My new website:

I posted my first blog on this site at 8.34am on 15 March, 2007. I had been at a seminar in Cambridge, where as a rookie PhD student I had been advised to 'do my thinking in public' if only to avoid the dreadful fate of publishing with a flourish a thesis that someone else had just brought out somewhere else in the world.

My first post was a stray thought about what the market would be like if it were
run by angels, and this blog has been a great place to park stray thoughts, like whether philosophy is like lost property, and what the Gruffalo has to say about the existence of God. It has also revealed to the world the much-guarded secret recipe for Ashridge's creme brulee, and a poem made from a game of scrabble. My most popular post has been my list of facts. The most useful? The twin kit list. And the most bizarre? The fruits of my temporary obsession with making hats.

It was on this blog that I first claimed the word '
leadersmithing,' so it is fitting that it is the reason I am now leaving this blog behind. Sitting at my sister's wedding in 2009, I heard her deliver a wonderful speech on the name Smith, which was now to be hers. It made me realise that 'smithing' was what I try to do with leaders, and is the best way to describe their daily activity. So I have turned all of that into a book, which is due out with Bloomsbury on 9 March 2017. You can order it here. I'm migrating this blog to my new website, which you will find here: . You can also follow me on twitter @evepoole

Thank you for reading my posts over the years. I hope you will still find interesting things to read from me on the new blog in the years to come.

Thought for the Day - All Saints Day

I delivered a Thought for the Day for Radio Scotland, the text of which follows, by kind permission. You can listen to the original broadcast using this link (from 1:23:35 to 1:25:40).

Good morning. Did you know that today is a Red Letter day? It's called that, because if you open an old bible, the Saints’ days are marked out in the calendar in red letters. Today is a particularly red Red Letter day, because it’s All Saints Day.

I'm just back from New York. That side of the pond, they're more concerned with Halloween and the Presidential Election. It was sometimes rather hard to tell which activity was which. The sidewalks were spray-painted with ‘Trumpkins’ and ‘Nasty Woman’ stencils, and the parades I passed alternated between ghouls and witches, and students with placards. I had dinner beside King John, dressed head to foot in chain-mail, wearing a crown and carrying a large sword, who was earnestly discussing Hillary’s chances with a morph-suited Power Ranger.

I took refuge from the parades and the gothic in Central Park. Amongst the dog walkers and the birdsong, sitting in a pavilion by the lake, I watched an autumnal tree shed a twig into the water. It bobbed a little, and the water rippled out. The ripples spread and spread until they lapped the shore.

The saints were like that. People whose lives rippled out. So much so that we still celebrate them today.

Many of them had extraordinary lives. Many of them were martyred; and their world now seems an age away from ours. So maybe you don't think that you know any saints. There’s a chance that you do. People whose quiet actions ripple out. Their cheerfulness, their love, their support; their generosity, their courage, their example.

Looking out of my window I can see one. An old man, my neighbour, bent double, with his stick. Every day he is out there, picking up litter, to keep our street beautiful. There is something extraordinary powerful about such an ordinary act.
We shouldn’t leave saintliness to the saints. Like him, our small actions can have a steadfast and powerful impact, that can ripple out too.

Ethical Consumerism - Resources

I recently wrote an ebook for the William Temple Foundation about Ethical Consumerism. You can order it here. To help you to render your bank statement ever more glorious as a report card for your ethical consuming, I've embedded links below to some useful resources. Please alert me to any broken links or suggested additions - I'll try to keep adding to it.

Switch your bank account

Is your Use Cost too high?

Do you ever fail to get picked for cool work or top jobs? Maybe it’s because your Use Cost is too high. This often gets wrapped up in euphemisms like ‘people skills’ or ‘emotional intelligence,’ but basically it means that you’re hard work.

The (other) café scene I like in When Harry Met Sally is when Harry explains to Sally about being ‘high maintenance’ because she is so particular about everything. That’s you. And it’s not personal, you’re probably great, and well worth the investment, but you wear people out. And they’re already exhausted, so why should they go the extra mile for you?

