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Thursday, 27 October 2011

Gambling

Today's news contains much good, and many items where it is clear that risk is being accepted by governments on behalf of populations who have little understanding of what is at stake. We will take three instances.

One.
27 October 2012 is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the 'Big Bang' in the City of London and the wider British financial market. A tightly managed group of self-regulated professions whose members largely bore personal financial responsibility for their actions [and set their own ethical standards] was replaced by an open marketplace. Foreign firms bought the stockbrokers and jobbing firms and began to use them as bases for gambling on an ever-expanding scale on their own account, abandoning the former focus on customer relations. Their leaders spoke about accepting and managing 'risk'; until 2007 when their frozen gambling debts were so great that governments had to bail them out to prevent systemic collapse of the economy. Because they paid a huge amount of tax on their reckless transactions the financial markets became the great favourite of British governments [especially the Brown-Balls Labour lot]; and it remains conventional wisdom that their 'markets' are essential components of the British economy. So there is yet more risk eventually to be absorbed by a debilitated economy; and little evidence that the politicians have a better understanding of this situation than did their predecessors in 1987 [except Ken Clarke, who is still there and may have learned a lot].

Two.
The Eurozone leaders have gone home to bed after a very late night session, content that they have shored up the system for an indeterminate period during which they will move slowly towards some sort of fiscal union. The longer the negotiations go on, the more risky situations will arise and the more scared the less-well-managed economies will periodically become, and the more the Germans will have their way in determining the shape and structure of the final deal.

Like it or not, there is now a 'two-tier' European Union. The in-crowd of the Eurozone have huge benefits and massive risks in their refreshed situation. Their banks have been bullied into surrendering 50% of the cash that the Greek state notionally owes them: and the whole Eurozone will now try to compel the Greek government to stay in the Euro and eventually pay up their remaining debts in Euros rather than in a putative devalued Drachma.

The outer circle is composed of the willing Euro-abstainers like Britain, the Czech Republic and Sweden and of the reluctant who have simply not passed the economic tests that Greece should never have been allowed to self-certify - especially Poland. There is little probability that the outer ten will have the slightest wish to seek the sort of coherence that is essential among the insiders. Some of them will still seek admission to the Eurozone. Some may form informal alliances, such as the former members of EFTA who joined the EEC together in 1973 [Sweden, Denmark and Britain] and may forge a new relationship with the other ex-EFTA members Norway and Switzerland who are in the European Economic Area but outside the European Union. If this step were taken it could prove an attractive alternative option for Poland but may not be attractive to the Czechs or Hungarians. There is all to play for: no option is risk-free, but there are now clear options.

Three.
The British Office for National Statistics has announced that Britain can expect the population to exceed seventy million by 2030. This is perceived to be 'good news', in that millions of immigrants and their children will be of working age, offsetting a steep forecast risk that there will be a doubling of the number of people over ninety years of age who will impose heavy costs on health and social services. This assumption entails huge risks; not least the fact that there is already a growing anti-immigrant sentiment. That politicians have either ignored the hardening of the popular mood, or stigmatised it as 'racist', is a major risk for the coherence of the country. There are real worries about Muslim colonisation of the country [and, indeed, of the Continent], which will not be assuaged by bland political reassurances. Demography is becoming dicey!

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