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Nothing To Fear But…? April 5, 2013

Posted by markswill in About me, Media, Politics, Schmolitics.

Not that it really matters, but the unusually long hiatus in my bloggery – by recent standards, anyway – is down to the fact that just as I was putting the finishing curlicues to a searing expose of how politicians and commercial interests employ fear to get their way in the world, my friend Dick Pountain did a much better job than I’d just attempted in his newly posted blog, which I commend you to read here 

Admiring though I am of his insight and intellect – and I really do advise you sign up to his regular musings – it left me with a metaphoric hole to fill which happily was remedied by a visit to the Royal Court to see The Low Road, written by Bruce Norris. You may’ve been luck enough to see his last play performed there, Clybourne Park, a brisk, darkly humorous excoriation of racism and property speculation in Chicago, with über-Hobbit Martin Freeman especially impressive. The Low Road fills an even broader canvas, namely the entire history of modern America woven into a neat and devastating parable on the venality of its financial system, with a noxious side-order of religious bigotry and racism. It’s a sprawling, three hour work wryly narrated by a non-judgemental Adam Smith, and it would’ve had even more wallop had it been edited down by 30 minutes, but it had the desired effect of leaving me both highly entertained and very angry.

Coincidentally, novelist Sebastian Faulks vented similar anger in a recent Evening Standard article. As in Norris’s play, he observed that the economic woes caused by a breed of bankers who profited from the naïve trust of their investors hasn’t resulted in a single banker, hedge fund manager or other financial huckster being imprisoned for the misery they’ve caused. He wrote:

“The FSA (Financial Services Authority) which was meant to police the system was too weak to do its job. The ratings agencies misunderstood the products they were rating. The ‘big four’ accountancy firms signed off things they should never have let pass. The ‘magic circle’ law firms helped financial houses construct (their) lethal instruments. Crazed by greed, the traders told us they had spread the risk so thin that it could never come home to roost.”

Well we now know how wrong they were, with almost everyone who isn’t earning a proverbial mint in the City suffering from the consequences. In a week when the Chancellor substantially shrunk the social welfare safety net to the extent that millions of the poorest will lose out, whilst simultaneously he reduced the tax rates for the richest, we are required to accept that such policies are necessary to ensure the future comfort and prosperity for all.

Then we had Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and like his master George Osborne and most of the coalition cabinet, a sleekly-padded upper-class millionaire, telling R4 listeners that lowering the tax rate for high earners would encourage more of them to move to Britain and spend money that would provide employments for others – the same ‘trickle down’ theory that Mrs Thatcher’s last government manifestly proved not to work. On other occasions, Alexander and his cohorts have also defended the apparently obscene bonuses given to executives of the banks that we bailed out and in several cases now largely own, as being essential to preserving Britain, or more particularly London, as a global financial hub vital to the economy. An economy which, although he didn’t mention it, successive Tory (and recent Labour) governments would otherwise have destroyed by letting our manufacturing and energy industries go hang or become owned by foreigners who don’t pay much if any UK tax.

And whilst I don’t want to turn this into a tedious analysis of why this is balderdash, I will say that I just don’t get it.

Personally of course, I’m lucky. I may not earn much, but I don’t pay rent or a mortgage and have no kids to support, but my relentlessly rising cost of living is such that I have to watch very carefully what I spend on utilities, clothing, transport etc. My heart therefore goes out to those less fortunate than me and I believe that all of us would perhaps, possibly, just conceivably be more willing to submit to the strictures of millionaire politicians who understand not a jot what it’s like out in the real world of broken Britain if they brought some of the bankers to book.

It isn’t even ironic that the ‘papers are full of stories about unemployed people who’ve been thrown into jail for defrauding the benefits system of a few thousand pounds when those who brought the economy to its knees, and caused further cuts to that system, go scot-free.

Indeed after a nod to the now dormant Occupy movement, as Faulks also noted, “ It is difficult to understand why there are not peaceful protests every day outside RBS, Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and all the other places where a few men conspired to gamble with money that did not belong to them – and got away with it.”

My own theory is that Osborne, Alexander, Cameron and their fat-cat pals in the City have cunningly and deliberately made it obvious that any mass protest or show of indignation would risk the financial security, pathetically limited though it may be, of those who did the protesting.

In other words we are obliged to be afraid, very afraid, of rocking the boat.

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1. WTK - April 5, 2013

As I wrote before. We should have hung 200 random bankers from the lightposts in 2007. It would send a signal. And why the pitch for ‘peaceful’ demonstrations? “Burning Down the House”. And to the point, Marylin Manson in a 2002 interview said, “the only tool politicians ever use to control people is fear”. Need we say more?

Paul Blezard - April 5, 2013

As Voltaire put into the mouth of Candide, inspired by the real life execution of Admiral Byng after the loss of Minorca to the French, ‘il est bon de tuer de temps en temps, un amiral, pour encourager les autres’. A trifle harsh perhaps, for the ‘civilised’ first world in the 21st century. It would not seem unreasonable, however, to punish the guilty bankers by setting them to work cleaning toilets for the next decade or two. (Prison toilets, obviously).

markswill - April 5, 2013

Marilyn Manson, eh? What an intellect, what a seer…? And of course hardly a beneficiary of the capitalist system!

