Core value judgement

Obviously I looked younger in those days

I know the exact moment I decided to give up playing rugby. I was being carried off the pitch on a stretcher with blood pouring out of my head, and one of the prop forwards patted me on the leg and said, “Well, Tim, looks like your journalism days are over”.

Whether or not you find this joke funny probably depends on whether you think rugby is a noble pursuit for tough people or 80 minutes of institutionalised assault. To tip public perception towards nobility and away from criminality, the English Rugby Football Union has just done what the establishment usually does in these cases: made a big statue.

At least when the Victorians did this, they usually had the subtlety to try and hide their hidden agenda. The RFU, with all the subtlety of a prop forward, decided to call the latest addition to the Twickenham furniture the Core Values sculpture. Why now? I looked it up: “Two years ago the RFU put together a task group to run an extensive consultation exercise. The Core Values project – the first time a sport has set out to define its value system in formal terms – identified the following principles…”

Speaking as a big fan of Rugby Union, it has always had hypocrisy as one of its unspoken core values. The game was proudly amateur when my dad played, and you were banned if you were even suspected of taking money to play – so his club secretly stuffed money in his boot instead.

There have been a lot of people bragging about their core values recently: companies in the US and UK are about three times as likely to claim in their press releases that they have core values as they were in 2000, as the graphs below show.

But where, I thought, are we most likely to find an increase in these core values? I thought it might be good to look for the phrase in press releases on military procurement. Defence contractors discovered many more core values during the period between 2003 and 2006 – which is an improvement on the 1990s, when they didn’t mention core values at all. I shaded the area during which BAE Systems was investigated over accusations of corruption (In 2010 it admitted false accounting and, in a settlement, agreed to pay £257m criminal fines to the US and £30m to the UK – but the company denies bribery).

Banks, however, had a core value growth peak much earlier. This time I shaded a period which covers the Senate Committee of Finance’s investigation into Enron and the complicity of banks in the creative accountancy that took place.

But the real stars of the core values show are in the securities business. They didn’t make much noise about core values in the past: again, not a single mention of the phrase in the early 1990s that I could find. But they are making up for it now. You are now about six times as likely to read a securities industry press release that mentions core values as you were in 2000.  I’m not going to insult you by pointing out which relevant period I’ve highlighted in the final graph:

Of course, my simple measurement doesn’t explore what those core values might be. A few weeks ago I spoke to  Dr Doug Hirschhorn, who is one of the top trader coaches in the world. I asked his what the values of his trainees are: “These people get paid an obscene amount of money. They are not curing cancer or creating new ways to feed people. It draws the sort of people attracted to sensation-seeking,” he said.

The sensation-seeking search for obscene personal wealth is a core value, I guess. I’m also guessing that it’s not the core value mentioned in those press releases.

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