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Raves, and rants – first reactions to the banking blog | Joris Luyendijk

Hundreds of people from inside and outside the world of finance have offered enthusiastic responses to our experiment

Is it possible to get addicted to anger? Addicted in the sense of losing the ability to think rationally about your addiction, of blocking out all inconvenient information that may challenge the addiction, and of needing ever larger doses to feel satisfaction?

Going over the first 500-plus reactions to the banking blog since its launch last Thursday, it is difficult not to wonder what kind of psychological benefit some people might derive from venting their anger about bankers.

But before I come to that, there is something much more striking about the comments: how many people took the trouble of writing to say they liked the project. What this suggests is that there are people out there who are eager to peer over the fence into the world of finance. The opening piece received over a thousand “likes” on Facebook in less than five days – and I was worried nobody would be interested in more background on the world of finance! More good news: more than two dozen volunteers have come forward from across the financial sector to take part in the series of portraits we are running. So there seems to be an eagerness to learn on the part of outsiders, and a willingness to share on the part of insiders.

Some reactions were critical, of course, often for good reasons, and others were simply hilarious – though not always in a good way. Take this comment by Paragonoftruth: “Reading these ‘voices of finance’ just makes me lose the will to live …”

Hang in there, Paragonoftruth, and perhaps have a look at this LOL clip about the financial world:

Let’s return to those insiders for a moment. Quite a few were happy to see their sector demystified, to have it made clear to outsiders that the world of finance is populated in very large part not by flashy generals but by grunts. Their work is often unglamorous and their pay is nowhere near that of the bankers in the headlines. News is about excesses, the exception to the rule. It seems this project is more about that rule.

A recurring piece of criticism from insiders was that the scope of this project is too vast: the sector is simply too large, too diverse, too complex for one person to cover – even if others help out online.

As one ex-banker put in an email:

“It’s like, an anthropological study of the NHS, you expect it’s mainly doctors and nurses, but then you find there are a million sub-professions … Off the top of my head other unique specimens would include: corporate bankers, bond/debt traders, bond/debt sale people, equity traders, equity sales people, derivatives traders, investment managers (fund management industry), fund markers, FX traders, FX sales, credit strategists, credit analysts, operations director/manager, systems director/manager, settlements staff, pensions administrators, business analysts. And this doesn’t even touch the insurance market or accounting.”

Generalisations about “the bankers” are bound to miss some or even many of these areas. What’s more, the idea of blaming everyone in finance for the crisis seems illogical and possibly counterproductive.

Many insiders writing in are very unhappy with the cowboys and machos in the world of finance. When Lehman Brothers went bust, many people working there had nothing to do with any of the practices that brought the bank down, and yet still lost their jobs. This is a major worry for many in finance right now, something you are likely to miss if you look at the world of finance as one greedy monolith.

Another concern was that this project is too uncritical. That point is well taken. The portraits are of people in their own words. As a rule, people are not self-critical.

But these portraits are the first step in a project of at least nine months’ duration. There will be plenty of critical inquiry later – already a few insiders have written in to volunteer information about the darker or more controversial aspects of the sector. In the words of one financial professional whose portrait will be published shortly: “I am not at all in the ‘I love my job’ camp.”

Now for the outsiders. There were roughly three categories: people venting their anger about bankers; people venting their anger about people venting their anger about bankers; and people saying nice things.

What’s the deal with the venters? In what way is venting your anger going to change anything? Rage is not empowering, unless it can energise the pursuit of a clear course of action. I don’t see that clear course of action yet with the banking crisis. Take this week’s publication in the UK of the Vickers report on banking reform, and its proposal to ringfence banks (separate their activities rather than breaking them up). Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee called the report a sham; the equally respected Observer columnist Will Hutton praised it. Neither could be accused of special pleading or doing the banks’ bidding. It really seems as if more insight into the world of finance could be useful. But learning while raging is very difficult, as learning involves changing and developing your beliefs, and you can’t be really mad about something that you’re still in the process of trying to understand.

Or so it seems to me – so I try not be angry at angry commenters because then I never learn from them. Like one Alanski who wrote: “Why bother studying them? Why not fire them all, put them on the dole, and distribute their spare cash to the people who suffered from their greed, stupidity and incompetence.”

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