This is what I am learning from the work I am doing with leaders at the moment about how they can husband their meagre energy. We know leaders sleep badly, and have cognitive overload, so they aren’t blessed with a lot of bandwidth for effortful people. And being patient with high-maintenance people saps energy. It’s the thing they consistently name as their worst mood-sucker. So, if you want to get used more, reduce your use cost.

This is a painful process to start, because it requires you to solicit detailed negative feedback. So approach a best friend or trusted colleague first, and ask them if they have scripts in their head when you talk to them. If they do, that’s their executive function coaching them through, which means they are actively controlling their response to you. This depletes their energy and will-power, so they won’t be able to keep it up for sustained periods of time without losing it with you, or losing you.

Of course, if they love you they will already have decided you are worth the effort. But what you learn from them may help you discern why others don’t have the staying power that they do. I’m not saying you’re not worth every cent of extra effort you demand from those around you. But if you want to catch the eye of a tired leader, be an energy booster, not an energy drainer. Remember, in physics, inertia is about conserving energy. So any premium you demand needs to be well worth it.

My year in 10 Poolish utterances

God and Money

Sermon preached at Jesus College, Cambridge, Sunday 8 November 2015
My brother once gave me a silver denarius. It’s from the time of Tertullian rather than the Gospels, but it’s an extraordinary thing to hold in your hand. Whenever I see it I hear ‘Render unto Caesar,’ or the grumbling of the workers in the vineyard. A whole day’s wages, it’s about the size of a modern 5p piece. Matthew, whose Gospel we just heard, collected them in taxes, and for the Jews the existence of the denarius was a daily reminder that Rome ruled.
These days, money has diversified, and its roles are legion. But it remains hugely political, and, were Jesus to be visiting Jesus today, he’d still be banging on about it.
The Bible is not short of material about money. Of course, it’s easy to argue that the marketplace was less complex in those days, when poverty was mostly about lacking land and the means of subsistence, not being without coins. You’d still search hard for a lost one, though. But its treatment of money still feels very real and very challenging.
The two passages I chose for today reflect that. The New Testament reading, from our tax collector friend, challenges those whose master is money. The hard saying that you can’t serve both God and money is for me unlocked by the line:  'for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.' It’s not so much that no-one should work in the City, but, if you do, you need to be crystal clear about your primary allegiance to God. Because wealth carries the signal temptation that it can make you think that you don’t need God. And consumerism is brilliantly designed to wean us off God, and on to the reassuring tangibility of material gain. So we need the other reading to help us, the one from Genesis about Jacob wrestling the angel. Notice that even when his thigh is put out of joint he doesn’t give up. "I will not let you go, unless you bless me." And we need every day to wrestle with money. We need to keep wrestling with it until it blesses us, even if it puts us out of joint in the process.
But what is money, exactly? In its most obvious sense, it’s those physical coins, notes or tokens (like cheques or credit cards) that we use to pay for things. But because we now have the technology to make this process electronic, it’s also about the information flows that reckon balances all around the world. Lastly, not just because new money is created every time a loan is made, money is also about power and politics. I’ll talk about each of these before I come back to God.
First, physical money. There’s something alluring about actual cash, coinage more so than paper money, because of its very weightiness. And when it used to be made of precious metal, it was physically valuable too. But the physical incarnation of money is the least of our worries today. So many transactions in the developed world are now carried out electronically, that the amount of coinage in circulation has drastically reduced, because it’s just not needed any more. This can be useful. In Sweden, where notes and coins are used in only 3% of transactions, the number of bank robberies has dropped from 153 in 1991 to just 5 in 2012.
But physical coinage is a reminder of something important about money. Trust. We’re only happy to use notes, cards and virtual cash if we believe these proxies relate to an actual ability to buy, sell or settle, either now or in the near future. The queues outside Northern Rock during the credit crunch were a reminder, that if people stop trusting banks, they will want to ‘take their money out’ in this physical sense. Which is why the banks should be worrying a lot about why we don’t love them any more.
Second, money can be understood as ‘Information Flows.’ Money for most of us is how much appears on a payslip, a bill or a bank statement. So ‘money' is basically information about relative value and relative wealth. But modern technology has made it seem as though lunatic money has taken over the asylum. For example, the economist John Kay reports that less than 5% of bank balance sheets consists of loans to non-financial institutions. This means that the vast majority of transactions these days are bank-to-bank, as institutions hungry for profit play games with fractions of pence to end the day up. On the exchanges, high-frequency trading run by algorithm comprises the majority of transactions, estimated at anywhere between 53% and 80% of volume. And the speed? It takes a human eye at least 100 milliseconds to blink, but it takes less than a tenth of this time for a trade to travel between Chicago and New York. In order to speed up financial transactions by 6 milliseconds, a $300 million, 3,741 mile underwater cable is currently being laid between London and New York, because each millisecond saved is estimated to boost a hedge fund’s annual bottom line by $100 million.
