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Monday, January 9, 2012

Why Wall Street and the City are beyond salvation

What about "Save the People?
After all, financiers have only
themselves to blame for the
crisis they inflicted on themselves
and the rest of the world
I have been a keen reader of The Economist for a good quarter-century. I have always loved their writing style and irreverent humor, even the rigor it often brings to its analyses. I am less keen when it unashamedly behaves as the mouthpiece of big business and banking giants, as it does in this week's cover story and leader whose title is the self-explanatory "Save the City."

In one of its headers  The Economist  wonders why  “Strangely, California doesn’t talk down Silicon Valley”. Why would it? Silicon Valley companies produce computers and software that consumers and companies (often) love and use. What have the City and Wall Street offered ?(And how come The Economist doesn’t ask itself why “Not Strangely, the United States DOES talk down Wall Street”?) 

The Economist claims that financial markets funnel savings to their best use”. Oh, really? How can the subprimes be considered as best use? How can the real estate bubble be considered best use? How can the various pyramid schemes be considered best use? How can the taxpayer-bailouts be considered best use? How can the encouragement to governments to spend beyond their means and create the problems we are seeing now be considered best use? How can helping Greece to cook its books (as Goldman Sachs did) be considered best use? How can ruining millions and sending many more into unemployment while the pigs gorge themselves at the trough be considered best use?

Whichever way you look at it, financiers are parasites, living off the body they attack and sucking it dry until they move somewhere else. It is time we get rid of them. If the management of money is so critical to society, like defense, justice and the rule of law, then just as we do with these areas let’s nationalize/highly regulate it so that finance can truly serve the people and not the other way round.

The argument that Britain should hang on to this industry just because it is a big contributor to GDP is flawed: there are some countries where the mafia and drug cartels create as much wealth. Should we then legalize them? “But these are criminal enterprises,” you might say quite shocked. Well, someone prove to me that financial services companies are less criminal.

“China and India have underdeveloped financial markets; Britain has the expertise,” writes The Economist. If I have any advice to give these emerging economies it is to remain underdeveloped with respect to financial markets. They don’t need to import our current mess a few years down the road, with all those hedge funds and derivatives and CDO's which nobody understands. The reason nobody understands them is the point: the less consumers understand the financial products offered to them, the easier it is for the banks to fleece them

As for "Britain’s expertise," the Chinese and Indians would be well advised to say, “thanks, but no thanks.”  I remember when, at the height of the financial crisis in 2008, the governor of the Czech Central Bank was asked how his country escaped the turbulence. He explained that  years back when those risky products appeared, Czech bankers came and asked him whether they should invest in them. "Do you understand what these are made of?" When they replied in the negative, the governor then advised them not to invest in products they didn't have a clue what they were about. And he was damn right as his country's bank sailed through the crisis.

Time to get back to basics and produce real products and real services that people really need.

(The blogger is currently in Brazil whose banking system, in spite of its being more regulated than the U.S. or British banking industry,  has many faults, concentration being one of them. I am also worried at the high amount of credit being freely distributed at Shylock-like interest rates to new, undiscerning consumers.  When the day of reckoning comes, and some bubbles burst, Latin America's largest economy  will be in a lot of pain.)