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Hope Does Not Need Rose-tinted Glasses

With the global economy still front and center and, frankly, a completely distracting and unwelcome subject that has gone on far too long, the questions remaining could be phrased as “How much longer?” and “How much worse, or is this as bad as it will be?”

Looking to the experts is of little use: opinions are all over the map and crystal balls seem to be in short supply. So perhaps the following will provide a new angle that may allow you to decide for yourself what the future may hold—for the future does not happen to more able individuals, it is made by them.

Two or three years ago, I wrote an article suggesting that private service and even hospitality butlers do something from their positions to send a signal to the wealthy financial people they were happily serving, while these illustrious gentlemen (generally) were equally busy setting up the economy for a collapse to end all collapses. I was persuaded to withdraw that article as it would not have been understood, was too political for a butler to be engaging in, and not to mention counter-productive, insulting one’s clients (in the private sector) and some amongst one’s client’s clients (in hospitality).

I took heed only because of the first point: very few people were willing to look in 2006 at what would be unfolding and so the article would not have achieved its purpose, high as society was at the time on the excesses of an inflated economy. This article carries a similar risk of falling beyond the acceptance level of some readers; but this time, I will not make the same mistake: just one person saying, “Ah…I see, yes, that does explain things a bit better,” makes the article worth the pixels expended.

As for the political accusation, anyone who understands that classic work on service, butlers, and duty, The Remains of the Day, knows that the author, Kazuo Ishiguro, was exploring exactly this issue: the glorious following of duty over one’s ethical obligations to society and the ramifications it has on one and all, the butler included, when he puts blind duty to an individual above duty to the greater society. And for the last point, it does not take an IQ greater than about 80 to know that a collapsing economy, just like a sinking ship, brings down all within it, so what concern would one have for criminal (as in “expecting great returns in exchange for nothing of value, and under false pretenses”) clients not hiring one?

How did I know that the economy would collapse? Probably because (a) I looked at what was actually going on (see below) instead of thinking dim, introspective thoughts about it or listening to the dim thoughts of the “experts” based on the thoughts of earlier experts and (b) because I know the simple fundamentals of money and that when one ignores those basics, reality has a habit of asserting itself before long.

Maybe butlers handing in their notice to employers who were pulling apart the fabric of society, or refusing to service them in hotels, would have sent a strong message that would have focused attention on the problem, or maybe all it would have done would be to lose some butlers their jobs while others less ethical would be happy to fill the gap. Like I said, however, life has a way of rubbing one’s nose in one’s own failings when ethics is not the watchword. We have a number of butlers looking for work currently because their employers failed to do the right thing and are suffering the consequences, unable to afford butlers or much of anything else; so perhaps there is something to be said for integrity after all and the idea of butlers (and others) voting with their feet.

The difficulty, of course, is that this approach requires a butler be judgmental of clients, guests, or employers, and this would never work in a hospitality setting. But it is actually very simple in a private-service setting where a contract for employment works both ways.

The same could be done at a hospitality level, but frankly, the bottom line beckons us with a boney and compelling finger to take whatever we can while ethics takes a back seat. Well, it does work for the short term, but how certain are we now of following this strong agreement that we have no obligation in hospitality to identify and refuse to harbor criminals, whether Capones, Banksters (a 1930’s term), or other white-collar criminals? We all agree that if guests are criminal towards us directly, we have every right to refuse them service (see the three articles on The Guest from Hell and the subsequent creation of HotelSafeguard). Well, what about indirect impacts? Currently, high-end hotels around the world are averaging a drop of over 15% on occupancy December to February (CNN report). Managers and marketers are becoming creative and enterprising in attracting guests, offering better packages without actually degrading their image by lowering rates.  Unemployment (in the US hospitality industry) has increased since the first shoe dropped, from 8.2% to 11.6%.

If one listen to the mealy mouthed financial experts, one hopes by 2010 things will have turned around. Yet predictably, word is starting to seep through the media filters of 2011, perhaps 2012, according to the IMF now, before we will see an end. Some don’t think we will see an end. We have progressed in the media from mild language about a correction in housing prices to mild recession to recession and now, to the deepest recession since the Great Depression. Soon they’ll admit this is the deepest Depression (in fact, since the 14th Century in Europe, when the bankers of Venice left their mark on the same kind of scale). Thanks to government actions taken during the Great Depression (the same as those being taken today), what was just a Wall Street collapse that impacted three million at most was expanded to the entire country and prolonged for years in the form of the Great Depression.

