Sunday, 9 February 2014


Bay At The Moon

In March 2012, Reuters, among others, reported that Lehman Brothers had exited bankruptcy and that the former mighty banking institution was still operating in Manhattan, albeit with a much reduced staffing compliment of 350.

What is left is a little spark of flame chasing, what they see as, the bank's debtors to try and recoup money for those creditors who were left high and dry by the bank's collapse.  Lehman Brothers, in case you didn't know, still has access to billions of dollars worth of assets, which it is trying to sell to make good it's debts.

Of course, the question still on everyone's lips and whispered around dark rooms where brandy is poured over wealthy throats - should Lehman Brothers haves been saved?

Lehman Brothers has long been considered the catalyst for our global financial winter.  As it toppled over it took with it many household names in the US before the contagion spread to other shores.  American Insurance Group, Merrill Lynch, the near collapse of Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan, and then the Royal Bank of Scotland fiasco, the bailout of HBOS and Lloyds.

PHENOMENAL sums of money were plucked from the pockets of unsuspecting taxpayers to shore up the crumbling edifice of one bank or financial institution after another. As LEhman Brothers was left in the desert without water ( costing 25,000jobs), $186 billion (£117 billion) was found to save. AIG, yet some have suggested that had Lehman Brothers been saved, the American taxpayer would have been saved a great deal of financial grief.

Larry McDonald, former Lehman employee and author of New York Times bestseller 'A Colossal Failure of Common Sense' - a book I would highly recommend - told me that Lehman Brothers could, and should, have been saved with $30 billion.  This is comparable to the $31 billion (£20 billion) the British government found to save Royal Bank of Scotland.

There is a whole book that could be written on Lehman Brothers and many more stories from what Larry McDonald told me, or in his excellent book if you read it.

And yet, there are more stories around those who worked for Lehman Brothers, what happened to them and those associated with the banking collapse - many of them still doing very well thanks very much - and that is maybe another story...

 (Written on a train, well mostly, from Glasgow to Edinburgh- sorry to disappoint ,Robin.)

Sunday, 26 January 2014

After The Fall:Should Lehman Brothers Have Been Saved?

After travelling through space for 40 light years, Bill finally arrived at the end of the universe and found religion.

Part One

So, you thought Lehman Brothers were dead and buried? Think again.

In the twilight world of finance, they are resurrected, moving 'zombie-like' through the global capital world, still operating in the rarified atmosphere of a universe still trying to catch its breath from recession.

Lehman Brothers, mired in debt, leveraged over its head, filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy on September 15, 2008.  It was the largest banking meltdown in history.  Over-leveraged the company had $600 billion (£377 billion) worth of assets when it filed, no longer able to pay their creditors.

The dark vultures of Wall Street and the City were soon circling, Barclays Bank swooped to purchase Lehman 's investment arm for a knockdown £250 million ($396 million) while, at the same time, Bank of America overpaid for Merrill Lynch.

Close to collapse Merrill were sold to Bank of America for $50 billion (£31.5 billion), though the latter soon became aware of the moribund state of its acquisition.  Bank of America did attempt to back out of the deal but found they were legally compelled to complete business, takeover Merrill and it's massive debts.

Bank of America, of course, did consider taking over Lehman Brothers, but unable to get assurances from the US government took their attentions elsewhere.

Also worth remembering that the much maligned UK prime minister Gordon Brown blocked Barclays bid for the collapsing giant at the last minute.  Astute?

Most of us were bemused by the events of September 2008, how could anyone with such assets leverage themselves out of business? But no matter what any of us thought, we all knew things would never be the same again.

The human cost of that dark day was huge, with around 25,000 people losing their jobs.  There were images on the evening news of people carrying their belongings out onto the street.  But...'The end of a banking giant' ... as one reporter put it, has proved premature.

In March 2012,Reuters, among others, reported that Lehman Brothers had exited bankruptcy and that the former mighty banking institution was still operating in Manhattan, albeit with a much reduced staffing compliment of 350.

To be continued

(Written -Starbucks, Buchanan Street, Glasgow, January 25, 2014.)

Sunday, 12 January 2014

How Soon Is Now ?


Money In The Ice

I am in a fast - flowing supermarket queue rapidly moving toward automated checkout stations. In this particular shop there are 12 machines, any one of which will check-out my groceries, provide me with a receipt and give me change from the £10 banknote I am going to use. If I wanted to I could use my credit card.

Iam convinced, far from being automated 'robotic' machines, they are actually manned by small people, who quickly work out how much money you require to be returned, and who quickly type up each item you have purchased as they pass over the scanner...

Think about it.  There are 12 of these bays here, which one person looks after and ensures that any problems encountered by customers are sorted out quickly. This represents 12 check-outs no longer manned by employees.  Now if this supermarket chain has say 500 stores with automated sections of 12 bays of these 'robotic' sensor/scanners,  then that adds up to 6000 check-out areas which no longer needs a person to operate them. Okay, each battery of automated machines will need one person to troubleshoot, which means that for every 6000 'robotic' employees the company will require 500 human minders. It also means that 5500 employees will no longer be required.

If all modern supermarkets operate on this technological basis thousands of people could be at risk of finding their jobs redundant.  This is what, I believe, is part of the readjustment we all now face.

Underlying this workforce transformation is the rapidly moving disconnect between employment and productivity, in simple terms we can produce far more and generate greater profits with less people than ever before.

Consider for a moment, that in recent history, huge corporations required huge workforces in labour-intensive businesses to bring their products and services to the market. This is no longer the case, massively successful corporations like Apple and Google have a joint market capitalisation of around $850 billion ( £516 billion, €624 billion), and yet, between them, only employ 126,000 people worldwide.

