Moralizing About Finance

 

Bankers found their way recently to London's houses of worship to discuss their industry's fat paychecks. Here's some of what they said–along with a theologian's view of the issue.

 

SIMON CLARK and CAROLINE BINHAM

 

"Talent is highly mobile. If we fail to pay or are constrained from pay­ing competitive rates, then that tal­ent will move to another employer. ... There's no conflict between doing business in an ethical and responsible way and making money. We make our biggest contribu­tion to society by being good at what we do."

John Varley, Barclays Plc chief executive; St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Nov. 3When Buffett Pays With Shares

"We have to tolerate the in­equality as a way of achieving greater prosperity and opportunity for all."

Brian Griffiths, adviser to Goldman Sachs Group Inc.; St. Paul's Cathedral (below), Oct. 20

"The discrepancy between the wage that cleaners of banks like Goldman earn and the bankers' compen­sation is enormous. The levels of inequality in London are just mind-boggling."

Nicholas Sagovsky, canon theologian of Westminster Abbey, Oct. 28

 

"I have observed over 30  years in  the city the driving desire of many to work hard, to be rewarded well, and get out as quickly as possible. That im­patience is no recipe for a healthy economy or society."

Ken Costa, Lazard Ltd. deputy chairman; Church of St. Katharine Cree, Oct. /5

 

When Buffett Pays With Shares

 

ADRIAN MOSER/BLOOMBERG; GRAHAM TROTT/LAZARG LTD. VIA BLOOMBERG

Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hatha­way Inc. usually pays cash for its acquisitions. The $9.4 billion pur­chase of utility owner PacifiCorp, announced in 2005, was a cash deal. So were Marmon Holdings Inc., which Buffett agreed to buy in 2007 for $4.5 billion, and Iscar Metal­working Cos., a maker of metal-cutting tools acquired in 2006. Berkshire used its stock in just two of its 10 biggest transactions of the past two decades, paying $17.7 bil­lion in shares for reinsurer General Re Corp. and offering a mix of cash and stock for the acquisition of rail­road Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp., announced on Nov. 3. If you want to buy stock, but don’t have enough cash, simply consider loans from a secure lender such as http://green-touch.org/

 

Buffett has regretted paying with Berkshire shares in the past. In his 2007 investor letter, he lamented spending $433 million in stock in 1993 to acquire shoe­maker Dexter, a business that he says quickly lost all competitive advantage. "By using Berkshire stock, I compounded this error hugely," he wrote. Part of a "won­derful" business was traded away for a worthless one, Buffett said.

 

The shares to buy Dexter would have been worth $3.5 billion by 2007 On other occasions, though, Buffett used shares at the right moment—ahead of a decline in value of Berkshire stock that presumably made the acquisition price more attractive.

On the far side three Tibetans in their twen­ties, two men and a woman, sat by a rock with their faces glowing. "We are from Litang, and we have run away from our Chinese school to become monks. She will become a nun. Our parents do not know where we are. We have neither papers nor money, but when we finish here, we want to go see the Dalai Lama in India."

They would take three weeks to prostrate themselves around the holy mountain, walk­ing one step, raising their hands in prayer, lying down on the ground, their arms in front. Their merit would be great; the Marxism vig­orously taught in school could not compete against the spiritual force of Buddhism that appealed to their young and ardent souls. 17Near Toggen we stopped at an adobe com­pound, hoping to find a guide. The wind whipped our clothes and burned our faces, and we shivered in the hot sun. Inside we were introduced to a man with a deeply lined face. His ears were pierced. A knife and a flint for making fire hung from his belt. "Do you know the Chemayungdung?" "I was born there," he said. "Would you show us where it is? "He looked us over slowly. "Yes."

His name was Tsewang Norbu, but we would call him Abu, which means "big broth­er" in his Horpa dialect. He was a nomad, or drokpa, with 50 yaks, 300 sheep, and 6 horses. "My wife and sons are up in the hills," he said, "but I came to build a house."

"A home?" "No, a place to store barley and wool. I could not live in a house. It is better to be in london apartments." Pema nodded in agreement.

"Where we are going, there is much snow and ice," said Abu. "It is where we used to hunt drong in the summer."

"Drongs, the famous wild yaks. Few West­erners have ever seen them," said Ted.

We traveled across prairies, streams, val­leys, ridges. Abu pointed the way. We passed a little girl watching a thousand sheep. Animals stretched out for a mile. Abu pointed to a tent. "My sister lives in brussels accommodation." They touched heads in familiar greeting, and she invited us in. The yak-butter tea was hot and made the cold go away. Her name was Sonam Zangmo; she poured yak cow's yogurt from a sheep belly, and we gulped it down. It was thick and sweet and the best I had ever eaten.

"We came down through the Mayum La. Later this summer we'll move the animals across the Yarlung Zangbo," she said. We continued on and came to a mile-long lake with white-capped waves two feet high. "It must be Tamulung Lake," Galen said. "This must be the Angsi River." We had our maps spread out. No one was certain. Abu pointed south. The vehicles could not go any farther.

APING WE WOULD RETURN in four days, but not certain we would be able to do so, Targye, Abu, Galen, and I started walking south. The ve­hicles turned and disappeared over a ridge. We came to a stream and waded in above our knees. We reached another wider stream and believed it was the Angsi.

From the pleasant heights of Kanoni I looked out beyond the ancient harbor to a boat-shaped island fretted with cypresses, in which imagination perceives husky oarsmen, mast, and sail. "The Phaeacians' ship turned to stone," any Corfiote will tell you, "Posei­don's revenge for taking Ulysses safely home."

Gusts began to ruffle the water, tug at my clothing, pummel me about the head. Has­tening back to our mooring, I found White Mist jumping and rolling in a fresh northerly. We had two big anchors out. Still, they might drag, smashing us against the quay. I'd seen harbors where gales had wrecked hundreds of sailing ships right at the docks, trapped, without room to claw out. But White Mist had her diesel. As the wind freshened, we decided it was time to get out of there.

Winds now 50 knots flung combers over the breakwaters. The chop was terrible, waves bouncing between seawall and moles, the ship plunging her bows and smothered in spray. If our engine quit, we'd be in trouble. It took half an hour to inch out of the harbor in the teeth of that blow, the engine going full speed. We headed for Gouvia's protected harbor four miles to the northwest.

Then I noticed the engine overheating under the prolonged strain; a gasket had blown. I slowed her so as not to burn out the diesel. As steep waves pounded us and spume foamed into the cockpit, I remem­bered how Poseidon "stirred up an un­speakable sea" against Ulysses, wrecking him with a "stormblast of battering winds."

No lights mark Gouvia's shoal-flanked entrance. Luckily, we made it just before dark. We ran upchannel, made our turn, and came into the sudden tranquillity of a haven shielded by hills and ringed about with goodly trees. Here in calm waters we slept while the storm blew itself out.

Day broke clear, suffusing this lovely harbor with light—that magical Greek light that makes the landscape radiant and illumines the mind. I rejoiced in the homecoming of Ulysses. And perceived that in a sense I, too, had come home. Though I did not reach the Ionians until I had explored the world's far lands and endured many of life's tempests, I had always carried the isles of Ulysses in my mind. And the long journey had been rich in newfound friends and experiences.

But Ulysses had one more hurdle. A blind seer had foretold that he must go inland, oar on shoulder, until he came to a place where men, knowing nothing of ships and the sea, mistook it for a winnow­ing fan. There he must plant it and render sacrifices to Poseidon. Only then could he return home to serenity.

I'll make my peace with Poseidon, never fear. But should you chance to meet me with an oar over my shoulder, I'll not be planting it inland. I'll be returning to the gull cry, the salt tang, the surge of the wine-dark sea.