Sunday 5 September 2010

The City: Social changes mitigate against social mobility

There have been huge changes to the City of London since I started working there in the early 2000's. Of those the social changes are the ones that I most notice now.

When I first started, one of my senior bosses, should he want a meeting about something, would invite me out to lunch. This would entail a huge steak and at lest 3 bottles of very heavy (and quality) red wine. Often the discussion would be how things are not like the old days, where everyone worked until lunch and then went for a liquid lunch for the rest of the day. He bemoaned this for his last few years before his comfortable retirement.

So that was the City of the 1990's and early 2000's; no more slacking off after lunch and long-hours on projects not being compensated for by time off when work was not so busy. Still though, everyone drank wine at lunch and it was de rigeur to go to the pub after work, more or less every day.

Yet now in 2010, there is a much changed social culture across much of the city. The City has been affected by the European and American workers who have helped to erode further the drinking culture. And the rise of Gym's and fitness freakery now means the younger generation (i.e. under 30) are more likely to be doing a triathlon at the weekend than be out at The Ivy. A single glass of wine with lunch is about as much as they want.

As someone who is not blessed with much drinking stamina, I don't hate this change, but it is so noticeable. The big effect this has strikes me as the one on competition for the good city jobs. Now all the youngsters starting out are straight A students, then onto good university, then into hard working job where to relax they try to stay super fit. It really is the elite of the elite. The new Government may want to increase social mobility, but these guys and gals are going to have none of it, they are not giving up their hard won jobs and lifestyles for anyone. And not many people are going to want this level of commitment for their career either.


Richard Elliot said...

A single glass of wine with lunch is about as much as they want.
Who has a lunch break any more? Let alone a single glass of wine....

I do agree with your last paragraph though. When I was at JPMorgan five years ago we started running an intern scheme for first year university grads. A seasoned manager remarked to me that the people we should be hiring weren't the ones attending internships during their first year at uni!

James S said...

which really, when you think about it is /terrible/.

The brightest most motivated people of every generation. Not doing anything directly productive, not refining fusion or cracking DNA. Nope, they're skimming whilst theoretically improving the allocation of capital (but probably just distorting markets to beat the odds).

Anonymous said...

James S: "they're skimming "

Yes, and didn't it work out well?

'Financial innovation' is one of those things that on the face of it sounds WONDERFUL DHARLING, but all it boils down to is concealing theft from people who think they are getting wealthier.

Raedwald said...

I remember big bang in '88 - I was working nearby and commuting from Liverpool Street. The drinking culture that had prevailed amongst the 'old' City was taken up with huge enthusiasm by the new breed of white-socked Essex boys.

You could walk into any of the packed bars around Bishopsgate and there would be a row of credit cards lined up on the till, their owners not particularly concerned about who racked up drinks on them. Champagne flowed like water. I once went to a restaurant at 3.30 to collect a City solicitor chum from lunch for an early evening session elsewhere; there were 17 empty wine bottles on the table already. Birthdays would be celebrated with a 6am breakfast in the 'Hope' washed down with jugs of Black Velvet and all before work. For three years I never caught a homewards train sober, and as we had both bars and smoking carriages (smoking on trains only being banned from around 2004 onwards)on board, the party often continued right up to the station car park at home....

Those youngsters of today simply wouldn't believe the truly industrial quantities of alcohol we used to drink.

L said...

On social mobility, forget it. The banks are picking the very best, and not just from Britain. When I started with a one-time British investment bank in the late 90's, I was one of the very few Brits who had been recruited. Alongside me were Europeans, Africans, Americans and Asians. But not a very diverse bunch, most had been to the same sort of universities or MBA schools and read economics, maths or some other dull subject. So there's no way the big banks will even make a dent into the social problems in Britain - far better to start from the bottom up perhaps, to fix the dire literacy, teenage pregnancy and other indicators of trouble.

As for the lunchtime libation, is this cultural...or economic? I remember the MDs who'd snooze in their chairs, sometimes even snoring, whilst others around them worked. As an "analyst", I wasn't allowed to sleep and frequently clocked up 100 hour weeks. But the MD would use lunch to get an engagement letter signed, bringing in, say, a £5m fee.

Put another way, he could tuck away as much claret as he liked, so long as he kept landing the M&A or IPO mandates (and given banking is an oligopoly, it's not too hard to find yourself on plenty of deals). Meanwhile us junior gophers had to toil in a silly contest as to who could work the most; unable to bring in revenue, we had to compete by working on as many deals as possible and being seen to be compliant, not tutting when being told to pull an all-niter, not yawning after etc.

Laban said...

David Brooks :

"The educated elites are the first elites in all of history to work longer hours per year than the exploited masses, so voracious is their greed for second homes."

Andrew B said...

A nice elegaic picture.

It reminds me of 'The Gamekeeper at home' by Richard Jefferies (I used to be an amateur poacher in my teens).

The point (for me) is that it lays bare the core problem of government and capitalism

It is not the job of a bank to promote social mobility, or further progress.

It is the job of government to promote mobility to the extent that its electorate sees fit.

If the government does this too much, or badly, the capital will go elsewhere.

What of progress?

Jeffries book ends with the sounds of tractors (newly invented) in the distance - on reflection the rural life before ww1 was hard and brutish and relatively short. Capitalism gave that generation progress.

Now we are concerned that the very brightest are not sitting down and inventing penicillin / discovering DNA.

You may well be correct.

One slight hope I offer is that I work with a number of indians (in software) and a fair number have bought a house (in India), paid the mortgage and have enough savings not to work for a few years by their mid 30s. Most just carry on, but a few have chucked it in and have gone back to do something more interesting.
By my reckoning, those few are the brightest.

Mark Wadsworth said...

I only actually experienced this once, in about 2000 and these City workers were truly mental, what they described as 'a pub lunch' was pretty much what I would consider to be a heavy night out.

CityUnslicker said...

Like you link Laban.

Great comments all - I wondered if anyone would even get what I was on about.

In many wasy it is just professionalisation to a further extreme. I can't even judge whether it is more fun or not, although intuitively I would hazard a no to that (ever tried pulling a fitness freak girl, hard work, always asober and judgemental?).

James S - Efficeitn allocation of capital is the hear of capitalism. It does not surprise me at all how things have come to this point.

Electro-Kevin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Electro-Kevin said...

It wasn't just the City workers, it was the City Police too.

I'd finish an early at 3pm and not be able to get home before being dragged into the Rising Sun pub by my mates on the way to the section house. I'd only agree to one but would innevitably end up staying there until closing time.

We'd then go on to the Charterhouse medical bar (an unlicensed drinking den in those days) and drink through until 5am before going on to a Smithfields pub. I'd wend my way back to Snow Hill nick to muster at 6.45 am for an early turn patrol wearing the same uniform shirt and trousers I'd been wearing all night.

I'd go out and do a whole shift pissed and exhausted trying to avoid trouble as best I could by means of using the huts of friendly security guards or the unused custody cells at Wood Street.

Steven_L said...

Never liked drinking in the city. Rude 30-something blokes in suits as far as the eye can see. Had a couple of laughs dragging teenage Amercian college students from youth hostels there 'to show them round' (as bait) and watching how they suddenly wanted to talk to me.

If you want long liquid lunches and a job you can do pissed, get a local government non-job. We're even about to lay off all the risk-averse boring old farts that stop us having fun with our big government snooping databases :)

James Higham said...

Not feeling your age a bit, CUS?

james c said...

You are certainly right about the change in drinking ethos, but I would hesitate to describe the new city intake as 'the elite of the elite'. They are not-just hard working, reasonably bright careerists.