An even more chilling development is the introduction of labour-reducing technology to organisations who still depend on large numbers of humans.  FOXCONN, who employ 1.2 Chinese and who offshore a great deal of their work to impoverished labourers in developing nations, are in the process of buying one million robots over the next three years.

This will, of course, shake out many of those Chinese employees and globally reduce the need for human capital, which, in turn, will increase profit margins and allow the organisation to accumulate capital at a faster rate.  Machines Don't have to be paid, they don't stop to eat or sleep, and they don't have to be accommodated, they don't even require rest breaks or smoke breaks while working.

It is a developing scenario which will impact on the global economy and will have related social and political aftershocks across the world.  Businesses who would have provided food, accommodation and leisure facilities for FOXCONN workers will lose out on a huge chunk of their trade, some may go out business altogether and create more unemployment.

Marry the above with the drop in revenue required to buy this fast-developing technology(s) and we can begin to understand why the giant corporations are interested. Remember, as we have discussed, capitalism does not exist to meet the needs of people, but simply to accumulate capital to...accumulate even more capital quicker. In this sense our need for food, shelter and work (to provide food and shelter) are irrelevant.

But this is only the tip of the iceberg...

Robotics is only one of the developing technologies that will change our working lives, and poised to alter our social, economic and political universe in a relatively short period of time.  Some analysts estimate that new socio-economic-political drivers will reshape our world by as soon as 2030.

As well as robotics, the introduction of 3D printing,synthetic biology, nanotech, and what is called Big Data, are all set to revolutionise our world.

We either go along with it or rethink priorities.

(Written in Franco's Coffee shop, Glasgow Central rail station, Saturday January 11, 2014)

Sunday, 5 January 2014

On The Dog Road To Findout

It's A Dog's Life

Dogs, I say with some envy, don't need to work. Buster, a rescue who has been with us since he was nine weeks and is now a grand old 15, watches me from the comfort of his well-padded basket as I dress. It is a little after seven and I have the news on the television. Weather warnings are everywhere. Winds of up to 80 mph, flooding, tidal warnings.

Buster, oblivious, stretches in his basket, makes himself cosy and sighs with contentment. I pat him on the head as I leave and he replies with his eyes 'so long, sucker, don't forget to call by the supermarket and pick up my special senior dog food, you know the one, full of nutrition for the older mutt?'

I hope he is thinking, 'drive safely', because my trip south will be into the teeth of heavy wind and rain.

In capitalist society we have to work, it is the way the system is designed and it does benefit most of us, to a certain extent. As we have said previously the driving force of capitalism is not to meet people's everyday needs but simply to generate profits at an ever accelerating rate.

In this respect, work is no different. So, while people 'need' work to survive, to provide for their families and to support their chosen lifestyle, there is no guarantee that an individual will always be able to find paid employment. That, always, depends on demand and supply and 'needs' of the market.

Something which is about to change profoundly.

Young people, for example, do a great deal of planning around their future career. They have to meet certain standards to qualify for university and may need specific subjects to get onto the course they want. To give themselves the best chance of succeeding they have to plan ahead. But, while we are all planning our futures, the world moves on.

The young lad who served his apprenticeship as an arrow-maker is dismayed to discover that someone has invented the gun, putting most of the fletchers, as they were called, out of business.

Which means at any time in any of our lives we should be evaluating our situations, taking cognisance of changes, re-directing or re-structuring our plans, or simply ripping them up and starting again if necessary.  Especially, in these times, of rapid labour market change.

It is the same with the more mature among us. For some strange and esoteric reason there is a bizarre belief that when an individual gets to a certain age they have become less than useless. To think this, is to be more than a bit shortsighted. Some of the sharpest minds I know are over retirement age, and I always think when attending retirement functions, that's a heck of a lot of experience and savvy walking out the door.

That is not to say, of course, that some people don't just want to draw a line under their working lives and go off and do the things they have waited so long to have the freedom to do. Yet, for others, the automatic ejection from the workforce comes too soon and is not welcomed - it is a very individual moment.

There are many who tell me that they are ready to wind the pedals a little slower but that they don't want to stop all together.

But, as we intimated above, the poltico-economic system that rules all our lives is not designed to meet our individual needs. Instead it is geared to meet its own voracious appetite for generating ever-increasing amounts of money at a faster speed, hence we don't really count at all.

Our feelings are of no concern to the system, whether we want to work full-time or part-time mean nothing, our lives are configurated by the demands and supply of the system we belong to and inextricably linked to health, social care available, welfare and pensions ( all of which are government interventions).

As I intimated above, I believe we are now living through a time of rapid change - see No Sleep Till Future. Not change or the cliched recovery we hear about all the time, but, in fact, a readjustment of the capitalist engine which will change all our working lives quite profoundly in the near future and that will be one of my next blogs.

As I leave the house I am immediately caught by a gust of wind and then as I make my way to my car, only a few yards away, I am subject to cold, heavy, driving rain.

I clamber into the car and look up. My dog is at the window, he is waving his little paw, and then he signs to me that he is still sleepy and going back to his bed, tilting his head to the side supported by his paws. How I wish I could join him, why it's barely light...but I have work to do....

(Written at Westmorland Services ( I pulled off when the traffic had slowed to a crawl and found that everyone else had the same idea, it was packed), M6 Motorway, Southwaite Services M6 Motorway, Crosby, Liverpool January 2,3 and 4, 2014)