To mark the one year anniversary of Occupy London, in October, Toby Green in The Independent asked “So What’s The Legacy of Occupy London?” Today marks the one year anniversary of Ian Harris and Michael Mainelli’s visit. Ian Harris explains why they went and why an Occupy London legacy would benefit Long Finance.
This time last year, I, together with Michael Mainelli, visited the Occupy London camp outside St Pauls Cathedral. We had just released our book, The Price of Fish, in which we ask uncomfortable, impertinent questions in search of pertinent and permanent answers to fundamental questions in commerce, economics and finance.
We felt that the Occupy London protesters cared deeply about the same issues and were, in their own way, insisting rigorously on debating them. We went with some trepidation, bearing gifts of books and chocolate coins. Not many besuited folk had ventured into the camp, not even people from the “open-minded and free-thinking yet besuited” community. But we needn’t have worried. People listened and indeed joined in a lively debate on topics such as inequality of pay, unjust levels of interest charges and unsustainable over-exploitation of natural resources.
One year on, I’m not convinced that the Occupy movement has left much of a legacy in London. But nor am I convinced that the right lessons have been learnt in the City in the five years since the start of the financial crisis. The bonus culture in banks, for example, seems little changed today. The deficit in ethical behaviour and trustworthiness exposed by the Libor scandal is another example of lessons being learned very slowly, if at all.
The Occupy movement has, I think, had a more lasting impact on the wider population’s perception of the financial world, which is creditable indeed. Although the financial world affects everyone, it is hard to get most people to think about finance at all. I know this from experience; in 2007 Z/Yen Group started the Long Finance initiative, which aims to improve society’s understanding and use of finance over the long term, by posing awkward questions and encouraging innovative answers.
At Long Finance, we seek to engage with people from diverse backgrounds, to include the values and attitudes of people across cultures and societies. Our web-based community and events are open to all. But the terrific people who participate are nearly all “the usual suspects” from the City and/or academia. Occupy movement people can still make a real, lasting difference, by garnering public interest, getting involved and helping us to formulate proposals for positive change. Long Finance would undoubtedly benefit from increased diversity. This is not a call to arms; but it is a call to brains.