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The capitalism beast beneath the bed

One of my daughter’s favourite bedtime stories is The Beast Beneath the Bed. The little boy in the book is scared of the beast beneath his bed – his scratchy snarls and little growls echo in the dark. These are the sounds of the beast messing up his room at night while he’s asleep. The boy loses his temper when the beast crosses a line by gobbling up his teddy bear; he yells: ‘stop it now, you fiend, you’ve messed up all my precious things and I like to keep them neat’. He then realises the beast is just as scared of him as he is of the beast. Once the boy gets to know the beast, they agree to compromise and get along, and end up wishing each other good night as they live happily ever after. The moral is, they each had different priorities in life – the beast likes mess, the boy likes order – and if they could just both compromise and find a common ground, they could get along fine.

I thought of this book as I watched the delicious live telecast of the Banking Royal Commission on Friday. For many years, left-wingers like me have been worrying and fearful about the capitalism beast beneath the bed. We have been watching the messy damage the beast has left in our communities, but we’ve been finding it difficult to articulate what to do about it. We’ve been too scared to address the idea of a beast so big, and struggled to give it a name. But, now that we’ve finally had our chance to meet this beast, to put it on the stand and interrogate its intentions, we find it is just a tanned celebrity Financial Planner by the name of Sam Henderson who lives on the Northern Beaches, loves surfing, skiing and crossfit. Once we meet this Sam, and we look at the damage he has done, and why he has done it, we, as a community, can see how things must change if we are to safely live with this beast, side by side. Now that we understand what led this beast to eat our teddy bear, we can finally understand what it will take for us all the get along with capitalism.

Don’t get me wrong, the Sam Henderson capitalism beast is a messy little shit. And, he is representative of a lot of other messy little beasts throughout not just the banking industry, but no doubt any industry with the profit motive. So, basically all of them. What we learned from our little delve into the world of Sam is that, if a capitalist can make money out of something, they will do it, and they will make whatever mess it takes to do it, as long as there is nothing standing in their way.

I thought of the beast beneath the bed swinging across the room on the boy’s lampshade, and falling bump onto the floor, as I watched Sam be probed, in excruciating detail, about how he came to almost lose $500,000 of Donna McKenna’s super balance. The only reason Sam failed in this planned-financial-ruin is because Donna, who is a Fair Work Commissioner, was savvy enough to check the recommendations of this financial planning ‘Practice of the Year’ before signing on the dotted line and picked up the ‘error’ the messy Sam had made while racing to charge her big bucks for financial advice.

Sam’s mess included him having to admit he knew one of his employees impersonated Donna between 6 and 8 times to get her super account details from the fund she was in, while simultaneously claiming he didn’t know why his employee would do this. The mess included Sam admitting he advertised himself as having a Masters of Finance degree he had never actually graduated from. The mess also included Sam referring to the complaint Donna made about him to his professional body – Financial Planning Australia (FPA) – as ‘knit picking’. We saw evidence of Sam threatening the FPA that if they didn’t treat him well throughout the complaint process, he would make life hard for them with fellow-FPA-member colleagues.

Here lies the problem. Since when has it ever been a good idea for beasts to join together in a beastly fashion and investigate their own beastly mess? Taking a wider view, as I’ve said, Sam is just one of many beasts, in just one of many beastly capitalist industries. Now that we see the mess these beasts are making, and the failure of their bullied-self-funded-so-called-professional-beastly-bodies to clean up this mess, the little boys – the community – the society in which we live – must take back control of this capitalist beast. If they won’t behave, we need to set down some rules for us to live happily side by side. If they don’t follow these rules, they should be banished from our bedrooms.

The little boy compromises with the beast by making a special deal: he would ‘let him play with all his toys, if he promised not to steal’, and the beast agreed not to eat the boys shoes if he left him out some bread. So, as a community, represented by our government, we should agree with the beasts that we will let them keep making money by giving financial advice, let them keep eating their bread, if they agree to adhere to strict, legislated regulations which protect the community from their wilful disregard for our needs. Our needs include not being ripped off. Not having our teddy bears gobbled up. Not being screwed over in the role of consumer, and worker. Not having our lives made a mess by unconstrained-greed-from-messy-capitalist-beasts.

I’m so glad we’ve now met this beast, and we can urgently begin the process of legislating regulations to keep it in check. The only way the community can sleep well at night with a beast beneath the bed, is if that beast is forced to behave correctly. We live in a capitalist society, and whether people like it or not, this system is not about to change. The point is, we don’t have to be fearful of capitalism, and in fact we can get along with capitalism, once we name the beast, and rein in its mess. Now we understand how this mess is made, we’re in a much stronger position to do this. Bring on the regulations, properly and independently enforced. Let’s change the rules.