Third, money is Power, and money is Politics. Warring rulers have always used coinage as a way of asserting supremacy. In 193 AD, the Emperor Didius Julianus managed to get some coins out, even though he only reigned for 65 days, which must be a record. And the brilliant thing about creating your own money, and using it to pay people, is that you can collect it all straight back through taxation, then pay it out again as wages, and so on. Then, if times are tough, you can manipulate the value of it, or change the level of taxation. A bit like the old English ‘truck system’, which was the practice in some factories of paying the workers in tokens, redeemable at the factory shop, ostensibly to stop the men from drinking away their wages, but really to ensure all the money paid out immediately came back into company coffers through the on-site purchase of over-priced groceries.
So where’s God in all of this? The Church’s response to money over the years has been to focus on usury, just price and debt. The dog that isn’t barking is the debate on scarcity. Let’s deal with each in turn.
First, usury, based on the Aristotelian view that it’s 'unnatural' for sterile money to breed money. Over time, ‘usury’ has become ‘unreasonable’ interest. That’s why the government recently re-introduced into law a loan repayment cap, because of the mind-boggling rates of interest charged by the ‘payday’ lenders, like the 1723% APR charged by Payday UK. And Church support, particularly though the Spiritual Lords, has helped this to happen.
Second, just price, which is the historical debate about how much profit you should make on top of the cost of producing a good or service. The sanctity of market pricing makes this debate sound anachronistic, but recent events have brought it back into vogue, in the Church’s support for fair trade, and in the green debate. This is because costs to the planet or society, so-called ‘externalities’, are rarely factored into commercial pricing. But the lesson from fairtrade is that people of good will are always happy to pay extra if they think their spend is furthering social outcomes, as well as procuring valuable goods and services.
Third, debt, made famous through the Church’s involvement in Jubilee 2000, and nowadays through Justin Welby’s support for credit unions and debt counselling. Focusing on un-repayable debt, whether by countries or indebted individuals, this debate tends to be about injustice. It links thinking on usury and just price to protect the vulnerable from being over-charged for the money they have to borrow to survive. According to Oxfam, 1 in 5 people in the UK live below the poverty line. So now it’s morphed into more general pastoral support for the poor, and education about how to eke out meagre budgets. It’s often linked with the church’s involvement with struggling families through Food Banks, and generally features in bishop speeches in the House of Lords, for instance during the recent rebellion on tax credits.
But where the Church hasn’t yet got properly stuck in, is in the debate about money and scarcity. Technical Economists argue that scarcity is actually about ‘opportunity cost’, that is, there isn’t enough of everything to go round, so to get what we want we must forgo something else. Generally this means we spend our money on one thing, and not on something else. And the sense that resources, including money, are finite, makes us ration what we have. Or trade for it, or share.
But the idea that we should husband resources has been dealt a body blow by current monetary policy. Because money is no longer scarce. It never runs out, so we don’t need to make trade-offs about it. We just borrow more. And while there are efforts to curb consumer exposure to un-ending credit, the banks still benefit from it. When recently the economy looked weak, the UK government approved ‘Quantitative Easing’, which is the practice of inventing money in order to keep the economy moving. And banks do this on a smaller scale every time they approve a loan. They don’t actually have any of this money in their vaults. Well, they may have around 2% of it, on a good day, but they’re largely creating it out of thin air. So while money remains scarce for ordinary people with poor credit histories, it’s defiantly plentiful for financial institutions and the wider economy. Theoretically this phantom money could be used for the NHS, or for welfare, or for refugees. But instead it’s used to smoothe out the balance sheets of the banks, who also happen to fund the Conservative party. Power and politics, indeed.
We could spend hours debating public policy on this subject. But I’d like to conclude with some thoughts about your own behaviour around money. If St Peter asked to see your bank statement at the pearly gates, could you justify every item on it? Are you proud of it as a statement of your economic activity?
The market is just the sum total of the messages we put in about supply and demand. So the market is a mirror of society, and we get the market we deserve. If we don’t like the market we’ve got, we can transform it overnight through our transactions. There are a lot of Christians out there, and together we have a huge amount of financial muscle. That's what created the market for fairtrade goods, and we can do it again, by supporting enterprises we like and removing our support from the ones we don't. Did you know that the new economics foundation reckons that for every £1 spent with a national chain, only 36p stays local? But if you spend that pound in a local enterprise, £1.76 stays in the local area.
The human rights movement started in America with one woman sitting down on a bus. The redemption of the markets starts the next time you hand over your card to pay for something. Does your purchase send a good signal into the market, or a bad one? Remember, money isn’t ever ‘spent’ – it just moves inexorably on through the system. Do you send yours on its way rejoicing?