Whether or not a past fact requires the future follow the same model, there are economic fundamentals at work here that until remedied, will continue to bear down upon us with an inevitable conclusion. So the fact that the economic powers that be (the same exact individuals who encouraged the “irrational exuberance” that they complained about but made possible in the derivatives and housing markets) have tried to make the real economy make up for their losses with a trillion bailout here, a trillion there, all the while inflating the money supply; and have yet to admit to us what they know well: that their losses are not one or two trillion (the IMF just admitted that it may be as high as $4 trillion), but somewhere between USD60 trillion and 1.4 quadrillion (depending upon which expert one listens to). With a total US economy of $11 trillion (before the collapse), it seems the financiers have a problem akin to trying to make an elephant fit into a Mini Cooper and all the while, trying to convince the other passengers that it is not an elephant, but an anorexic Praying Mantis.

The Banksters need to succeed, however, in order to continue with their financial system and cosy set-up which has lasted for almost a full century since they pushed through income tax in the US and at the same time, established the privately held Federal Reserve to control the money (and thus the government). And so they have persuaded Congress and we the people today to support their reasoning of a devastating collapse of the economy and society if the handful of large financial institutions that had engaged in these Ponzi schemes, were not bailed out (many US banks did not involve themselves in these schemes). The powers that be even threatened martial law if their “reasoning” were not accepted, with 20,000 US troops specially trained in combating civil unrest ready for deployment (violating the Posse Comitatus Act and the Insurrection Act) and prison camps newly constructed in every state ready for anyone who objected.

Well, I have some childish reasoning to put to these experts: why do the literal handful of big banks need to be bailed out so they can refuse to say what they are doing with the money, other than paying more-than-handsome executive bonuses, refuse to lend citizens any of that taxpayer money, and also dramatically alter for the worse their credit lines and interest rates without cause? In the US, $2 trillion given directly to US citizens would give a family of four $30,000, certainly enough to keep their mortgage going and buy a car from General Motors.

Too bad the financiers allowed their “arrangement” to run out of control and into broad daylight so we had no choice but to sit up and take notice.

Sorry to take the gloves off, but maybe it is also time the rose-tinted glasses came off, as they prevent accurate perception. Whereas one perhaps has sympathy when a person has fallen and asks for help, this is not what is happening. Crimes of great magnitude have been committed, and instead of atoning or trying to make up, the perpetrators are bullying the victims into giving more. This isn’t the way the cowboy movies are meant to end. Let’s just take a quick look, then, at what actually happened to trigger the collapse that is affecting the lives and futures of 6.7 billion people on this planet.

By taking “liar loans” (called that at the time because people were encouraged to lie in order to qualify for large house loans and so inflate commissions for the brokers), financial institutions then folded these into whole new exotic-sounding super-safe investment vehicles and sold them to foreigners and US citizens alike who (a) did not understand the nature of the investments because they were so complex, and (b) were assured they were safe by US rating agencies that did not actually look at what they were giving an AAA rating to until after the whole house of cards had collapsed. Then, like Mr. Alan Greenspan, the venerable Federal Reserve chief responsible (with other Wall Street individuals who funneled $5 billion into lobbying Congress to remove any government oversight of Wall Street*) for pushing the whole concept of derivatives on the world economy, they sheepishly said, “Oh, I made a mistake.” Now, instead of putting these people in charge of fixing up the mess (trying to disguise the reason for and extent of the problem and recoup their losses from everyone else), should not be behind bars for the white-collar crime of the millennium? Mr. Made-off’s $50 billion is just so insignificant in scope compared with the tens or hundreds of trillions these experts have visited upon us and the resulting global meltdown.

As an internal memo from Mr. Tom Fitzpatrick, Citibank’s chief technical strategist revealed in November 2008, what the big banks really think about the global financial situation is, “The world is not going back to normal after the magnitude of what they have done. When the dust settles this will either work, and the money they have pushed into the system will feed through into an inflation shock.” Or, as he goes on to explain, if the massive money creation efforts by the Federal Reserve and other central banks does not bring about a surge in inflation in 2009 or 2010, then the other scenario is a fall into “depression, civil disorder, and possibly wars.” Thinking like a true economist rather than a humanitarian, he suggested investing in gold because it will climb to over $2,000 per ounce (it’s half way there already). He certainly has no confusions on the fundamentals of money: he, I am sure, knows that the US currency supply has been inflated in the three decades from 1977 to 2007, from $50 billion in 1977 to $750 billion in 2007; and the money supply from $1 trillion to $11 trillion during the same time period…a figure that has climbed a further $4 trillion over the last two years, to an estimated $15 trillion.

