Giles Fraser: Bankers are victims, too, in the City cult

25 January 2012

I had two unconnected meetings last week, which have been cross-pollinating in my head. The first was at the Cass Business School, where the ever-enterprising Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer has begun to initiate a conversation between business and religious leaders for his new Spiritual Capital Foundation. The second was a committee meeting for INFORM, an organisation led by Professor Eileen Barker, which seeks to provide reliable information on New Reli­gious Movements — the sort of set-ups that red-top newspapers would know as cults.

At the business school, a young chap was describing his experiences when working for a large testosterone-fuelled merchant bank. Although he got paid vast sums, he worked all the hours God sent. He had no life outside work. Indeed, work organised his dry-cleaning, his dog-walking, and even arranged to redecorate his house.

Here is the connection, because, to all intents and purposes, his bank looked like a cult. He spoke of break­ing free from its all-encompassing culture, as if escaping some­thing that was squeezing the life out of him.

Much has been said recently about “responsible capitalism”. This week, it was the Prime Minister’s turn. “I want these difficult economic times. . . to lead to a socially responsible and genuinely popular capitalism.”

These are sentiments that are now being rehearsed all over the world — from the slopes of Davos to the Occupy movement’s Tent City Uni­versity outside St Paul’s. But, while many are rightly complaining about the ways in which our current articulation of capitalism has worked too much for the benefit of a few wealthy individuals, we still do not understand how these same people are themselves often victims of the very system that rewards them so hugely in material terms.

That is what spiritual capital is all about. As Dr Danah Zohar, with whose name spiritual capital is most closely associated, has put it: “To­day’s business culture is operating from the four negative motivations of fear, greed, anger, and self-assertion. If you want to create holistic collaborations, then you’ve got to act from the higher motivations. Spiritual capital is the wealth an individual or organisation has, based on its deepest meanings, values, and purposes. It is reflected in what that individual or organisation exists for, believes in, aspires to, and takes responsibility for.”

Indeed, it is spiritual capital that feels so absent in the City of London today. Amid the range of pejorative adjectives that we are now attaching to the sort of capitalism that has failed us, we also need to recognise that among its victims are those who work in those great glass towers.

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