WeWork’s guru-led business model

Dalrymple writes that Adam Neumann, with his long hair, T-shirt, and microphone, indulged, like any guru worthy of the name, in

malversation of funds, morally if not legally, on a large scale.

Neumann claimed — without being laughed down — that his business was worth $47bn, yet it was

nothing but renting out office space to people who could not afford permanent offices. This is a good idea, no doubt, though it was not his, but to have parlayed it into a business allegedly worth many billions while making heavy losses takes genius of a kind.

WeWork, Dalrymple notes,

had a private jet while losing more money than it turned over ($1.9bn against $1.8bn). I don’t know whether this is a first in history.

The company could survive

only by finding someone to throw good money after bad. As Macbeth might have said if he had lent money to it, ‘I am in loan stepp’d in so far that, should I lend no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er‘ — indeed more tedious, in so far as it would imply that the original loans were not performing and might give rise to awkward questions about the wisdom and competence of those who made them. Meanwhile, my bank tells me every month that it is prepared to lend my tiny company up to 4% of the amount of money I already have in the bank. Thanks very much. Such is the wisdom of bankers.

Dalrymple says he finds it difficult to think of the WeWork story without recourse to metaphors of parasitism. He notes that in the modern world, the path to fantastic personal success is not that of inventing something that people want and that can be developed and sold at a profit, but of persuading investors to part with their — or more often, other people’s — money to finance a bubble. For that you need the skills and confidence of gurus, who

fleece by promising new meaning to the gullible. Their eyes shine, they gesture, they are alternately passionate and calm. They don’t believe, they know. If you are lucky, you have never met such a person, for we are all, to varying degrees, susceptible to him. One might have thought, though, that bankers of all people would not fall easily for their wiles.

The most successful gurus, Dalrymple observes,

are not straightforward crooks, at least not to begin with. If they deceive, they are also to a large extent self-deceived. But with repetition and success comes more straightforward skulduggery, swindling, misappropriation of funds, sexual predation, and so forth, all because they believe themselves to have been granted impunity, as with a diplomatic passport.

Many gurus

mark themselves out by their dress — in this case, T-shirt — despite immense wealth. How can such a man not have seen through the triviality of mere appearance to a deeper reality?

Dalrymple asks how

companies that have never made a profit, however long they have been in existence, can be valued so much more highly than those that make profits almost without fail.

No doubt the companies in question

promise at some time in the future to make eye-watering profits once they have cornered the market and can charge monopoly prices, having driven everyone else from the field. But this glorious future (glorious for holders of the stock, not for the average or below-average customer) seems rarely to arrive. Meanwhile, financiers finance, at least until, like socialists, they run out of other people’s money. Then they can ask the government to create more money, so that they never run out of other people’s money.

Madoff’s masterly $65bn sucker game

Web of exquisite lies

Bernie Madoff, writes Dalrymple, was the type of swindler

who is hyper-respectable and sober in appearance. How gladly I should have entrusted my savings to him if he had asked me! Such a calm, intelligent face, full of strong but discreet character!

His Ponzi scheme

was so brilliant that even now it excites my admiration, though I know that it was wicked.

Madoff offered

not huge and spectacular gains, but steady, invariant, yet more than adequate ones that could plausibly have been the fruit of unusually wise investment in turbulent times.

The gains were offered

only to the people whom Madoff accepted as clients, who then came to think of themselves as specially privileged to be taken into his embrace, which turned out be more spider’s web than sheltering fold.

A frivolous, hopeless wreck of a police force

Nero’s fiddling was effective firefighting by comparison

Britain has by far the highest rate of violent crime in Western Europe, about five or six times that of Spain, for example. What is the response of the British police? Dalrymple writes that it is a fact of modern British life that

as the police appear more and more to resemble the paramilitary force of an authoritarian régime or military dictatorship, they become less and less effectual, whom only the law-abiding fear.

They seem to concentrate ever less on real police work, and

engage in parallel pseudo-activities, such as commiserating with the victims of the crimes they have failed to prevent and in the vast majority of cases make no attempt to solve.

He notes that a break-in during which an elderly person is murdered, for example,

is increasingly apt to be described as ‘a burglary that went tragically wrong’.

The British police love to

waste their time on the pseudo-pastoral care of those whom I suppose we must now call their clients.

Their primary object appears to be

work avoidance through work creation, a seemingly frantic activity — while never having to do anything that actually conduces to any conceivable end other than early retirement on the grounds of ill-health through stress. This is a world that is forever developing training packages, building and delivering capacity, etc., while actually doing nothing. Nero’s fiddling, by comparison, was effective firefighting – evidence-based, of course. It is always time for thinking outside the box, ringfencing a safe space for blue-skies thinking.

