Financial Newspeak

June 15th, 2009

George Orwell’s futuristic novel about the dangers of totalitarianism and loss of personal freedom, Nineteen Eighty-Four, is also known for its additions to the English lexicon.  “Big Brother” and “newspeak” are probably the most recognizable with newspeak meaning the use of language to obscure what was actually taking place.  For instance, in the novel “minitrue” was an abbreviation for the Ministry of Truth which was the propaganda ministry.  Over the years our own government has flirted with such usage as when the 1980’s-era Pentagon called a 10-warhead, 3,000 kiloton ICBM “The Peacekeeper.”

Corporations can be guilty of this too of course with “reductions in force” now conveniently taking the place of “layoffs” or “firings.”  It sounds so much nicer if you’re not the one RIF’d, don’t you think?  And today we have a new one to add to the list: “mature.”  In this instance it means strong or efficient or, perhaps in this specific case, inconvenient.

It comes from Lloyds Banking Group in the UK which told it’s American customers that they could no longer be customers because “The USA has a mature regulatory environment governed by its Securities and Exchange Commission.”  Lloyds is part of the Qualified Intermediary program in which banks around the world cooperate with the US government by providing tax information on their American clients in return for receiving a USG seal of approval.

With the Obama administration’s plan to strengthen the program in order to, as IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman said recently, “give us a clearer line of vision and transparency that we need in tax administration,” Lloyds balked.  Too costly to implement they said.  Apparently the thought of charging the clients a bit more to cover the cost wasn’t seen as a viable option.

Not only does the language suffer, transparency does too.

Written by Tom Cardamone

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