Warren Buffet popularised the phrase ‘to have skin in the game ‘ when referring to high ranking executives within an organisation who used their own money to invest in that very same organisation.To have ‘no skin in the game’ is a book written by an American (former investment banker)called Nassim Nicholas Taleb, about the complete opposite . I haven’t actually read the book as it is above my intellectual pay grade. However, the outline got me thinking..
He widens the scope of those having ‘skin in the game’ to Surgeons , nurses, teachers, bus drivers, police on the streets, soldiers on the front line , farmers ploughing the field, brick layers. In other words any job or activity where there is a stake in the outcome (positive or negative).
Having ‘no skin in the game’ relates to the likes of politicians, journalists, academics, bankers, religious leaders(of all faiths) et al…. in other words whatever their musings, pontifications, espousing, directives it is others who experience the consequences.
Both descriptions are generalisations, yet the more I think about it, the more , I think, it makes sense. In every day commercial life it occurs on a regular basis. From the newly appointed buyer of a large retail organisation who decides to change the supply chain because they can and then moves on six months later oblivious to any consequences through to the mendacious consumer who can ruin a local business from a spiteful social media campaign.
Politicians, in most democracies, are subject to party policy and their own ambitions . Of course they answer to the voter, but many career politician are too canny to know that staying in power is not always the same as representing The electorate. This is often illustrated by senior ministers, who, when retiring or are retired from main stream politics speak a completely language to when they were in power.
Ambitious journalists will pursue stories at whatever cost. Even the biggest and most noble stories have unintended consequences. Even the guilty protagonist of a crime investigation will have innocent family or acquittances who will have been pursued relentlessly for the sake of the story.
Who knew that the bankers (this is not about banking bashing ) involved in the banking crisis of 2008, were not using their own money ?
Why do so many religious leaders of all faiths pursue dogma often at the expense of the individuals who make up their followings?
How many company chairman and CEO’s spend real time talking to those at the ‘coal face’ and really understand the consequences of their decision making within their own organisation ?
Within recent years , certainly within the U.K , failure at the highest levels both in private and public life, have often ended with rewards. There is an endless list of CEOs, both of private and public organisations who failed yet sailed off into the sunset with a fat cheque. Contractual, we are told. Quite possibly but this form of contract only distances them further from the ‘coal face’, in that they do not suffer the consequences of their decisions. They have ‘no skin in the game’.
Academics are amongst the worst offenders, as often, they really do live in ‘ivory towers’. Yet politicians, bankers, educationalists, industrialists , health specialists, to name but a few, rely heavily on their thinking processes . Their experience of the ‘front line’ is at worst non existent, at best limited. More often than not the consequences of their thought processes are far reaching , yet they seem to have little or no realisation (nor I suspect ‘real concern’) of the end result. If their theories (which is often all they are) prove to be incorrect they just move on.
Despite all this, in every aspect of our lives we expect to be advised and to a point led, by what we consider as those in the ‘know’. Perhaps that is part of the political turmoil that most democratic nations are experiencing. The individual is questioning whether those who lead really know what they are doing and are they aware of the consequences of their actions. Recent voting history in many nations would suggest not.
But should we be bothered? Bloody right we should . As the retailer opens up their store every morning struggling with crippling business rates, an inept local authority with a punitive town centre parking policy and no real town centre planning policy. The salesman who bought his diesel car a couple of years ago, thinking they were doing the right thing , now find they , apparently, drive a chemical weapon. The distributor who has committed to a certain product only to be told by his major customer that they no longer require it because they feel it has too much plastic. Supermarkets (Iceland)not stocking anything with palm oil(Explosion in palm oil demand has led to deforestation) potentially leaving many small farmers in areas such as South East Asia, with shrinking markets. Or as in the U.K. the public servant who has been limited to a 1% annual wage increase for a number of years whilst their political masters , ensuring they were subject to an ‘independent’ pay review in 2014 and voted themselves nigh on a 10% increase. In 2018, they are getting a further increase of 1.8% above the 1%.
And as everybody toddles off Home after their daily grind they have to consider whether this weeks academic masterpiece suggests that four glasses of red wine with your dinner will shorten or lengthen your life. Followed by a litre and a half of coffee with either keep you awake all week or prevent heart disease.
Possibly right decisions in essence but made and executed for the wrong reasons by the wrong people, at the wrong time, and who are unaffected by the consequences .
Perhaps, this is what Gandalf meant. We expect to be protected and advised by the elected leadership and guided morally and physically by our intellectual superiors . Yet we are frequently let down or confused . The problem is that the ordinary folk all have the ‘skin in the game’ but they have to let others who don’t , do all leading and advising because they got bugger all else to do and it doesn’t really affect them if they get it wrong.