I don’t know how many readers of this column are familiar with a prayer in which, roughly, one prays for the strength to change what needs to be changed, the resilience to put up with what can’t be altered, and the wisdom to know which things fall into which of these two categories.
Ever since I first heard this prayer as a child, it has come back into my mind at regular intervals – and I now think it is even truer than I thought it was all those years ago. There really are things that need to be fought and there really are things that need to be put up with and it really is difficult to know which is which.
This is particularly true, I think, when it comes to trends and modernity. It is simply of no use trying to fight against technologies like the internet and modern mobile communications equipment. However much one may dislike some or all aspects of them, they are so useful and so widespread that they are very clearly here to stay. But this doesn’t mean that every form of “modernisation” is entirely irresistible. And there are certainly some changes that need to be resisted or reversed, even if they have been brought about in the name of modernity. Often enough, the distinguishing characteristic between the changes that are inevitable and the changes that are resistible or reversible lies in the question of whether they achieve what they originally set out to achieve.
Whatever the collateral damage from the internet and modern communications technology, there is absolutely no doubt that it achieves its basic purposes quite brilliantly. But some other “modernisations” do not fall into this category.
The most obvious case in point is the disappearance of the traditional “bank manager”.
An admirable man who used to be a local manager in one of the biggest banks has been on at me about this for some time – and I think he is absolutely right.
In the old days, the bank manager made something called “judgements”. He or she would size up whoever it was who had come to ask for a loan, ask around a bit, look at the paperwork, and then make a judgement about whether this person was a good or bad risk.
Years back, somebody managed to persuade almost all that “efficiency” necessitated a “modern” system in which the discretion of the bank manager to make judgements of this kind would be replaced by a centralised computer-based system in which “credit scoring techniques” would be applied to produce a “scientific” analysis of the riskiness of a particular individual or business.
The result is history. A large part of the banking crisis can, I believe, actually be attributed to this pseudo-science. Centralised computer systems permitted lending on grounds that the bank manager would never have allowed. And now, the very same centralised computer systems, with slightly different computer programmes, are preventing lending to perfectly good businesses which a bank manager would judge to be sound risks but which for one reason or another do not score the relevant number of points under the credit scoring technique.
This is clearly a case of regression rather than progress – and I think it clearly fits the description of something which ought to be changed rather than being something of which we have to resign ourselves gracefully.