Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Swimming with Sharks

Swimming with Sharks: My journey into the world of the bankers, by Joris Luyendijk, reviewed by Jenny Nelson

April 26, 2016
2 min read


Jenny NelsonJenny Nelson is a Red Pepper web editor.


  share     tweet  

swimsharksForget Hollywood films about bad‑guy bankers – this book will satisfy any curiosity you have about the real working world of high finance. Investigative journalist Joris Luyendijk had little knowledge of the City until he interviewed 200 workers there. At first he is won over by the charm of these apparently decent people, but he is soon chilled by elements of their culture that alarm and disturb.

There is a cool acceptance of ‘amorality’ – an underlying principle that guides their work and dismisses questions of ethics. Some of his discoveries are expected, such as the casual use of aggressively macho or sexist language. Others are more surprising: when high-frequency trading screens display bad results, a low-tech solution involves frantically pulling the plug from its socket.

Despite the specialist nature of the subject matter, this book is quick and easy to read because it draws from a collection of the author’s blogs. The identities of the interviewees are protected but they reveal enough personality to add a human face to the otherwise shadowy and lofty finance industry.

Luyendijk argues that ‘casino capitalism’ is an inappropriate slur because at least in a casino the odds on all risks are calculated with precision. In the City, however, complex products hinged on obscure debt obligations are still being traded despite a lack of detailed understanding from the majority in the sector, including company executives.

The financial crash of 2008 is discussed, with disappointing results. Nobody feels implicated or can point to a suitably accountable hierarchy, leading the author to imagine a plane in flight with an empty cockpit. He describes the industry as a ‘time bomb at the heart of our society’ – and less than a year since the book was published there are indications that another crash may be looming.

Raising awareness of problems in the finance industry is not enough to bring about change, the book concludes; the sector has become ‘immune to exposure’ and needs a complete structural overhaul. The simplistic dismissal of ‘greedy’ bankers is therefore unhelpful and the writer begins to suggest what substantial changes might look like – clearly an area for further work.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

Jenny NelsonJenny Nelson is a Red Pepper web editor.


Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism

Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists

Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson

As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win

The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution

Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.

‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition

#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny

Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke

The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana

Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth

Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company

You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild

Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University

This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback

Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein

Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up

Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement

‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic

Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden

There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright

Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones

‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression

Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death