One has to wonder if 20,000 troops will be enough to quell a populace of over 300 million when it realizes the little hard-earned cash it still has, has been turned into worthless pieces of paper by the Federal Reserve. One wonders if those 20,000 troops would not connect the dots: inflation was really riding at 15% until the recent price drops, not the government-advertised 4%; unemployment in the US is actually 20%, not the advertised 8%, and their families are in the middle of it all, too.

One would prefer to think that there will be a quiet accounting, and real managers invited to manage the economy of the US, and thus the world, on an honest basis of, “You do an honest day’s work, you are rewarded. You fiddle the books, you don’t eat in Michelin- and Mobil-rated restaurants anymore.”

But in the meantime, it seems the more likely scenarios are either the financiers manage to fit that elephant into the Mini, squashing the other passengers with inflation, or the Mini collapses under the weight it was not built to carry. Neither option offers much hope of an early end to the occupancy squeeze for the luxury hospitality markets.

Behind the Curtain

But let’s take a step back from this tired drama and look for something completely novel: an answer to the question, “How did things get this bad and sad?”

Some people live by a“tooth-and-claw, survival-of-the-fittest, the-hell-with-everyone-else” philosophy. Capitalism as it has become, is based after all on creating scarcities for others in order to bring about wealth and power for oneself. Looking beyond economics, there is really no guarantee or pre-ordained command that man will survive. Civilizations have come and gone on this planet with monotonous regularity. Without answering the question, “Why?” we can expect to repeat the same painful end games time and again. Let’s rephrase the question a bit more intelligently: “What could be behind these economic and other turmoils, when the majority of us are quite happy to get along with our neighbor and for him (or her) to succeed, too? After all, we do not go out of our way to harm others on the road to our own success.”

And a well-posed question elicits the answer, for there we have it: we, as a specie, are so nice and decent, that we cannot credit that a few in our midst may not be nice and may be working in hidden ways to steer us onto the rocks. We assume everyone thinks the way we do, which is about as correct as saying that everyone looks the same, weighs the same, and likes the same television programs. Would it surprise you to know that 2-3% of the populace has secretly bad, destructive, evil if you will, agendas? And that our error is not recognizing this; and secondly, allowing this minority to take control, bit by bit, because we think life is too short to mess with people who are mean-spirited as they claw their way to the top and fill the positions around them with like-minded people?

Now this is probably a novel idea, that beyond the obviously evil people like Charles Manson and Ted Bundy (whom the authorities deal with), that there could be people like that next door, in or in the local government, or wearing suits on Wall Street. And here’s another idea: when this kind of person does manage to work himself into a position of power, he or she will act in what he considers his own interests, not yours and more than that, will actively work to reduce your welfare, strength, and happiness.

Why? Because they are secretly terrified of others becoming stronger than them, because they just know that everyone is out to get them (as that is how they think), and the only way they can survive is to undermine others (secretly, otherwise they would be caught and their power taken away). The good news is that two or three in every hundred people is a distinct minority. The bad news is, that means we have about 170 million of these jokers working their sad ways amongst us planet-wide. And the other not-so-good news is that their type is pretty well running the show (this is not to say all people in power are like this, but a sufficient number in key places is all it takes to steer for the rocks).

Look at Mugabe in Zimbabwe, he is an obvious example: death, fear, destruction of the real economy, and inflation of the money supply using the same procedures as are currently in vogue in the US, so that by 2008, three eggs cost 100 billion Zimbabwean dollars: all the work of one evil individual who has his fist firmly in all lines of power.

But how about a person who knowingly takes actions that collapse the entire world economy, not that of one African nation? Yes, they dress in suits, yes, they say things that sound so convincing, yes, they drive Royces and have hot-and-cold-running maids and butlers, but as the saying goes, “By their fruits shall ye know them.” Individuals who try, and generally do bring about more good than bad, are among the good guys. If the actual result of their actions, long term not just short term, is destructive, then we are looking at one of the bad guys.

What does one say about a person who knowingly pushes cocaine from Columbia on children; or SSRIs** on babies and children based on the fiction that there is such a thing as a Prozac deficiency in the brain, or such a thing as a chemical balance (which nobody can possibly establish) and then watches the suicide rates and shooting incidents in schools explode on the nightly news?

What does one say about someone who causes the money supply in the US to multiply and multiply, knowing that it will take food off the table of those individuals and families living on the borderline; and who tries to cover his gambling losses in the derivatives and exotic investments markets by raiding the real economy and presiding over its collapse and the concomitant suffering for every man, woman and child around the world?

