Feb 9, 2011
There is no peace, says the Lord, for the wicked. But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. (Book of Isaiah 57:20). Classically, yes, but the street level meaning is more often that ‘something not very good is continuing although you might like to stop‘.
The busy-bee activities of the financial community fit this bill rather well right now. Whilst Egypt runs the gauntlet of political transformation alongside its catalyzing Tunisian comrades, the bankers have remained focused on the business at hand. In Davos, bankers had clearly visited the Wizard of Oz, recovering their courage enough to ‘bash the bashers’. The Guardian reported that JP Morgan’s chief executive, Jamie Dimon, announced that banks were not prepared to simply “bend over and accept it” from regulators. Meanwhile, the Goldman Sachs president, Gary Cohn, declared that extra regulations on banks would encourage people to put their money into riskier hedge funds, an astonishingly unveiled threat akin to arguing that country’s that strengthened the rule of law were encouraging folks to head off and commit crimes in less law-abiding communities.
Meanwhile, back in the trading rooms, honest sugar traders represented by the World Sugar Committee are complaining publicly about the ‘parasitic traders’ who, as their Chairman argued in the Financial Times, were “causing difficulties for members of the real sugar community”. He added: “As you know, the exchange’s popularity with members of the real sugar community is at a low ebb.”
Meanwhile, events back at home suggest that the apparent pasting that Cameron and Osborne got at Davos from the bankers might be a charade. An excellent article by vigilante George Monbiot in today’s Guardian walked us analytic slouchers through what he calls the tax heist of the century, essentially allowing major UK-based companies to legally avoid UK tax on their global earnings, whilst setting off global costs against residual tax obligations. And hey, who gets to benefit from Messrs Cameron and Osborne’s largesse…yes, you guessed it, the same financial institutions staging a fistycuff with the lads from Downing Street in the limelight of Davos.
Sarkozy may not be your favourite politician for any one of many, many reasons. But he is the only guy on the main political stage calling out the financial community, and demanding change. Whatever his political logic, it may just come to some good – after all, the road to heaven is indeed paved with bad intentions.
Mainstreaming Responsible Investment, co-authored by me and some good friends, is a little dated, but still gets the story more or less right, and benefits from being published several years before the global financial meltdown and ransacking of our public finances.
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