The 7 Minute Saint Primer

Sermon preached at Glenalmond for All Saints’ Day, 1 November 2015

Right. Your Chaplain says I have 7 minutes, to turn you all into Saints. No problem. For I am the Chairman of Gordonstoun, where we love a challenge!

First, I have a secret to share with you. Actually, we’re all saints already. Technically we’re saints, because we’re all made in the image of God, so we have the capacity to be saints. And practically we’re saints, because we’ve all either been saintly once or twice, or at least know other people a bit like us who have been from time to time. So we’re already half-way there. Result! Not even a minute gone, and we’re already ahead of the game.

But how can we achieve this technical and practical reality, a bit more consistently and often, so it’s not just our lovely mums who reckon we’re saints? Here’s my plan. It involves fighting, stealing, and swearing.

The first part is fighting. Saints are brilliant at fighting. These days it’s about words not swords, though.  But I’ve started with fighting, because it really worries me how vulnerable you all are. Bullying in my day was generally about being thumped in the playground, and luckily my parents had sent me to judo. But how can you fight back against abusive texts, nasty messages on social media, and the misuse of images that will stay online forever, and blight your future? In this community, you MUST FIGHT THIS. In your world it’s extremely saintly not to get involved in this kind of thing, and to call your peers on it when they do. And it’s terribly important. The psychological damage it’s doing to your generation is tragic and terrifying.
So, please, be careful. If you wouldn’t say it to their face, don’t be a coward and hide behind your phone. Fight your temper, not the person. Just switch your phone off until you’ve calmed down.

The second part of my plan involves stealing. I want you to steal people’s hearts. Do you know of the poem by Sir Philip Sidney, called “My true-love hath my heart and I have his”? It sounds a bit soppy from the title. But actually it’s quite an interesting poem, because it ends up with these lines: ‘He loves my heart, for once it was his own; I cherish his because in me it bides.’ Yuk. Mutual heart-transplants! Even Heathcliffe didn’t go quite that far in his macabre pursuit of Catherine. But what all saints know, of course, is that we’re all made of the same stuff, created in the image of God, and when we die we all return to the same stuff. So of course we love everyone else, because they are us. It’s all selfish, really. In the same way, of course Sir Philip and his lady, love each other’s hearts, because they are now their own. So can you look after other people’s hearts as though they were as precious as yours? Can you have a care for them and be gentle? Can you understand and forgive them, as you yourself hope always to be understood and forgiven?  