2. Dick Pountain - April 5, 2013

Mark – thanks for the plug, will return the favour. Would have commented sooner had I been able to find how to! Why don’t these blogging platforms just have a button called “Comment”? (I recall you having same problem in Blogger, which is what I use). Much as I’d enjoy seeing bankers swinging from lamp-posts, it wouldn’t actually get any of the money back. The only way to do that is to restore a steeply progressive tax system (as Hollande is being pilloried for doing in France – always a sign it’s the right road) and also to restore a living wage so that the state is no longer subsidising industry to underpay workers. The chances of either happening are slim to non-existent with Labour in its current state.

markswill - April 5, 2013

Yeah, they do make it difficult, ditto adding yrgdslf. to my Blogroll, which I only achieved by invoking the ‘Help’ menu. Fuckwits. (And sorry about the typos, which for once not even PBlezard picked up!).

markswill - April 5, 2013

‘Labour in its current state” is IMHO, a state of statis fuelled by envy for the comparative wealth of their Coalition counterparts. ‘New Labour’, as they were ambitiously and ambiguously self-titled, were just wannabe Tories wearing red ties. Corrupted if not driven, as the vast majority of politicians are, by the intoxicating promise of power, they found tortuous justifications for their socialism-free policies in the name of political expediency. And now their young successors have got nothing left to draw on for inspiration.

Paul Blezard - April 5, 2013

I’ve always said, and believed, that Tony Blair was Maggie Thatcher’s revenge on both the Tories and on the Labour Party!

3. George Snow - April 5, 2013

I couldn’t agree with you more Mark. Although I suggest hanging is probably too good for those menacing creatures. A short term fix may be to transfer the City’s activities to Frankfurt where they may be governed by effective laws.

markswill - April 5, 2013

Yeah George, those Germans certainly know how to deal with miscreants… like Greeks, Cypriots, Spaniards etc., etc.

George Snow - April 5, 2013

Sure fucking do. But don’t punish the proletariat Mark. Punish the wealth-obsessed bankers. (Greek, Cypriot or Spaniard.)

markswill - April 6, 2013

I guess I should’ve put ‘miscreants’ in parenthesis, as in the German politicians viewing them as such when it is of course as you say their bankers who are at (massive) fault.

4. Melinda - April 6, 2013

We are in an age where the politics of fear are being used. This is nothing new – access to modern media has made it easier to access fear mongering. Politics of fear bank on the premise that presenting people with an overwhelming threat to their well being will make them vote in a certain way. The Bush administration and now Obama have used this method expertly. FUD, Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt is a form of PR bullshit we are being fed that if we don’t let the city carry on regardless London will not be seen as Capital City of the Financial World. The City and London is keeping the rest of this country afloat. Europe is seen as a quaint place to visit by other main world economies. We have neglected manufacturing, sold out to the EU on agriculture and farming and are left with greedy bankers supported by greedy politicians who create governments which cannot create cohesive, long term policies and strategies. Franklin D Roosevelt, longest ever US President tried everything from Socialism to Capitalism and Keynesianism, it did not work, only WW11 kick started the world economy. By the very nature of things the sort of people who enter politics and stand for government are exactly the sort of people we should not elect. Politics will always swing from the left to the right, from the fair to the corrupt. Finance will do the same either up or down, boom or bust, legitimate or corrupt. FUD is being spread to orchestrate us into a very dangerous position on the world stage.
might have gone over the top on this one)

markswill - April 6, 2013

Not OTT at all, Melinda. I couldn’t have put it better myself – any of it. You should start a blog!

Melinda - April 6, 2013

Glad you approve. Not sure I would like to air my views on a regular basis as once it’s on the www it’s there forever – even if one presses delete!

5. Gus - April 7, 2013

Here’s a thought :
Instead of disqualifying the HBOS 3 from ever working in the financial industry again, why not wait until they get a new highly paid directorship and then investigate the fuck out of whichever company has employed them ?
The only way they’d ever get another job (and, they will ) is if there’s some highly corrupt shit going on – it’d be nice to know what it is.
Alien shape-shifting Lizard People perhaps ?
I’ve heard stupider theories – that ‘trickle down’ one for starters !

markswill - April 8, 2013

They already have found jobs, Gus, one of them (can’t remember which) as CEO of the Coral betting empire, which seems bleakly appropriate. Personally, I think jail would be too good for the lot of ’em.

6. hed maginnis - April 7, 2013

I’ve done my bit.Shifted my meagre stash to a building society and cancelled my telegraph subscription.

markswill - April 8, 2013

Very wise Hed, but have you replaced the Torygraph sub with one to the Mirror?

7. julesbollocks - April 8, 2013

As much as I agree with you Mark on this I think the bigger, the actual picture is being missed. It is all about oil, just as it was about fertile lands to invade rich in food and slaves for the Romans. When the roads became to long, the returns too small, the borders too long and an army too small Roman went into a slow decline. We have reached limits.

Abundant energy allowed for growth which allowed for borrowing and population growth and the ‘dream’ to be sold of more and more and it is over. Its been over since 2007.

All those clever ‘derivatives’ were invented because even back in the 1990s real growth in real things was slowing up. The stagnation of today is not the 1930s or 70s or 90s and there is no old fashioned fix. Whether we invest in rich people [to make more wealth for all- the logic of which is crazy- footballers, Elton John, drug barons are rich!] or invest in infrastructure or benefits [Egypt which is falling apart put its spare money into food and fuel subsidies- bread and games] does not matter- the money [oil] is costing more for less on a global scale.

We have joined other oil exporters in their decline like Egypt- the nation that has done things first since the ancients. But yes, bankers, government capitalists are all scum but they are not the problem.

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