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11 comments

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  1. Ricardo29

    What worries me is that, having conceded they were slow to act on the banking inquiry, Malcolm and the Muddle might concede that it really has raised some issues which do need some regulation (MoMoScoMo having already hinted at bigger fines and even, shock horror, POSSIBLE clink time) and promising to be tough, the great unwashed will say “that’s alright then” and vote the bastards back. I hope Labor piles on the pressure and reminds us every day until the. Election thatthe beasts did what the did because the LNP let them. And if anyone believes this Leopard will change its spots, tell them they’re dreamin’

  2. Ricardo29

    Oh, good column by the way.

  3. Max Gross

    Where are the AFP raids with TV cameras rolling on bank execs & board members? Oh right, the craven LNP only do that to workers’ Unions!

  4. wam

    There are beasts within beasts.
    Real beasts, I can well remember hearing the house creaks and imagination runs scared.
    Beast busters:
    Workers could get their unions to tie their pay increases to the gillard’s folly the independent(that’s a laugh) remuneration tribunal and the tax cuts come at the cost of no work related deductions

  5. Karlo

    I’m sorry that I cannot agree with Ricardo29 that this was a good column. At best it is naive at worst it is an apologists view of capitalism. One cannot live with this beast as it will eventually devour one.
    Regulation is only for the here and now. We did have fairly stringent financial regulations at one time. Whilst not perfect they did manage to keep a rein on capitalism’s excesses.
    Enter the boy from Bankstown aka the worlds greatest treasurer who “freed up” the economy and lifted many of the controls on capital. Now look at the result.

  6. Peter F

    Victoria, great column. It follows closely the line of a 2017 book by two QLD academics: ‘ The Game of Mates’. This book will cause the reader to question many government and business actions now, in the past, and in the future.

  7. Phil

    Compromise with capitalism is not my idea of a way forward. In my view Yanis Varoufakis makes a far more compelling argument on capitalism here:

    https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/apr/20/yanis-varoufakis-marx-crisis-communist-manifesto

    “Capitalismʼs reach is so pervasive it can sometimes seem impossible to imagine a world without it. It is only a small step from feelings of impotence to falling victim to the assertion there is no alternative. But, astonishingly (claims the manifesto), it is precisely when we are about to succumb to this idea that alternatives abound.”

    Despite Victoria and Yanis being self proclaimed ‘leftists’ they arrive at opposite conclusions about how to deal with the capitalism ‘beast’.

  8. Kaye Lee

    Wonderful link Phil. Such food for thought.

  9. Christine

    I also tend to agree with Phil. Compromising with capitalism is akin to a woman staying with a man who beats her up, because he promises he won’t do it again, and the law is there to protect her. We all know that her only recourse in the end is to leave that man. The same is true with the kind of rampant capitalism we are now trying to protect ourselves from. We are small, he is big and brutal, and he will never change.

    I take heart from the many many ground level human initiatives where individuals are taking themselves as far out of the capitalist economy as they legally can, and instituting their own sub-culture and economy, some sharing, some exchange, some genuine attempts at supportive community.

    We have to drop the word “communism” which belonged in a different epoch and was embedded in the 19th century world of the “dark satanic mills” of British manufacturing, and the now cancerous concrete of the eastern block. That world is gone and we need a new word that encompasses what is now possible with technology. We are seeing the explosion of shared business spaces, shared resources, shared support, amongst the new breed of self-titled social entrepreneurs (whatever they are). The p2p economy is growing and everything around it is growing, albeit, not fast enough. This is also capitalist in that individuals share only what they want to share, but it comes from a different mind-set and most critically, a different heart space.

    Some of us are old enough to remember a culture where greed was not good. The greedy were deplored, and whilst they still existed, they were not the cultural norm. I have lived through that cultural change – it happened sometime during the late 70s and 80s, where the culture changed such that the greedy were considered sensible and clever, and the generous and caring were considered stupid. Our entire system of rewards has shifted so we reward the greedy and punish the generous and caring. At the very least we need to go back to a system of self-imposed cultural rules where the virtues are rewarded and the “sins” deplored.

    What then, I have no real idea, but without a change in culture we are not going to get the change we want in politics and economics.

    Let’s remember that over half the electorate has voted for these monsters – at both state and federal level, and so we know that at least half the electorate believes greed is good. Until compassion returns to the political dialogue nothing will change.

  10. helvityni

    Excellent post, Christine, calm and compassionate…agree with you too that we should drop the word ‘communism’…..

  11. townsvilleblog

    What we are dealing with here is “unregulated” capitalism, the tories may impose some fines that sound like a huge amount to the average Aussie, but in reality are only petty cash to the banks and large insurance organizations like AMP. The knowledge that those fines and/or gaol time will never eventuate unless there is an almighty scandal will allow these overpaid executives to sleep well in their luxurious beds.

    Nary a thought for the fellow Aussies who are trying to survive on incomes below the poverty line or those working for starvation wages and about to lose even more penalty rates, the tories are just evil!

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