The third part of my plan involves swearing. Have you ever thought about what swearing is? Of course I’m sure none of you ever actually swear - probably you get detention for that here. ‘Swearing’, as in saying rude and naughty things, should really be called ‘swearing in vain,’ because it relates to the commandment in Exodus 20 verse 7 – ‘Do not take the name of the Lord in vain,’ that is, do not swear on God’s name then fail to live up to your oath. And I think this is rich territory for saint-schooling, because it’s both about keeping your word, and about not ‘cursing’ using the holy name of God or Christ. But if you’re just a trainee saint like me you probably get frustrated, and find yourself risking the odd detention now and again, possibly out of earshot and sotto voce. Actually, I think you should SWEAR MORE. Because I think that it’s rather crucial to the business of saintliness to be constantly texting God – OMG what is he LIKE?! So next time you find yourself driven to exclaim OH GOD in someone’s general direction, wouldn’t it be great if it wasn’t in vain, and you actually meant to call down a prayer on them? And what if you were actually making a promise both to yourself and to God when you did so, swearing an oath that you will try terribly hard not to be provoked by this person next time?

So please, more fighting, more stealing, and more swearing. Fight bullying, steal more hearts, and swear a prayer.

But how can we be sure we’ll stick to the plan? Here’s what I reckon is the key. Did anyone dress up for Halloween yesterday? Did you pretend to be a pumpkin or a ghost, or something weird like a Minion? Well, all you need to do is start PRETENDING to be a saint. That’s all. See if you can really fool people. Because if you try hard enough, you might actually fool yourself, and accidentally become one. Fake it ‘til you feel it. Simples!

Speech Day 2015 - St Anselm's, Bakewell

Hello. I am the Chairman of Gordonstoun School. We aren't as old as you are. You were founded the year my Great Granny was born. We were founded in the 30s by an extraordinary man called Kurt Hahn. He fled Nazi Germany and introduced to Scotland a schooling system designed to emphasise the formation of character. Our oldest former pupil is Prince Philip, who sent his boys to Gordonstoun too, and Princess Anne also sent her children to us. Three generations of Royals, because of our emphasis on character. But why is character so important? Isn't it confidence that you are supposed to get from coming to schools like ours?

Let me tell you a secret. I teach senior business people, with scary jobs. And you know the thing they have in common? Most of them suffer from katagelophobia. That's the fear of ridicule, of being 'found out.' Imposter syndrome, if you like. It's as if they're worried that their Mum is going to show up at the next Board meeting and tell them off for not tidying their bedroom. So it seems to me confidence is not all that common. In fact it is character that is the better goal, because it is character that gets you through when your confidence runs out. So I want to talk to you about character, by way of these props. My handbag, this medal, and these sunglasses.

First, my handbag. Heart-shaped, for love. The most important of the virtues. Maybe you suppose it's hard to practise love when you are away from your family at boarding school. But the sort of thing I mean is about listening to each other well, looking each other in the eye, and asking good questions. It's about forgiving a friend for a hurtful remark, or a casual betrayal, by trying hard to understand why. By the way, lots of these same grown-ups I teach are still bearing the scars of being bullied at school, and it still affects their confidence and their ability to form healthy relationships with other people. So please be careful with each other. Just small things like smiling can make such a difference. And if you need a selfish reason to be more loving? Acts of loving kindness stimulate the para-sympathetic nervous system, which tells your body you are at peace, making you feel less stressed.

Now, here is a medal. Not one for valour, in this case - I got it for triumphing in the American National Latin Exam (!) But it is to help me talk to you about courage. It takes a lot of courage for you two to come up here and make a speech. And every time you put up your hand in class to ask a question, every time you face down a bully, every time you try something new, this muscle gets a little stronger. And if you have courage you don't really need confidence, because it will carry you through. Just pushing yourself a little more every day will keep this muscle supple. Take a deep breath, and go for it.

