Page last updated at 07:36 GMT, Monday, 1 December 2008

Sir Evelyn de Rothschild calls for action

Sir Evelyn de Rothschild

All of us - countries, corporations and consumers - have neglected basic principles.

Sir Evelyn de Rothschild
Sir Evelyn: "action has to be taken and action must be taken very soon".

Ethics - we have lost sight of an honest day's work for an honest day's pay.

Careful management - we have indulged our wants without the taxes or the prices or the cash to pay for them.

Oversight - public relations and spin have replaced disclosure and transparency; casual yet complex accounting and accommodating rating agencies left us blissfully unaware of the problems, and we revelled in our ignorance.

Hubris has replaced community responsibility as a requirement for executive positions.

American automobile executives and British bankers have been unable to form their lips into an apology.

US automotive industry executives Rick Wagoner, Robert Nardelli, Alan Mulally
Management prefers to hold onto private corporate jets rather than push for fuel efficiency standards
Sir Evelyn de Rothschild

Yet their institutions lie in ruins and the rest of us are left feeling embarrassed for them.

Their customers worry that their savings or their working capital will just vanish, their mortgage will be transferred to a new institution they have never heard of.

Their employees wonder which of their colleagues - or they themselves - will be unemployed in the coming week, with bleak prospects for working again anytime soon.

Where is the shame of those who only months earlier boasted of ever increasing profits, of ever more clever products, of ever easier loans?

Remaining credit

The US automakers may be the worst of the lot, so far.

New York City, 1970
New York ran into trouble during the 1970s

Years of incompetence and now manoeuvring in the halls of Congress for a massive bailout.

Management prefers to hold onto private corporate jets rather than push for fuel efficiency standards to make their products more competitive.

Union members would rather hold onto their gold-plated pensions for life than to save their companies.

Why should taxpayers help those who have so frequently refused to accept responsibility themselves?

If the US government uses up its remaining credit to help the auto industry carry on as usual, who will lend the country the money to repair its bridges, build its power stations, clean its water, fuel its navy?

Slow revival

Thirty years ago, New York City found itself in a position similar to GM, Ford and Chrysler today.

They asked Washington for help. The government refused.

The Daily News summed it up in its front page headline - Ford to City: Drop Dead

Instead New York balanced its budget, taxed itself, reduced hiring, negotiated better labour contracts and gradually worked itself back to fiscal health.

It took more than 10 years.

Take responsibility

This era of struggle may last as long.

Until we can be generous in accepting fault for our predicament, we will have difficulty dropping our suspicions about others so that we can get on with repairing the damage.

Unless action is taken soon, we can only see a long time of difficult and very onerous problems continuing.

Could be one or two years.

It is therefore essential that management must take a firm look at it's problems and accept its faults and redeem them.

A lot of talk and a lot of words have been written.

But in the end action has to be taken and action must be taken very soon if we are not going to see this stretched out over many years.

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