World Traders’ Installation Dinner 2006

A speech in honour of my dear friend, Jack Wigglesworth, on 12 October 2006 in Drapers’s Hall – I wound up becoming a World Trader because of this talk…

Master, Wardens, My Lords, Alderman, Ladies and Gentlemen.  Jack honours me with the pleasure of proposing tonight’s toast to our hosts on behalf of some very delighted guests.

Jack’s business accomplishments are well known.  Not to be blasphemous, but Jack is a business God, for Jack created ‘LIFFE as we know it’.  Equally, Jack and Carlota are dedicated to the community; as East End residents Elisabeth and I appreciate their transformation of the Hackney Education Action Zone.  Generous as ever, Jack offered to help me prepare for tonight at lunch earlier this week.  Being with Jack, a true polymath and passionate historian, we only briefly touched upon Darwin and the voyage of The Beagle, Wallace, Venezuela, Mayor Daley of Chicago, natural resource corruption, the future of financial exchanges, Jimmy Carter and free elections.  I’m still pondering one Wigglesworth nugget, “Speculation is when the investment ends and the bet begins.”  Thus three hours later I emerged from the Athenaeum much wiser about the state of the world, but no wiser about my duty tonight.

Therefore, I’ve had to revert to a classic toast.  But it’s late, my Latin is far rustier than Jack’s and my ecclesiastical accent is atrocious, so you need only remember that a classic response is divided into three parts, to paraphrase Caesar, haec oratiuncula est divisa in partes tres.

Of course, ‘three parts’ reminds me of the joke about the World Trader speeding down a US interstate in a Porsche.  Looking out the window, the World Trader realizes that the Porsche is being overtaken by the fastest chicken in the world, a three-legged chicken.  Not to be outdone, the World Trader accelerates down the interstate chasing this strange beast when the chicken suddenly turns onto a county road.  Haring down the winding road the World Trader follows every twist and turn, losing the three-legged chicken just before screeching to a halt in a peaceful farmyard.  The World Trader is a bit embarrassed to see the farmer staring at the steaming Porsche.  As a World Trader, always able to rise to the occasion, the driver manages to blurt out, “did you see a three-legged chicken?”.  “Sure have, lots, we breed ’em here”.  “You breed them?”.  “Yup”.  “May I ask why?”.  “Sure ya can, you see I like a leg, my wife likes a leg, and our boy, he likes a leg.”  Despite imagining the most fantastic deal in poultry futures, the World Trader remembers to ask – “Well, what do they taste like?”.  The farmer replies, “I don’t rightly know, I’ve never caught one.”

So that’s part one of this toast; Jack insisted that I tell a joke.  In this second part I would like to highlight two worthy causes for those with a world view – Anti-Slavery International and the Red Cross.

Anti-Slavery International is the world’s oldest international human rights organisation.  Since 1787 Anti-Slavery International has been at the forefront – abolishing the slave trade in Britain in 1807 and slavery throughout the British colonies in 1833.  2007 is the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade in Britain.  As a director, Jack has scheduled four commemorative lectures at Gresham College next year, but sadly we all recognise how much more remains to be done.

And how many remember that the Red Cross was founded by a Swiss businessman?  Henry Dunant was appalled at the suffering of thousands left to die after the Battle of Solferino.  In 1859, he founded the Red Cross and got The Geneva Convention signed in 1864.  Unfortunately, 135 years on, the Red Cross is as necessary as ever.  I applaud your incoming master, his dedicated wife and fellow liveryman Carlota, and your company, for your generous support of these two excellent charities.

In this third part, I want to praise the World Traders.  Adam Smith advanced the metaphor of “the invisible hand”, that an individual pursuing trade tends to promote the good of his community.  As tonight’s Professor of Commerce I have to ask you an examination question about installations – How many World Traders does it take to install a light bulb?  The Answer: None, Adam Smith’s invisible hand will do it all.

Sadly, that answer’s a fail.  The Doha round is stymied.  Valid social and ethical concerns transmogrify into trade restrictions.  Property rights are a battleground, from carbon emissions to intellectual capital.  Our state sectors swell out of recognition, crowding out the private sector that actually developed much of the infrastructure we admire.  Global politics is local politics, from online gambling arrests to capital market regulation.

World Traders realize that there is more to life than money – as  comedian Steve Wright says – “You can’t have everything, where would you put it?”  Adam Smith knew that markets alone are not enough.  Smith’s argument is too rich to take after tonight’s excellent meal, but what I admire about World Traders is that you exemplify Smith’s Moral Sentiments of Propriety, Prudence, and Benevolence, combined with Reason.

You set high standards of Propriety for yourselves and your firms.  You are Prudent, thinking not about today’s advantage, but about the long-term, win-win deals for mankind.  You are Benevolent, sponsoring apprenticeships, St Peter’s School, HMS Manchester and most importantly the Thames Match for Thames Sailing Barges at Gravesend, as well as forging new overseas links, in years past with Latvia, Vietnam and Hungary, this coming year with Portugal.  After four centuries, Gresham College envies just two decades of your outstanding Tacitus Lectures.  World Traders make the City think.

One point that unites Sir Howard Davies’ Tacitus lecture, your new master and our present and forthcoming Lord Mayors is China.  China is a sobering reminder of the importance of trade.  I heard a great sound-bite at the IOD China Interest Group, organized by the ever-industrious Mei Sim Lai, “we’ve had a commercial break these past 200 years, but now we’re back, on air”.  In the 18th century China was the world’s biggest economy, with a GDP seven times that of Britain’s.  But China closed its doors to trade missing the industrial revolution, the capital revolution and the information revolution.  There is a children’s joke that “you should never meddle in the affairs of dragons, because you are crunchy and taste good with brown sauce.”  But we must mix-it-up with the Dragon.

World Traders know that money is odourless, and poverty stinks, so you reach out to all the returnees to world trade, such as Brasil, Russia, India and China – the BRIC countries.

World Traders know that the real answer to the light bulb joke is that “many hands make light work”.  But BRICs rightfully worry that “the things that come to those that wait may be the things left by those who got there first”.  We must prove that statement wrong.  Sustainable commerce means doing things differently, not just by the BRICs, but even more by us.  We must clasp the hands of the BRICS, support the invisible hand of commerce, restrain the visible hand of government and slap the grabbing hands of special interests.  We must prove that a global Commerce Manifesto deserves to replace a soiled Communist Manifesto.

From the guests to our fantastic hosts.  We salute your company’s hospitality in this magnificent hall and your masterful master.  We note, as they say in Chinese –

你(nǐ)们(men)  有(yǒu)  很(hěn) 好(hǎo)  的(de)  幽(yōu)默(mò)  感(gǎn)

nimen you hen hao de youmo gan – you have a great sense of humour; so may I conclude by saying – we hope this year the Worshipful Company of World Traders gets their Wigglesworth!

Fellow guests, may I ask you all to rise and drink to the toast of – “The Worshipful Company of World Traders”, coupled with the name of the Master, “Mr Jack Wigglesworth.”