shaping the new financial architecture…

Why do we trust the financial priests?

Posted in TBTF by Kitty on January 10, 2010

*Source:   Why do we trust the financial priests? BBC, Robert Peston, Saturday, 9 January 2010

“The Icelanders have risen up and humiliated their political class over its handling of the financial crisis, as I mentioned on Thursday.

But there’s nothing terribly unusual about their sense of powerlessness and alienation from the writing of the rules of the banking and finance game.

When it comes to how banks are allowed to behave, sovereignty over decision-making rarely rests with citizens.

Did anyone actually ask us whether we wanted our banks rescued to the tune of £1.2 trillion during and after the crisis of 2008?

If they had, we might have said no.

So perhaps it’s a good thing that politicians and central bankers simply did what they thought was best for us, without consulting – because if the banks had gone down, the contraction in our economy would have been far far worse than it turned out to be. Better to leave it to the experts, eh?

But hang on a tick: who actually got us into this mess in the first place?

It wasn’t the fault of ordinary citizens like you and me.

It was those self-proclaimed experts who allowed our banks to become too huge, too complicated, too addicted to taking crazy risks, and too poorly endowed with life-preserving capital.

We trusted the Treasury, the Financial Services Authority and the Bank of England to make the right decisions about the structure and stewardship of our banking industry – and they got it spectacularly wrong.

That’s representative democracy – but actually normal representative democracy doesn’t really operate in this sphere, How so?

Well, most of our elected representatives – including ministers – understand less about banking and finance than even those who actually ran the banks.

So, little did we know, we have been delegating most of the really important decisions about all this to a financial priesthood: faceless, unelected, unaccountable technocrats who make up a committee that meets in the picture-postcard Swiss town of Basel – what’s known as the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision.

These financial priests let us down too.

The rules they imposed on banks that were intended to limit dangerous risk-taking actually had the effect of encouraging banks to behave imprudently.

Their rules made the financial system more fragile, not less.

Here’s the funny thing. Although we as taxpayers have come to the rescue of the financial system on an unprecedented scale, we’re allowing those aloof financial priests to design the new system.

It’s true that ministers have published policy papers on the structure of regulation and the method for limiting the contagion when a bank gets into difficulties. And the Tories have proposed that the Bank of England should have much more power to police banks.

As for the Basel Committee, it has set out plans to revise and rehabilitate its own flawed rules for the banking industry (and this weekend, the Basel Committee’s host, the Bank for International Settlements – known as the central bankers’ central bank – will warn commercial bankers that they may already be taking silly risks again).

But none of this represents a proper public debate on the big questions that matter, such as:

Since we’ve picked up an enormous bill for the banks’ recklessness and fecklessness, you might think we should be having a proper say over what kind of banks we want, for our money.”


* About the Basel Committee –  BIS website


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