Politicians were quick to point the finger of blame at a bonus culture within the financial sector that has encouraged unbridled risk taking.
City remuneration schemes do indeed seem to have some pretty obvious flaws – awarding large bonuses to fund managers for relatively short-term success; or giving a banker a generous payout for clinching a particularly lucrative deal, before the implication of that deal take full effect. Also the timeframe in which bonuses are typically paid – in January or Easter – seemed to have encouraged a kind of mass expectation to build up that may have led some to think that bonuses are par for the course, rather than extraordinary. Meanwhile, the kind of sums mentioned of late (invested judiciously) could arguably insulate an individual from the effects of financial catastrophe for some time to come… However, the bonus culture is simply the icing on a partly illusionary cake.
It is unsurprising to me that some people who deal with large sums of money belonging to customers they never meet are liable to lose touch with reality. Someone said to me last night – you'll have to read one of ADLE's upcoming 'Analog Profiles' to find out who – that human nature deals best with what is tangible. I paraphrase, but it is true. Whilst I am not suggesting that we should all return to dealing in hard cash rather than plastic cards, or physically swapping share certificates rather than pushing a button to alter figures on a screen – we need to recognise our limitations and realise our capacity for hoodwinking others, as well as ourselves.
One of the things that attracted me to writing about the electronics industry was its tangibility – electronic devices are actually made! Not only that, but some of the people I have talked to through doing this job are in the most part, fiercely bright and exceptionally wise. They have the kind of intelligence that can grapple with huge, mind-blowing concepts, yet matched with the patience and diligence that copes with the minutia – the smallest attention to detail. And nowhere is that more apparent than in the analog domain.
It has saddened me that these qualities have seemed to have so little credence in the wider world. In the UK, few people are involved in producing anything anymore and there seems little true respect for people that do. It has led to a shortage of engineers, physicists, chemists – and potential recruits that made it to degree level were often diverted by the quick bucks promised by the banking industry.
However, every dog has its day. Just as people are starting to wake up to the illusion of wealth created by easy credit, and the fact that trading tangible assets might just be a good thing, so I hope that there will be an eventual return to celebrating the ingenuity of those who 'make things', as well as rewarding the kind of patience and determination that results in long-term, tangible success.
I have no problem with a bonus culture that rewards exceptional performance, derived by hard work and good judgement. After all, the world will need to inspire as many exceptional individuals as possible to get us through the challenging times ahead. But it is patience, determination, ingenuity and good old fashioned hard graft that will be needed in spades – in short, just the skill set of a good engineer.