Politics

If Harvard Business School graduates ruled the political world, Mitt Romney would be the US president instead of struggling in the Republican primary against Rick Santorum, whose bugbears are gay marriage and contraception.

Andrew Hill

When Texas congressman and US Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul accused his rival Rick Santorum of being “fake” during last week’s televised debate, Mr Santorum pinched himself and said: “I’m real, Ron, I’m real,
I’m real.”

Andrew Hill

I wish David Cameron and his government would make their minds up about what they think of business. One week they endorse the stripping of titles from disgraced banking barons and allow the flames of the campaign against bonuses to spread; the next, the UK prime minister is out warning about “dangerous rhetoric” that implies “wealth creation is somehow anti-social”.

It is a bit like the club chairman showing football fans a pre-match video of heinous fouls committed by the visiting team’s players and then complaining when the same fans become abusive during the match.

Mr Cameron — and his opposite number Ed Miliband, who made a cack-handed attempt to start separating business into “good” and “bad” sectors in a speech last year — must start to realise that there is nothing to be gained by such confused debate, and much to lose. Read more

Andrew Hill

The Los Angeles Times story about the humiliation of Fred Goodwin describes Britain as “a land where essentially feudal titles still carry great prestige”. True-ish. But I have to say that the UK doesn’t do business honours like it used to.

I’ve dug up this extract from the FT of January 2 1912 – and no, as you’ll find out if you follow that link, I’m not making this up: Read more

By James Mackintosh, investment editor

Arise, Mr Fred Goodwin. The banker who single-handedly brought down the British banking system has had his knighthood stripped away, and no one is sorry. Politicians, the public and the press are united in supporting the move against the former chief executive of Royal Bank of Scotland.

The pitchfork-wielding mob is wrong. Read more

Andrew Hill

Politicians would like to think that Stephen Hester’s decision to give up his bonus marks the start of a mass renunciation of “excessive pay” by private sector bosses. It is certainly time the UK corporate and political world moved on and refocused on what is really important: i.e. how to restore growth. But far from starting a trend, the Royal Bank of Scotland CEO’s case is unique. Here are three reasons why: Read more

Andrew Hill

I have met Debbie Bosanek. I’ve also met her boss Warren Buffett. But as far as this week’s US political news is concerned, the more important figure is Ms Bosanek, the billionaire investor’s secretary. She’s important because she’s met Barack Obama, who gave her a high-profile spot in the audience for his State of the Union address this week, transforming her into a symbol of tax inequality in America.

Mr Buffett started this, of course. In a New York Times op-ed last August he attacked a system that allows him to pay a lower tax rate than any of the other people in his Omaha office. This has spawned the “Buffett rule”, the benchmark that Barack Obama is using to promise that the richest Americans will not pay tax at a lower rate than their secretaries.

Ms Bosanek is both an obvious and an odd choice to become – as an ABC interviewer put it this week – “the poster woman” for this campaign. Obvious, because she is the gatekeeper for Mr Buffett. Odd, because she is far from a typical secretary (in her polite but terse emails, she actually styles herself, in the modern way, as “Assistant to Warren Buffett”). Read more

For the world’s financial elite, now might be a good time to be on a Swiss mountainside, protected by a cordon of armed police, and able to take one’s mind off things by skiing and popping into a private bank.

Andrew Hill

Politicians continue to demonstrate a fierce desire to be seen to be doing something – anything! – about excessive executive pay and corporate tax avoidance. Nick Clegg, UK deputy prime minister, used a BBC radio interview on Thursday to step up the verbal assault on such practices. He said:

Look at this debate about irresponsible capitalism, what I call crony capitalism. It’s Liberal Democrats [Clegg's party] who’ve led the debate on clamping down on bankers’ bonuses and we must be just as tough this year in the bonus season that’s coming up as we were last year, if not more so.

It’s for him and his colleagues to prove that these threats can be turned into effective action, but in the meantime I’m struck by his terminology. What Mr Clegg calls “crony capitalism” is not what most of us call crony capitalism. I have always assumed the term applies quite specifically to unsavoury, over-cosy relationships between businesspeople and politiciansRead more

Despite the criticism that rating agencies have endured in the past three years – much of it justified – someone at Standard & Poor’s retains a sense of humour.

There are various words, many unprintable, that could be used to describe Hank Greenberg’s $25bn suit launched this week against the US government and the New York Federal Reserve over the rescue of American International Group in 2008. I’ll settle for ludicrous.

Michael Bloomberg, New York City’s mayor, made himself unpopular with his decision to raid Zuccotti Park in the early hours of Tuesday and evict 200 campers from the Occupy Wall Street protest, but he was right. So is the City of London Corporation in attempting to shift the tents from outside St Paul’s Cathedral.

Andrew Hill

You know a corporate scandal is serious when prime ministers and heads of state start to mention it. The fact that Japan’s premier Yoshihiko Noda took time in an FT interview on Monday to talk about the problems at Olympus is doubly significant, therefore. As our correspondents Michiyo Nakamoto and Mure Dickie point out, it’s “highly unusual for a Japanese prime minister to comment on events involving a private company”. Here’s what Mr Noda said:

What worries me is that it will be a problem if people take the events at this one Japanese company and generalise from that to say Japan is a country that [does not follow] the rules of capitalism. Japanese society is not that kind of society.

 Read more

Andrew Hill

Even Europhile economists must have pricked up their ears at the offer of £250,000 to the person who comes up with the best plan for winding up the euro. Only the Nobel offers a more valuable bounty to the dismal scientists.

But whatever you think of the goal, is the Wolfson Economics Prize – offered by Lord Wolfson, the youthful, Eurosceptic, Conservative chief executive of Next, the UK retailer – the best way to achieve it? These days, bright business ideas often emerge through collaboration, rather than competition. Read more

Andrew Hill

It is a shock to hear Muhtar Kent, chief executive of that quintessentially American company Coca-Cola, suggest that the US is now less friendly to business than China.

But Mr Kent’s comments – “In the west, we’re forgetting what really worked 20 years ago” – echo what I heard two weeks ago at Harvard when I talked to Michael Porter, perhaps the world’s best-known expert on competitiveness. Read more