FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

How Greed and Capital Triumph

“We might as well declare it a national holiday… I tell you what, any boss who sacks anyone for not turning up today [to celebrate the America’s Cup win] is a bum.”

— Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke, September 1983

The Alan Bond principle is an important one to wrestle with it. While it has its variants in other societies where plunder is the norm and kleptocracy lauded, it assumes other features. It is a principle of total illusion. Financial success is mistaken for durability and resilience. In the enterprising 1980s, when Australia was, for want of a better term, modernising, business tycoon Alan Bond became its symbol.

The Bond principle is inventive crookedness. He was, according to The Australian obituary, “the quintessential Aussie entrepreneur. Brash and confident, a supersalesman and champion borrower, he was a daring and determined a risk taker.” He was that “salesman who made life fun.” This is the wolf of Wall Street rationale: humble beginnings of drab and dourness leading to monstrous gains, glory and corruption. But take note: he made life fun.

Importantly, the editor is keen to import the new world narrative into Bond’s arrival at Fremantle, Western Australia when a nipper of 11 years old. Bond himself was one of a specific breed of migrant – a £10 Pom, those British citizens the Australian government encouraged to populate Australia in the aftermath of the Second World War. He found the port, even at that age, a moonscape of sheds and concrete wharves. Change was needed.

Praises for the Bond brand in light of his death on Friday came from across the quarters that long ago made a pact between the greed incentive and the work incentive. Australia’s labour movement effectively became an annex of the Bond principle during the Hawke years, driven by aspiration and material in outlook. Blue collar workers were encouraged to be white collar accumulators.

It was Labour Prime Minister Bob Hawke who affirmed to Australians that traditional progressivism was running out of steam, an anachronism that needed to be excised. Centralist managerialism teamed up with corporate might. The corporate boss was your friend, even role model.

Bond’s perceived successes and obvious failings said much about the Australian materialist landscape. Crude capital, quick gains, minimal lasting investments, and personal gratification. True, he did create a private university, Australia’s first, after his name. He did become the country’s largest brewer at one point. He built property complexes. But his silver tongue tied the bankers and wooed the markets. In 1988, his financial empire totalled $12 billion in debts. By 1991, it had imploded.

It was subsequently bankrupted for $622 million, the second largest in personal bankruptcy history. The debt culture that we would see resurface globally in 2008 was already being given a dress rehearsal in the Australia of the 1980s. And just to remind us all that Gordon Gecko’s blood was running in his veins, Bond would reappear on the rich lists with a personal fortune valued at $265 million.

Losses eventually turn around. The system, we are told, works, especially if it involves trusts, shelf companies, tax havens and jurisdictions from Switzerland to Rarotonga. And such bankers of the quality of Jurg Bollag.[1]

Bond’s behaviour was, to a large extent, overlooked in favour of other attributes. This proved similar to that bushranger of Victorian and Australian folklore, Ned Kelly, long incubated in the womb of mythology. Bond proved to be the bandit of the boardroom, losing and stealing billions instead of horses, and killing bank balances instead of police. Yes, he did spend time in prison for appropriating $1.2 billion to feed that sick patient that had become the Bond Corporation. But he was, according to finance analyst Tim Treadgold, the “likeable rogue”, part of the syndicate that broke the 132-year-old US hold on the America’s Cup in 1983.

This was another illusion at play: that success in sport and giving it to the Americans was somehow noteworthy of everything else. Preambles evaluating his legacy would commence with that 1983 victory, as if it was the only thing that really mattered to Australia in that decade was a US-dominated yacht race. “Alan Bond,” begins Neil McMahon, “gave Australia one its greatest ever sporting achievements in 1983, and then the fall came” (The Drum, Jun 5). Eden was victory at sea, but its participants would take the apple of profit and be eventually cast out.

The biggest culprit in cultivating this illusion was Bond’s greatest apologist, Hawke. The America’s Cup achievement became one of substance rather than tinsel. It unified the country – indeed, Hawke’s election theme, that platitudinous “Bringing Australia Together” dovetailed with a success that was individual to a financed syndicate.