My third item is this pair of sunglasses. They are rose-coloured spectacles because I want to talk to you about hope. All the adults here are looking at you, because you represent our greatest hope for the future. Hope is one of the reasons we get out of bed every morning, and keep going when things seem gloomy. And optimism is good for your health, too. There is a famous study they did on some nuns. This convent had a tradition that those entering it would write a letter about how they felt. The research compared the tone of these letters with medical records and dates of death, and found that the optimistic nuns suffered fewer illnesses and ailments, and lived longer than their pessimistic sisters. So looking on the bright side is really good for you, and cheers up those around you. Please keep hoping and dreaming, and don't ever give up imagining a better tomorrow.

So love, courage, hope. I am wearing them all now. Do any of you love singing hymns? You might know St Patrick's Breastplate, which is all about putting on the armour of God. And some days it may feel that you need to clothe yourself with righteousness before you feel able to start your day.

And don't worry if this is hard won. You will be learning at your best if being virtuous feels hard. At the business school where I teach, we did an experiment on people rather like your parents - captains of industry, and business leaders from across the sectors. We put them through a leadership simulation and wired them up to heart monitors so we could see what happened to them. They had to wear them all night, too. I could tell you interesting things about the effects of red wine on sleep, but the main thing we discovered was that increased heart-rate correlated with increased learning, and this learning stayed true long after the event itself. So if your heart is going like the clappers when you step up to give a speech, or do a solo, or take a penalty, rejoice! You are learning brilliantly, and these hard-won uncomfortable lessons will become the bedrock of your character in the future.

Esse quam videre. Your motto is about being, not just seeming to be. Character enables you to deliver on this. Kurt Hahn gave us a motto, plus est en vous: there is more in you than you think. This is a great rallying call for your teachers, whose job - education, from the Latin educare - is to draw this out of you. You are just starting on a long journey of character formation. There is already more in you than you think, and over the coming years you will discover more and more of yourself, and you will build yourself a character that will keep you safe wherever life leads you.

To those who are staying, good luck next year. To the leavers, all the best at your new school. Thank you to the staff for making this such a special place, and to all you parents for entrusting them with your children. They clearly love them almost as much as you do.

When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?

It’s ironic that this quote has been attributed to the economist John Maynard Keynes. Ironic, because economists as a breed are not known for changing their minds very often. They are not alone in this, of course. The social sciences, beset by so-called 'physics envy', seem at pains to be more scientific than thou.

So it was interesting to read Jo Confino's challenge to rethinking prosperity, in which he explains that we have been conditioned into regarding the globalised economic system as an impregnable monolithic structure.

He's right. Economics is often presented not only as monolithic, but as representing a set of 'natural laws' that only its High Priests are qualified to apply or amend. The debate is characterized by lots of mansplaining, and the use of obfuscatory jargon to frighten off the amateurs. One illustration of this is the struggle the post-crash economics community is having just trying to persuade their professors to refresh the economics curriculum.

So how best to penetrate the monolith, and what, specifically, do we need to change our minds about? The monolith that is global market capitalism depends on seven big ideas. These served the world well in the past, but over the years they have become cancerous, and are slowly killing the system as a whole.

First, competition, the linchpin of the entire system. In fact, mathematicians would argue in favour of co-operation as a primary strategy, because it yields better outcomes over time. While winning at all costs is necessary for survival in war, in business, companies want longer term customer and supplier relationships. On the other hand, co-operation and the sharing of information increases the size of the pie, instead of restricting the debate to arguments about how best to cut it up. And absolute competition isn’t just mathematically questionable, it’s sexist, too. While male fight-or-flight physiology favours competition, particularly in challenging environments, it ignores the role that female physiology has to play. Research conducted on female subjects suggests quite a different physiological response, one that has been dubbed ‘tend-and-befriend’. So being hooked on competition may actually be compounding a tendency towards sub-optimal outcomes, reinforced through the norms of a traditionally masculine business environment.

Second, the ‘invisible hand’ is just an optimistic myth. It offers a reassuring but inaccurate justification for self-interested behaviour. While order does frequently rise out of chaos, there is no evidence to suggest that this always tends towards the good, and certainly none sufficient to justify society’s reliance on it. The crowd is sometimes wise, but not invariably so. In fact, leaving things to the ‘invisible hand’ skews the market in favour of the strongest. This maximizes their utility, but not that of society or the world at large.

Third, the idea that ‘utility’ is the best way to measure the effectiveness and morality of the market works only if the ‘invisible hand’ really exists. This is because the concept is an empty one – utility for what? If there is no guarantee that individually selfish behaviours produce a good outcome overall, a system based on this thinking cannot be moral without help. And the sort of help this requires – government intervention – is exactly what the economists are trying to avoid, because it interferes with the smooth functioning of the market, and gets political, fast. Even if this idea was a sound one, the idea that ‘Economic Man’ is a rational agent is wildly optimistic. We are all subject to irrational urges, whether through peer pressure, emotions, or our psychological makeup. Assuming we are all robots just leads to confusion about how the market actually works, and about how best to run it.

Fourth, Adam Smith’s original notion about the different interests of owners and managers has had catastrophic consequences. It has used negative psychology to generate HR policies that assume employee recalcitrance, limiting the ability of organizations to unlock human potential. Worse, it’s been used to justify the disastrous ubiquity of executive shareholding. This practice, hand-in-hand with the idea of the supremacy of the shareholder, has made corporate strategy defiantly short-termist and manipulative.

Fifth, the assumption that the price mechanism, left to its own devices, will settle at a scientific equilibrium, is nonsense. It ignores the interplay between supply and demand, and the potential for both of these to be manipulated. As well as airbrushing out the historical debate about ‘just’ prices, market pricing ignores historical questions about cost. This obscures a very important debate about hidden costs (or ‘externalities’), like the environmental cost of pollution. In an age where the limits of the Earth are starting to be felt, it is vital that this debate about the market’s embeddedness is not ignored. There is now no cod left in Newfoundland, and the planet is running out of other commodities all the time.

Sixth, the belief in the shareholder as king owes more to a romanticized ideal about the nature of shareholding than it does to reality. Ignoring the extremely limited sense in which shareholders actually ‘own’ businesses, modern patterns of shareholding make the ‘shareholder’ a rather bizarre – and certainly fleeting – concept. The average time for which a share is now held? About 11 seconds. Blink and you’ll miss it. Sticking to the romance that the shareholder is a nice old bloke who founded the company just drives short-termism. In an attempt to keep him in socks by keeping the share price high, companies neglect wider issues of accountability by ignoring other company stakeholders. This romanticism has fuelled the exponential rise of boardroom pay, and an overly narrow measurement of corporate performance. Many would now argue that shareholder value is the WMD of capitalism.

Seventh, the dominance of the limited liability model is extremely risky. In a global economy, the resilience of the system will always depend on diversity, so no one single model should prevail. But 98% of companies registered in England and Wales enjoy limited liability. In institutionalizing moral hazard, it also plays into an increasingly irresponsible shareholder culture, because there is no downside. More encouragement in law and public policy of alternative models for enterprise would introduce healthy ‘competition’ between business models. And more employee ownership and mutualization would spread risk, as well as creating a wider range of businesses with different risk profiles and models of success.

Is it naive to suggest than a mere change of mind can lead to a change of heart and a change in behaviour? Imagine how you would have felt as a navigator when you first realised there was no longer a risk of you steering the ship over the edge of the earth into the abyss. Imagine how you would have felt waking up the morning after your brother had abdicated as King-Emperor of the British Empire. Imagine how you would have felt crossing the finishing line behind Roger Bannister on 6 May 1954 and hearing this announcement: “Ladies and gentlemen, here is the result of Event 9, the one mile: 1st, Number 41, RG Bannister, Amateur Athletic Association and formerly of Exeter and Merton Colleges, Oxford, with a time which is a new meeting and track record, and which—subject to ratification—will be a new English Native, British National, All-Comers, European, British Empire and World Record. The time was 3 minutes, 59.4 seconds."

So yes. When the facts change, I change my mind. What will you do, sir?

If you want to read more about this, my book is now out:

Toxic Assumptions