Monday memo: HSBC scandal and Disney shoes

WHEN MY DAUGHTER was smaller, she wanted to buy Disney princess shoes with built-in lights that shone at every step.

"Are you CRAZY?" I said. "What about when the bogey man or Jimmy Savile is chasing you through a dark forest with imaginatively constructed weapons of torture?"

She saw my point and I saved some money. Phew.

Yeah, I'm a mean, evil, despicable monster, but does that automatically make me a bad person?


I share this anecdote to introduce my theme: Information is power.

Parents of young children, be warned: Your window of opportunity disappears fast.

One day they're writing letters to the tooth fairy on pink paper, and the next they are saying: "Dad, the serial number reveals that the Fender Stratocaster you bought me was made in a south Asian sweatshop. Take it back and bring me another, you useless piece of dreck."

*** When my children talk to me like this, I take care to respond in a way that shows them who's boss. I back out of their rooms on my knees with my head covered, apologizing.

*** Among adults, they say that brutal honesty is the best policy, but it can be disconcerting.

On a bus in Sri Lanka, a friendly stranger asked me: "So, how much do you earn?"

I explained that I lived in a developed society where earnings were a closely held secret.

"Why?" he asked.

Good question. In Finland every year, the tax department prints a list of amounts paid WITH FULL NAMES.

This means that if you live in a cardboard hovel but pay more tax than your neighbor, a super-rich guy in a huge mansion, you can instantly work out that you live in a grossly unfair place such as the northern hemisphere or the southern hemisphere.

(Other planets don’t seem to have this problem.)

*** Wait. A cynical colleague has just pointed out that lists of taxpayers are really just lists of people who lack Swiss bank accounts.

This is true. The recent HSBC Swiss bank revelations were shocking. Since for some unaccountable reason it is illegal to blow up the Swiss banking system, at least we should pass laws forcing Swiss bankers and their clients to use accurate words for what they do.

*** Instead of "open a savings account" they should be forced to say "hide the plunder."

Instead of “in-house advisors” they should be forced to say “experienced henchmen”.

Instead of "banking fees charged" they should be forced to say "our share of the spoils."

Instead of "deposit boxes" they should say "stash concealment hideaways."

Instead of “privacy protections” they should be forced to say “haul cover-up system”.

Instead of "annual profits," they should be forced to say "this year's booty."

*** The Swiss bankers will no doubt carry on doing what they do, but at least the rest of us can feel the pride of being righteous people with unimpeachably high morals.

But setting those aside for a minute, does anyone reading this know how to forge the serial number on a cut-price Fender Stratocaster?