And here we come to the crux of the matter: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” (Edmund Burke). The hardest thing for anyone to face up to is evil, meaning the deliberate actions by another to harm or destroy others. One desperately looks for any excuse not to have to call a spade a spade; one does not want to be uncharitable, “we all have things to hide,” etc. etc. “Peace in our time!” said the British Prime Minister after meeting with Adolf Hitler just before that madman launched a war that killed 72 million people. “His mother did not breastfeed him enough;” “He had a troubled upbringing;” And as one steps over the rivers of blood in the streets, “Oh, they are really nice people, deep down.”

Actually, they are mad dogs and need to be removed from any lines of power and fixed up for the sorry human beings they have let themselves become. That’s the truth of the matter, and that, also, is the basic problem we face in this world economy. We can try to fix this and that, we can argue about supposed causes and motives and ramifications, but unless we take the hands of the evil people off the wheel, they will keep steering us all towards the rocks.

Because you are sensible, you will say, “Oh, they wouldn’t do that, not sink the ship deliberately, especially when it means they would drown, too.” And here we have the basis of your problem: you are trying to apply your sense of fairness, rightness, logic, and good sense to people who are nuts. They do not think like you do, which is why they are the bad guys and you are one of the good guys. Remember, secretly, behind those cold eyes or that too-ingratiating smile, lies a feverish world of cold calculations, how to bring about your demise without you knowing, and therefore their own (rather miserable) survival (they think).

This may not be an easy point to take in, but just inspect your own life and see if it is not haunted by the actions of others (known or unknown) which just bring about disaster…the actions of those big-tipping financiers who have imploded the world’s economy and are now sitting on their ill-gotten wealth while you sweat it out, trying to work out how to raise the occupancy rates and perhaps already wondering whether your hotel will be open next year.

Just Kidding, Right?

Alright, so maybe the above rant was just the result of a caffeine deficiency. In fact, the outlook is rosy for hospitality: by the end of this year, the scare will be over, the government programs and bailouts for ex-colleagues in the financial sector and the hyperactive printing presses will have kept the banks lending, corporations producing, consumers buying, vacationers traveling, and business conferences back on track in exotic places; staff will be rehired, butler programs will be reinstated or beefed up again to deliver on that idyllic promise of pampering guests, and we will look upon 2009 as an unnerving but thankfully brief aberration in an otherwise new era of planetary leisure-and-pleasure courtesy of our industry.

One can dream, but dreams usually take an awful lot of intelligent action behind the scenes to bring into the real world, as anyone in hospitality knows.

You can write to me if you’d like a few pointers on how to spot the bad guys, because they make themselves hard to spot; it does no good to spot someone who is simply behaving irrationally under the influence of the bad guy. You’d be surprised what a relief it is to identify the bad guys and cut them out of your life, starting with any that might be in your immediate environment. If we all did that, we would increase our sphere of influence and, who knows, one day help bring about the widespread practice of insisting upon ethical solutions to our problems, looking after the interests of all (or as close to all) of those impacted by any decisions being made.

I look forward to that day, because hope springs eternal, even at the darkest of hours; and in the meantime, I wish you well in raising those occupancy rates despite the ill-wind blowing against you; and even seeing some of you when training your butlers or staff, for if there is one useful truth, it is that we are responsible for our own success and for creating the world we want, rather than sitting back and whining about how insurmountable are the obstacles, or worse, seeing the obstacles through rose-tinted glasses.

* The repeal of the 1933 Depression-era Glass-Steagall Act that prohibited mergers of commercial banks, insurance companies, & brokerage firms; and the passage of the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000, which prevented the US Government regulatory agency, Commodity Futures Trading Corporation, from having any oversight over financial derivatives trading.

** SSRI drugs prevent existing serotonin from leaving the brain and so allow newly produced serotonin to accumulate into higher and higher levels (the theory being that serotonin is a neurotransmitter responsible for the ‘feel good’ emotion). The same holds true for other “feel good” neurotransmitters, such as dopamine. The substance that causes dopamine to be kept in the brain is cocaine. So we have pharmaceuticals hooking hundreds of millions of people on the chemical formula of cocaine under the guise of “mental health” and profits, and even having laws passed that force newborns, their mothers, school children, foster children, and literally anyone onto cocaine—in direct legal competition with illegal business enterprises from Columbia and elsewhere. An interesting business model, to be sure, but hardly an ethical activity.

Published in various magazines, including Hotel News Resource, Hospitality Trends, Hospitality Net, and Airline News Resource (April 2009).