disaster. The history of the west in the Middle East has been one of planning only for the financial gains driven by oil. Not only has there been no respect for the differences of interpretation in the Islamic world but there was also no respect for tribal borders. Many borders were created on a divide and rule basis or on the premise of who was the strongest and who could be purchased the easiest and give added control to oil rich regions. Although not really an oil issue  both Palestine and Israel have been caught up in this border or land manipulation. I believe strongly that both these groups should exist in their own states within their own borders. There is no doubt that the Palestinians have had a raw deal all people should have the right to exist. There is also not doubt that the Arab world could have assisted in the correction of this issue.

For centuries Arabs and Jews lived in harmony. During the medieval periods of the crusades the secular thinkers where in educated Islam. When the West was living in mud and cold castles cities such as Constantinople and Cordoba Spain(the two largest of Islamic cities) had street lighting – Islam was the educated world.  Saladin rebuilt the Christian churches and synagogues and protected them following the fall of Jerusalem around 1187.    At sometime a halt must be called to revenge, revenge creates more revenge and then the story is  never ending  destroying the future for subsequent generations.

The US is becoming more and more oil self sufficient and of course the large deposits of shale now being discovered in North America are adding to this independence. As the US pulls  away from the Middle East the violence may intensify. Much of this violence will be about the realigning  of borders back to their more legitimate pre-western involvement days, real tribal boundaries. The issues in the Middle East are much more than Sunni and Shia an easy Western simplification. The realigning of boarders is not a bad thing as smaller autonomous actor states are much more manageable than large continental groups. In most major countries there is considerable autonomy given to cities and individual states. The real problem is how do they live together with understanding and acceptance of differing ideas and opinions.  To quote one of my uncles a successful academic who said ‘ variety is the spice of life’. It is difference that creates progress. Religion and lateral thinking should not be used as an excuse for hate and gain. The great prophets and thinkers would be horrified by much of our interpretation.

We can’t keep looking back and blaming  the crusades, holocaust and  remember the Russians lost 20 million people during WWII and the same again under Stalin. These debacles must be guides to help us construct a better future not a route to hatred. The next issue will be relating any relative DNA  extension of Alexander the Great to  some form of criminal activity that took place in 340 BC. Mind you I should not have mentioned this as once the legal fraternity gets hold of it dollar signs will appear and blame could be apportioned. Somewhere without the necessity to apologise we need to say enough is enough.

Because I believe in everything and nothing some have called me an atheist but how can you follow that doctrine atheism is an absolute  and a close relative of fundamentalism,  it means you know, agnostic is a much calmer interpretation.  In the greater galactic scheme of things we are all small fry and much of our nonsense is irrelevant and damaging to our development as a successful species. Unfortunately many of our leaders are intellectual minnows,  Pelicans and Galahs stuck in the muddy banks of dogma.

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That self confessed capitalist Nick Hanauer wrote a most interesting piece ‘the Pitchforks are coming for us’. I also believe in the free market system however there are some worrying trends  gaining momentum. The pressure to keep wages down, the continuation of cost cutting at the expense of  workers and the middle classes. Mix these elements  with the greed levels of a considerable number of the management elite and the massive year on year increase in  living costs, political games over fuel  and profit pressures along with low salary increases and you have a formula for disaster. It would seem that the political and management classes are moving towards a major own goal for society in general.There is no balance to the direction currently being taken by business and political leaders apart from maximizing profit for a select few.

We are moving towards a working class and middle class society that will not be able to afford proper living conditions. The gap between the working class, middle class and wealthy is widening at an alarming greed fueled rate. As a society we are fast reaching a stage where the classes below the extremely wealthy will not be able to sustain paying rising fuel, utilities and food bills. Without the less wealthy classes it will also be impossible for the wealthy classes to maintain themselves. Once you have a breakdown within the producing classes there is no production from which the wealthy  can profit. You can add to this in an aging world population, poor pension performance and annuity rates all adding to a majority deprived of a reasonable lifestyle.

Once the greater population can’t sustain itself there will come more and more civil unrest and there will be only one of two outcomes total economic breakdown or a war – history repeats. I am not saying this is the current conclusion what I am saying is it is becoming  imperative that our leaders get a strong grip on living costs and living income while curbing the greed levels of management. Nick Hanauer is correct push the producing classes to Banking Practices,a level that they can’t survive at and you leave the wealthy classes with no buyers and no profit.

Shane Aurousseau .