Friday, June 01, 2007

Markets, loyalty and the theatre of my dreams

My favourite blogger (apart from you*, obviously), S&M, offers a free-of-charge no-nonsense daily course in 'how to think like an economist' - and, by implication, how to think like a trader or a stockbroker. He does it from a left-wing perspective which means that I don't have to question any basic assumptions, which is a bonus.

Naturally, as a non-trader, I don't agree with all of his conclusions (the price of everything = value of nothing, and all that), but one of his regular lessons is that we should hold our views lightly and ironically, and I'd go for that generally.

Chris would have us cast our net widely, spread our bets, don't throw good money after bad, look at results, apply a Bayesian watchfulness to cultivate successful ideas and drop bad ones, etc etc.

These may be good general rules for the management of our lives. But I'd suggest that they make loyalty difficult, and this can't always be a good thing.

Take the everyday object of my affection, for example. The helping hand to the widow, the light of reason to the child. Mankind's highest achievement. The theatre of my dreams, Nottingham Forest F.C. Currently languishing in ignominy, their most recent appearance marked what may be the historical low point of one of the world's oldest clubs (we were the third professional football team to be established after Notts County and Stoke).

This opinion piece is representative of the Forest fans everywhere. As with all fan-authored opinion pieces, the chairman, the chief exec and the manager should be sacked, obviously. No alternative is provided of course. As far as I know, the boardroom is not currently being besieged by monied alternative owners. But still, what the fuck. Sack them all.

I'm not generally a sacker in these circumstances. Yet I can't help thinking that the roots of Forest's problems are in the owner, Nigel Doughty. Doughty has squared an un-squarable circle in his own soul. He is evidently a successful venture capitalist. He's almost certainly made his money by embodying the virtues that S&M promotes. But - by getting involved in a business that doesn't allow for 'ironic attachment' - he has locked himself into something that requires more caution and dedication. More loyalty. And, ironically, he is performing this disservice because he is a loyal surporter of the club.

If you read that opinion piece (linked to, above) you can see how he has played a number of gambits that haven't paid off. Hiring David Platt as manager is the obvious one. Platt was undoubtedly a gamble. The kind of player that should make a good manager in theory. In Platt's case, this was a long-odds bet because there wasn't much form to go on. That made him the type of long-odds bet that some gamblers thrive upon.

If giving Platt the job was a gamble, giving him the job and a fortune to spend on useless Eyeties was a bigger one. Years later, Forest are still paying the price.

Unlike a choice of stock, if your football team underperforms, you can't just cut your losses and shift your allegiance to this weeks' climber. If football had smart money over the last few years, all of it would have deserted Forest (the most notable underachievers - even Leeds haven't yet sunk to our depths) and leaped onto Colchester United (probably the most startling over-achievers at the moment).

Doughty can't really do this. If he did, he'd probably end up dangling from Trent Bridge one dark night. So, unlike most VCs, he has to sit in his own shit without much of an idea of what to do to get out of it. But for all of the moaning about having to play Cheltenham in the league (I didn't even realise that they had a league team!) I wouldn't have it any other way. There are some things that you have to stick with through thick and thin. Some things that you have to be long-termist about. Your football team is one.

Other things need more loyalty as well. There are some convictions that need to be clung to through the hard times. For me, democratic socialism is one, and the republican values of mutual duties that the state and the individual owe each other are another. The latter argument is one that would never survive any market measure of popularity, but without it, we'd all be speaking German today.

And until we can scrape together enough cash to actually buy the club, we need Doughty where he is. Sitting there, smelling his own jobbies.

*Where you = a blogger

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