Hoist with his own petard

Dalrymple rejoices in the abject spectacle of Justin Trudeau, who, he writes,

has a face as characterless as that of David Cameron. They are of the same ilk. You look at them and think, ‘What nullities!’

The main character discernible in their faces is

lack of character.

Trudeau’s apology for his blackface behaviour when he was a young man does nothing to increase Dalrymple’s liking for him. It is, Dalrymple says,

a difficult question of moral philosophy as to whether it would be worse if Mr Trudeau believed his political correctness or if he made use of it as a means to power. If the former, he is a fool; if the latter, a knave.

Political correctness, Dalrymple points out,

is dangerous because when fools or knaves get into power, they may try to implement its dictates. Since many people are much more concerned to appear good than to do good, and since they are unlikely to suffer the consequences of their actions, the implementation may continue for a long time after the negative effects of its dictates have become clear. When implemented, those dictates create a clientèle dependent upon their continuation, which turns any attempt to undo the harm into a nasty social conflict.

On strumpets

Strumpets, Dalrymple notes, are

immoral women of Shakespearean proportion.

A debauched or unchaste woman, a harlot, a prostitute. ‘A vile and abominable strumpet’; ‘A strumpet’s boldness’; ‘He regards nothing but to enjoy his little seraglio of six strumpets’; ‘The most degraded and dangerous strumpets are allowed to congregate round our barracks without hindrance’; ‘This is a disease of childhood, and the only exception to this I have seen was in a very young strumpet.’

‘They know the open whoredom of the Babylonical strumpet’; ‘Out, out, thou strumpet-fortune’; ‘The Kaiser and his parasites have gone a-whoring after Bellona, the deadliest strumpet that ever wrecked the souls and bodies of men’; ‘If thou do not altogether consider Christ’s mind, thou dealest strumpet-like with him.’

Strumpetocracy, jocular, government by harlots. Strumpetier, a whoremonger. ‘In the strumpetocracy of France, he had risen to this post by the most servile attention to Mme de Pompadour’; ‘Zola wants to show in action the morals and manners which developed in the aristocracy of the bourse and the strumpetocracy of Paris’; ‘O that our luxurious strumpetiers could read in their diseased bodies the estate of their leprous souls.’

On slappers

Dalrymple remarks that slappers

are notable for their vulgarity.

On slags

Dalrymple observes that slags are

sluts with whom the ageing process has caught up.

A promiscuous woman, a prostitute. ‘Pressure for early intercourse was heavy, yet boys called girls who “did it” slags.’

On sluts

Sluts, Dalrymple points out,

will go with anybody.

A woman of dirty, slovenly, or untidy habits or appearance; a foul slattern. ‘I have noted often those dames which are so curious in their attire, to be very sluts in their houses’; ‘Women are all day a-dressing to pleasure other men abroad, and go like sluts at home.’

‘Nor was she a woman of any beauty, but a nasty slut’; ‘She’s ugly, she’s old, a slut, a scold’; ‘For sluts whose husbands died’; ‘She looked the part of a ragged, slatternly, dirty slut’; ‘I lived with him for nearly six months and acted the part of cook, slut, butler, page, footman and valet de chambre.’

A woman of low or loose character, a bold or impudent girl, a hussy, a jade. ‘Come forth, thou sloven! Come forth, thou slut’; ‘A peevish drunken flirt, a waspish choleric slut’; ‘These lords have a power of wealth indeed, yet, as I’ve heard say, they give it all to their sluts and their trulls’; ‘Does that bold-faced slut intend to take her warning, or does she not?’

On slatterns

Slatterns, writes Dalrymple,

tend to be fat and to have let themselves go.

‘Butterflies one day, slatterns the next’; ‘His wife a shrew and slattern.’

Of slags, sluts, slappers, slatterns and strumpets

From the Dalrymple Dictionary

Dalrymple points out that the English language

rejoices in a large number of derogatory terms for women.

No one, he says,

who has seen the centre of a British town on a Saturday night could deny the urgent need for terms such as slattern, slut, slag, slapper, and strumpet. As one of my young patients put it (she was 16 at the time), ‘My mother says that I’m a slut, but I’m good at what I do.’ The explanation of this large number of cognate terms to describe less refined members of the second sex is surely that which explains why Eskimo languages have 50 words for snow.

He defines the words thus:

  • Slatterns tend to be fat and to have let themselves go.
  • Sluts will go with anybody.
  • Slags are sluts with whom the ageing process has caught up.
  • Slappers are notable for their vulgarity.
  • Strumpets are immoral women of Shakespearean proportion.