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Innocence lost is mistrust gained

Innocence lost is mistrust gained

Once we were all smooth-cheeked babes in the woods until the real world, like sandpaper, rubbed us the wrong way: Louis Coutts explores when and how mistrust replaced innocence.

Innocence lost is mistrust gained

By Louis Coutts*

I just don’t know where to start. Like, the beginning is unclear and, while there must have been a beginning, I can’t quite identify just when it all started.sml sq COUTTS Louis 1510

I am certain that I am nowhere near the end.

The beginning may have been when I had my satchel and all my lecture notes pinched at the University library years ago. It was a devastating experience and I can remember thinking about abandoning my course. Yes, I think that was the beginning because it was the first time anyone stole something from me. I felt as though I had lost more than my lecture notes and satchel; it was perhaps a certain innocence that had been invaded.

I had been brought up in an atmosphere of honesty bred in poverty. Yes, that is it, I once had this naïve belief that people were honest and in my first personal experience of theft that belief was shattered. That must have been the beginning, when I realised that you could not trust people completely and I had to adjust my life to this revelation.

But in those days, not everyone was robbed and certainly not every day. So what has changed over all those years?

I don’t get robbed every day because I have learnt not to trust people…but now, just about every day, someone tries to rob me. The phone rings and some poor petty crook in Asia wants to speak to a “mistear Korts” so that he or she can get access to something like my computer or bank account, but more importantly my money. Then I get emails that look very much like emails from my bank or Fortune magazine or my internet service provider. But thank goodness I have lost my innocence and don’t trust people because I check the email address and realise that it is a fraud.

Of course there is still the poor person in Africa who has a fortune that they need to get out of the country and they need the help of some honest soul like me to help them. But you know all of these scams. How many petty crooks are out there trying to rip people off?

Then there are the people high on drugs who have broken into our house to pinch stuff so that they can continue to get high on drugs. But they catch them and lock them up.

So here I am surrounded by crooks who try to rob me every day but I am so smart because I have learnt not to trust them.

But that now brings me up to date because there have been certain institutions that I trusted. For instance, I believed in the integrity of banks, politicians, public servants, major corporations because there were accountability rules that held them responsible to the public.

How much more innocence can I lose? Perhaps you think I am just a great naïve dope. And you would be right because I am now experiencing the next stage of my lost innocence.

I bought the top of the range Volkswagen some years ago. Super car, lovely leather and wood finishing, smooth as anything. At 90,000km they told me that this was the limit of the life of the timing belt. Unless I forked out $1100 for another belt that would only last 90,000 kms, I could wreck the engine. Naïve me, I thought that is the way of modern technology and kicked up a bit of a fuss. But then I noticed that every time I took my VW for service there was this $3.26 for filling the wiper fluid container. So I began to wonder if I should trust VW. The night before my next service I filled the container so that it couldn’t take another drop – and there it was, the next night on the bill “$3.26” for wiper fluid.

The other day I learnt that VW, in order to get their diesel engines certified by US authorities, installed software to cheat the US authorities. Then I thought of the timing belt and the wiper fluid. That was only cheating me but hell, cheating the US Government and hundreds of thousands of motorists if not millions! Now that is petty crookery beyond the imagination of the guys who call me every day trying to rob me or the drug addicts who rob service stations. And I just wonder what else VW have been up to.

I started to become more suspicious and wondered how many more petty crooks there are around trying to rip me off. I came across this acronym LIBOR which I think stands for “London interbank overnight rate”. I learnt that it was a bit like the financial yardstick, as to lending as Greenwich mean time is to world time. Every sucker who borrows money throughout the world has their interest rate calculated in relation to LIBOR. Guess what? Smart pin-stripe suited guys in venerable banks such as J P Morgan Chase, Citigroup and Barclays discovered that they could make a lot of money artificially manipulating LIBOR and finally got caught. The banks pleaded guilty to manipulating the LIBOR interest rate in order to profit from the trades and ponied up nearly $US6.0 billion in fines.

Then I discovered that that was the tip of an iceberg. BNP Paribas forked out $9.0 billion having been caught laundering $US30.0 billion in contravention of US sanctions. In 2012, the usual suspects, Wells Fargo, J P Morgan, Citigroup and others, forked out $25.0 billion in fines for illegal foreclosure stunts that put borrowers out on the streets.

In December 2014, Coles, which runs one of the major supermarkets across Australia, was fined a miserable $11.25 million for using their market dominance to screw suppliers.

Stores do it, Aussie banks do it

Then there is that store that you can’t leave home without seeing it: Seven Eleven. My goodness, someone discovered that there were a lot of visiting students in the country who needed work and could get temporary visas for working in Seven Eleven stores. That was great because it was decided that they couldn’t complain about being under paid for fear they would lose their visa. As a result, these people were offered jobs in Seven Eleven stores provided they worked twice the number of hours for which they were paid. This also involved illegal book entries.

Then of course there are the Australian banks that “managed” customer investments. So the biggest Australian bank (and it had a lot of company) shafted their customers by all sorts of egregious behaviour such as forging their signatures and putting their money into shady investments that provided commissions to the “advisers”. Billions down the drain of trusting Mums and Dads. I wonder if they feel that their innocence has been invaded?

There are other stories about the banks but…  No, stop! It’s a night mare. I could go on with stories such as companies in the construction industry that build up credit, put the company into receivership owing stacks and then starting up again the next day with a different company.

I now realise on looking into this saga of discovery of mine that the stories are endless and my innocence is completely destroyed. So perhaps we are nearer the end.

But then I must mention that they have woken up to the unions and believe it or not, they have discovered, after spending $60.0 million on lawyers (I should still be practising) that some people in the union movement are crooks and they do deals with big business that are shady. Breathtaking discoveries!!

I would like to preserve your innocence but I feel you should be warned that there is a real risk that you are being ripped off, not by the guy from Asia on the telephone but by trusted businesses in your community. The trouble is we don’t know how widespread and deep is the deception. It is almost like you can maintain your innocence and get ripped off, or you can be a cynic like me and not trust anyone.

I just remembered something that restores my faith in people. Today, the lady who cleans our apartment is coming and I trust her completely. She does a fantastic job, works hard, charges a fee and won’t take a penny more. Perhaps banks and supermarkets and motor vehicle manufacturers should take up cleaning and demonstrate that they can earn an honest living. Then I might start trusting them.

*  Louis A Coutts is retired from a working life as a management consultant , business doctor, lawyer and educator.  He blogs at:    He is a member of Civil Liberties Australia, and is working to produce a major 2016 conference on the Rule of Law for the Australian chapter of the International Commission of Jurists (of which he is an honorary life member).

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