Monday, 15 September 2008

Tipping point?

I think this is the sort of article that suggests that the sands are shifting. A mainstream, right-of-centre commentator saying we've got it wrong and something has to give. This is exactly the kind of re-evaluation of the basic idea we have about the financial sector and its place in society that I was trying to get at last week. I think it's starting to happen.

It is sobering to hear one of those up to his neck in this universe acknowledge, without embarrassment: "What is happening represents a major failure of market capitalism." There is amazingly widespread agreement within the financial world, as well as outside it, that the first lesson of what has happened is that the big beasts of Wall Street and the City were allowed to become far too powerful in their own societies. For several decades, governments have deferred to the supposed wisdom and ruthless clout of bankers. Presidents and prime ministers have walked small in the company of those whose lightest word could move trillions.

Now, instead, those same people are on their knees to their governments and central banks, trying to save their own skins. The credibility of the financial community will take years to recover. Trust and confidence, pillars of capitalism, are at their lowest ebb for decades. Nobody can decide what anything is worth - shares, currencies, oil, houses, businesses. Until a basis of belief is re-established at some level, the scary times will continue.


When the dust settles, there will be a rebalancing of relative power between financial communities and regulators on both sides of the Atlantic. The kings of the market have been proved wrong. Unless the US and Britain want to go through this nightmare again in a few years' time, it will be made more difficult for banks to expose themselves to risk so recklessly.

The question is what change is going to come about, and who is going to champion it? With the political wing of the labour movement (I think) a bit stunned that the City isn't actually all that I think the party will take its time to respond. And I don't think the Tories have any appetite for this kind of thing (they haven't shown any such inclination to date). As always, I think there is a space for the unions to develop some ideas.


ian said...

Good point Tom. Often Capitalist commentators are the best indicators to view the failings of the system.

But now New Labour are completely discredited not just as a government but as a political philosophy, how do you think the Unions will show the lead?

I have a view on this. The union are made up of two wings. The Left and the 'non politicals'.Its the 'non politicals' that will be the block on any lead being provided by the unions. Fortunately for the left the current economic climate will provide excellent recruits and sharpen the debate.

Good post, Tom.



Tom P said...

Hi Ian

Well we could start by setting out some ideas for reform, since they aren't forthcoming from the government.

I think reform of pay in the City and of company boards is an obvious one. Also I think we ought to take a proper look at how ownership in the company-shareholder really works (or not).

And being really radical, maybe it's time for the labour movement to consider whether it needs its own financial institutions. There are some bit and bobs out there (UIA, Unity Trust Bank, TUFM) but maybe something more ambitious is in order.

ian said...

Hi Tom

Definately worth exploring.