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We don't really have bad apples, just bad systems

EVERYONE, it seems, wants a spring clean these days. And why not? It is the season, after all. But the main reason people are looking for a good clearing out of the old right now is not a change in temperature, but the fact that they are fed up with what was in our collective closet, now that it is exposed to the bright light of day.

At the same timethe British public seems to have located a whole crop of bad apples in its parliament and in its banking system, an increasingly binary view of humanity appears to have come into vogue. In the last three weeks I have read three articles in three prominent publications in which people were basically grouped as either/or - you are either a tortoise or a hare, a high delayer or a low delayer, or one of two men whose name begins with B.

It is tempting to think we can sort society so easily, once we have the key. Following this logic, those bankers and MPs who have been found to be greedy, self-serving and willing to enrich themselves at public expense can be identified, rooted out and replaced with a better brand of human.

A similar need to blame sprang up in the bloodstock industry after the tidal wave of financial collapse left exposed the ill effects of overproduction, which had been accumulating for years. Greedy stallion owners, reckless breeders and the failure of racing to come up with an adequate prize-money foundation have been variously blamed for the speculative bubble that billowed around the commercial breeding market.

For better or worse, though, I think most of us know, deep down, that human nature is too complex to be described by a numerical system based on two. For one thing, simply sorting people into such groups requires making some broad-sweeping assumptions about our behaviour, more appropriate to the laboratory, or toa consultant's limited imagination, than to real life.

In real life, most people react to the opportunity to make money the easy way based mainly on a mix of learned behaviours, including how we were raised and how those around usare behaving. Just about everyone knows someone who profited from the property bubble, the bloodstock bubble, the art market bubble or the booming equity markets of the last decade. It might even have been you.

None of these phenomena would have happened without the support of a vast swathe of society, most who thought they were behaving perfectly reasonably. The bloodstock bubble was no more than another speculative venture, only tenuously connected to racing, that existed by virtue of easy credit (in the US, banks; in Britain and Ireland, lenient sales companies), and inflationary ringside and behind-the-scenes tactics that thrived because most everyone involved was ultimately making money from them.

So youknow, we don't really have a box of bad apples. What we have are bad systems, feeding into and fed by a lousy communal ethos, that were enabled by willing participants who are essentially like you and me. The only way to clean house, as I think the DailyTelegraph has proved, is to expose the bad practices thoroughly to public scrutiny, and let the public pass judgement.

 

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