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Sunday, 13 November 2011

The bankers are the beneficiaries, not the causes of the problem

Fund managers, and creators and traders in derivatives and in swaps and in futures, are lumped together with manager-underwriters of corporate mergers and with buyers and sellers of 'money' under the blanket designation as bankers. A significant majority of participants in those trading activities [including the huge volume that are simply gambling] have been content to receive incomes that are multiples of industrial wages for playing their market games under the delusion - shared by governments and stimulated by Economists - that 'markets' should predominate over the economy.

Economists have asserted - contrary to all the evidence - that 'markets' behave 'rationally'. Rationality is a function of human intelligence. It is not an emanation that emerges within inanimate trading spaces, which is what markets are. Markets have an immense range and diversity, from fish markets on riverbanks and at the side of harbours through the pre-1986 Stock Exchange to the complex interactivity that takes place in cyberspace. In recent days the media have been replete with repetitions of Keynes's dictum that both in periods of euphoria and of stress [such as is being experienced now in Europe] markets are dominated by 'animal spirits'. If any conventionally-qualified Economist can tell us how animal spirits - which Keynes also linked to 'waves of irrational psychology' - can be presented as an epitome of rationality in the contemporary context they should rush forward to do so. The proponent of any superficially plausible explanation will be a prime candidate to receive the pseudo-Nobel prize that Economists have handed to each other annually since the nineteen-sixties.

After the big bang of 1986 the bankers were freed to gamble and to gather their bonuses because politicians - on the recommendation of Economists  - created regulatory bodies that facilitated their fantastical creations.

 We are told that the fallout from the 2007-8 credit crunch is an unprecedented situation. It is generally presented as being the outcome of modern inventions in monetary policy, in regulation, in consumer empowerment and [above all] in computerised deployment of algorithmic methodology. But these are merely phenomena. Within the human beings who participate in markets - from fishmongers to creators of Credit Default Swaps - there exist the same abilities, tendencies, ambitions, urges and complexes as have existed in humans for the last dozen millennia. We don't have detailed records for the banking activities that almost certainly existed several centuries BC, but we do have Assyrian and other tax records and businessmens' notes on clay tablets which show that trade had become sophisticated before Roman times. We also have the comments that were made on people who became powerful in markets; and many of those observations fit with the attitude to 'bankers' that purportedly animates the sad crowd beside Saint Paul's Cathedral.

The Jews who established their first state under Saul, David and Solomon almost a thousand years BC inherited texts from their.own ancestors and from the surrounding [more mature] cultures, and one of the most marvellous products of the resulting culture is the Book of Psalms. One psalm, in particular - Psalm 73 - is an exposition of a decent human being's reaction to seeing:
"the wicked.......in such prosperity".
 Like the bankers of 2006:
"they do even what they lust......therefore fall the people unto them [and the mortgages and credit cards and derivatives and Credit Default Swaps that they provide] : and thereout suck they no small advantage. These prosper in the world, and these have riches in possession":
But they inevitably get their cum-uppance:
 "Oh how suddenly do they consume, perish and come to a fearful end!.......even like a dream, when one awaketh: so shalt thou [God]  make their image to vanish out of the city".
[Quotations from the Book of Common Prayer]

Religious belief is not necessary for a person to recognise that throughout history forces that exist deeply within the human spirit react as the psalmist did when the behaviour of self-identifying elites become seriously deviant from what is sensible. The crazy trading practices of 2001-7 have been allowed to continue until now, in the residual financial market that was patched together after governments had rescued most of the component firms. People in Greece and Italy are being forced to recognise that they have been set 'in slippery places': the economy has been 'cast down and destroyed' by what the regulators allowed the bankers to do. But it is not the regulators or their Economist cheerleaders who are being 'cast down and destroyed': the casualties are the politicians, the group under the media spotlight who are susceptible to democratic accountability.

In Greece and in Italy Economists - proven delusionists - have been given power without democratic responsibility. Their priority will be to support the core fantasy promulgated by their 'profession', the efficiency of autonomous 'markets'. Their first steps in power will be to squeeze living standards; which will work regressively, with the least articulate and least skilled people suffering the biggest proportionate attack on their standard of living. When the combination of increased rates of taxation, increased collection of taxes, frozen or reduced public sector salaries and pensions, failed firms and rising unemployment are seen to have worked adequately they will seek permission in European institutions to loosen the squeeze on money creation. Bankers will be encouraged to dissipate inflation through the economy, which will reduce the perceived 'value' of the debts that the bankers and the governments owe, while further reducing the real purchasing power of wages. Whether or not they will be allowed to get away with it is highly problematic: demos - the voters - must be allowed to decide whether or not they accept such a programme, both at its inception and as its impact becomes apparent. If the democratic sanction is not applied, riots and insurrections can confidently be predicted; even revolution. It will matter less what the revolutionaries promise than how effective they are in exposing the fallibilities of the Economists' policies.

The politicians are falling, the Economists will have their day and may succeed or not: the bankers will sail serenely on, providing essential services and engaging in their self-centred gambling. The people who take most of the blame from the populist media will bear the least of the pain.

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