Fat Cat in a Hat – What’s Wrong with that?

Lyrics

From MeetVille

Have you noticed how often people are blaming ‘those who are in charge’, ‘the bigwigs’, ‘the CEOs’, ‘the fat cats’ for all sorts of things? I had a few such comments on my blog in recent months, which made me think a bit more about that. Are all ‘bigwigs’ and ‘fat cats’ so bad?

Cat1From FuturityFirst

Stereotyping (i.e. putting people into groups and categories) is based on a normal cognitive process: the tendency to group things together. In doing so we tend to exaggerate:

  • the differences between groups
  • the similarities of things in the same group

Stereotyping

From Stereotyping

I never trusted faceless stereotypes and generalisations when people get assigned to a particular group on the basis of one characteristic or one of their identities. The group of ‘the bigwigs’, ‘the CEOs’, ‘the fat cats’ might in fact include very different people with varied life experiences, values, beliefs and views. Take, as an example, Sir Angus Tait, the founder of Tait Communications and The Tait Foundation that donated millions of dollars over the years to a variety of causes. As Michael Chick, Tait’s former CEO, said: “Angus was an immensely determined yet compassionate man, a great innovator and mentor for so many.” He might have been the ‘bigwig’ in his company but a truly admirable one.

angus-taitSir Angus Tait

The same in the past. Among wealthy people from the noble class there were some who cared about others and were trying very hard to push for changes in the society. In Russian history, there were Decembrists – noblemen united in an attempt to release their motherland from the chains of autocratic oppression, that was keeping Russia in poverty. There were hundreds of them, inspired by the constitutional governments of Western Europe. Members of the aristocracy, they were the first to rebel and attempt to overthrow the absolutist regime of the Tsar. However their uprising was a failure. They were condemned as criminals of the state. Five of them hanged, others incarcerated. More than a hundred sent into exile, sentenced to thirty years of hard labor in the mines of Siberia.

Decembrists’ wives followed their husbands into exile, leaving everything behind: their families, their children, their possessions, their lifestyle. One of these women – Maria Volkonskaya, the quintessence of class, a princess – had a newborn son.  All she wanted to take with her was her little baby – the Tsar did not allow her even that. They were never allowed to return…

If only the Decembrists won on that cold winter day and changed the course of Russian history – then, may be, there would have been no revolution, no civil war, no Stalin, no loss of millions of lives, no floods of blood, no tears and pain… 😦

‘The bigwigs’, ‘the fat cats’ – let’s try to see real people behind all these stereotypes. Some of them might be very bad, but a few might make us pleasantly surprised. 😉

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From Think Rich, Look Poor

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Researching the Money-Empathy Gap

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Bible, Mark 10:25

CamelFrom Class Warfare?

New research suggests that more money makes people act less human. Or at least less humane.

Psychologists at the University of California at Berkeley have found that “upper-class individuals behave more unethically than lower-class individuals.” They also discovered that “Putting someone in a role where they’re more privileged and have more power in a game makes them behave like people who actually do have more power, more money, and more status”.

Check out their experiments on the Money-Empathy Gap in the video below:

These experiments also demonstrated that while a poor man playing in a ‘rich world’ becomes more self-centred, a rich man playing in a ‘poor’ world becomes more compassionate to others. That can potentially help people understand their subconscious biases and relate better to others.

Prince Pauper“As long as the King lived he was fond of telling the story of his adventures, all through, from the hour that the sentinel cuffed him away from the palace gate till the final midnight when he deftly mixed himself into a gang of hurrying workmen and so slipped into the Abbey and climbed up and hid himself in the Confessor’s tomb, and then slept so long, next day, that he came within one of missing the Coronation altogether. He said that the frequent rehearsing of the precious lesson kept him strong in his purpose to make its teachings yield benefits to his people; and so, whilst his life was spared he should continue to tell the story, and thus keep its sorrowful spectacles fresh in his memory and the springs of pity replenished in his heart.”

From “The Prince and The Pauper” by Mark Twain

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Do Not Give the Needy Money…

“Do Not Give the Needy Money: Build Them Industries Instead”

J.W.Smith

(From Transparency for Development)

* * *

“With the record of corruption within impoverished countries, people will question giving them money. That can be handled by giving them the industry directly, not the money. …. When provided the industry, as opposed to the money to build industry, those people will have physical capital. The only profits to be made then are in production; there is no development money to intercept and send to a Swiss bank account.”

(from J.W. Smith, Economic Democracy: The Political Struggle for the 21st Century)

* * *

Eritrea, 1990s

“So while we toiled away building our factory, the entire population was trying to rebuild their country. There was compulsory military service still, and those called up were put to work building roads and bridges. They did it with a lot of smarts – if you drove down the main highway into the bowels of the country there was a new 100m-wide trench of a road that had been cleared and would be a motorway eventually. On either side, palm trees were being planted and you saw an Eritrean who might be in her seventies, coming down a green slope carrying a bucket of water and tending to a palm tree. Everybody was doing something…

We eventually finished the construction of the building to international standards, and the team from Australia arrived to set up the manufacturing equipment. I watched with dismay as the first lenses were produced. It was painfully clear that the lathe and most of the equipment Fred had bought were not capable of producing usable lenses.

This was another test of character, because I had done what I promised Fred and could have simply moved on, letting the Fred Hollows Foundation sort out the mess. But by this stage the Eritreans had put their trust in me, so I sourced some generic lens-making equipment and started to put in place a plan to make world-class lenses at a fraction of the price of those distributed by multinational companies…

I wanted the Eritreans to be able to sell their lenses around the world so that they could make decent money out of this. I didn’t just want to produce lenses for eye camps in the villages. That meant the lenses had to meet international standards or no one would buy them…

It was important to me that the lenses we made were of equal or better quality than those from the multinational lens manufacturers. So I sent samples of our lenses for independent evaluation to the world expert on intraocular lens manufacture, Professor David Apple at the Medical University of South Carolina Storm Eye Institute.

“You have chosen a design which we think is an absolute state of the art in terms of surface finish and general Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) appearance,” he said in his report. “I’ve never seen better lens manufacture.”…

We had succeeded in doing something that was theoretically impossible: manufacturing world-class intraocular lenses in one of the poorest, most technically compromised countries in the world.

The other result of the new process was that the price of generic lenses plummeted globally. Ours cost three dollars to make, a fraction of what they had been produced for previously. We could get them onto the market for less than ten dollars, making quality cataract surgery accessible to the poorest of the poor.

This was also a perfect example of 100 per cent technology transfer to the local people. I don’t have to do anything at those labs and haven’t since 2003. We did the job, got in and got out, and they are expanding their operations and product ranges themselves.

Now the lenses are exported to about eighty countries and, by 2020, thirty million people will have had their sight restored due to the innovative lens-manufacturing technology.”

(from ‘Rebel with a cause’ by Ray Avery)

* * *

Nepal

“Building our next lens-manufacturing plant, in Nepal, was a lot easier, because of all the lessons we had learnt in Eritrea…

When we designed the lathes, instead of a whole lot of complicated circuit boards with lots of things that could go wrong, ours was broken into smaller units with little lights, and you could quickly isolate and identify a problem when one came up. These were named BRTs – Big Round Things – and if there was something wrong, a BRT’s light wouldn’t be shining and you just replaced that unit…

We enjoyed training local people. The Nepalese have always had a tradition of moving to other countries to live. Many of our protégés now work overseas, but they trained people to take their place before they left because we taught them that was what you had to do when you have been given a skill. You passed it on. And as they move around the world, the general level of skills will rise as they take knowledge with them.”

(from ‘Rebel with a cause’ by Ray Avery)