A solitary sporting triumph became a nation’s supreme achievement, in Hawke’s words, “one of the great moments in Australian history” no less. “I just want to say to Bondy, to (Warren) Jones, to (John) Bertrand, the crew and of course not forgetting that marvellous Australian Ben Lexcen, that there’s not many occasions when an Australian prime minister knows that he can speak for every Australian.”[2]

The Bond saga suggests that Australia’s potential of falling victim to a banana republic complex, one that former treasurer and prime minister Paul Keating warned against, is very much alive. It is one of baubles, future eating and financial babble. And it is not one that had disappeared. On the contrary, the Bond principle remains very much in action. It is the principle of tolerated lawlessness that takes rather than returns, appropriates, rather than develops. But for all of that, he was such likeable rogue.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Notes. 

[1] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-06-05/ian-verrender-on-alan-bond/6525132

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BFw7iIvCFpo

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Weekend Edition
July 13, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Brian Cloughley
Lessons That Should Have Been Learned From NATO’s Destruction of Libya
Paul Street
Time to Stop Playing “Simon Says” with James Madison and Alexander Hamilton
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: In the Land of Formula and Honey
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s Intellectuals Bow to the Queen of Chaos 
Michael Collins
The Affirmative Action Silo
Andrew Levine
Tipping Points
Geoff Dutton
Fair and Balanced Opinion at the New York Times
Ajamu Baraka
Cultural and Ideological Struggle in the US: a Final Comment on Ocasio-Cortez
David Rosen
The New McCarthyism: Is the Electric Chair Next for the Left?
Ken Levy
The McConnell Rule: Nasty, Brutish, and Unconstitutional
George Wuerthner
The Awful Truth About the Hammonds
Robert Fisk
Will Those Killed by NATO 19 Years Ago in Serbia Ever Get Justice?
Robert Hunziker
Three Climatic Monsters with Asteroid Impact
Ramzy Baroud
Europe’s Iron Curtain: The Refugee Crisis is about to Worsen
Nick Pemberton
A Letter For Scarlett JoManDaughter
Marilyn Garson
Netanyahu’s War on Transcendence 
Patrick Cockburn
Is ISIS About to Lose Its Last Stronghold in Syria?
Joseph Grosso
The Invisible Class: Workers in America
Kim Ives
Haiti’s Popular Uprising Calls for President Jovenel Moïse’s Removal
John Carroll Md
Dispatch From Haiti: Trump and Breastfeeding
Alycee Lane
On Heat Waves and Climate Resistance
Ed Meek
Dershowitz the Sophist
Howard Lisnoff
Liberal Massachusetts and Recreational Marijuana
Ike Nahem
Trump, Trade Wars, and the Class Struggle
Olivia Alperstein
Kavanaugh and the Supremes: It’s About Much More Than Abortion
Manuel E. Yepe
Korea After the Handshake
Robert Kosuth
Militarized Nationalism: Pernicious and Pervasive
Binoy Kampmark
Soft Brexits and Hard Realities: The Tory Revolt
Helena Norberg-Hodge
Localization: a Strategic Alternative to Globalized Authoritarianism
Kevin Zeese - Nils McCune
Correcting The Record: What Is Really Happening In Nicaragua?
Chris Wright
The American Oligarchy: A Review
Kweli Nzito
Imperial Gangster Nations: Peddling “Democracy” and Other Goodies to the Untutored
Christopher Brauchli
The Defenestration of Scott Pruitt
Ralph Nader
Universal Voting Dissolves the Obstacles Facing Voters
Ron Jacobs
Vermont: Can It Happen Here?
Thomas Knapp
Helsinki: How About a Fresh START?
Seth Sandronsky
A Fraught Century
Graham Peebles
Education and the Mental Health Epidemic
Bob Lord
How to Level the Playing Field for Workers in a Time of Waning Union Power
Saurav Sarkar
I Got Arrested This Summer (and So Should You)
Winslow Myers
President Trump’s Useful Idiocy
Kim C. Domenico
Outing the Dark Beast Hiding Behind Liberal Hope
CounterPunch News Service
First Big Strike Since Janus Ruling Hits Vermont Streets
Louis Proyect
Survival of the Fittest in the London Underground
David Yearsley
Ducks and Études
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail