Monday, October 19, 2009

Anatomy Of A Meltdown

Given the company they keep & the contacts they have to maintain, financial journalists can speak fluent jargon without realising that they alienate most people. Credit, therefore, to Gillian Tett ( ), assistant editor of the Financial Times, for delivering an account of the banking crisis which, if anything, engaged & involved her audience at the Bluecoat on Saturday afternoon.
Basing her account on her recently published book*, she related the tale as one of risk-taking gone mad, spurred on by a combination of hubris & denial on the part of a fairly small group of young bankers in the early 90s. Explaining in plain English the meaning of terms such as Credit Default Swaps & CDOs, Tett calmly, yet damningly laid bare the decisions taken over the course of a decade or more which ultimately led to last year's meltdown & what many would regard as socialism for the rich in the ensuing bail-outs.
Tett outlined three stages of the period when bankers were feted as masters of the universe: innovation (devising the "bundling" of debt to be shared & thus lessened for those concerned), perversion (the continuation of such practices in spite of the fact they couldn't continue) & disaster (when the banks on both sides of the Atlantic, with the exception of Lehman Brothers, looked to the taxpayer for relief, & got it, when the proverbial hit the fan).
In stark terms, Tett assessed the global outlook in the light of last year's crash & expressed her amazement when answering questions later that the issue of bankers' bonuses hadn't engendered anywhere near the same level of outrage caused by MP's expenses. She's spot-on; the expenses issue rightly remains a hot issue. However, what was & is being perpetrated on the world's markets affects the average person in a way which still hasn't been grasped.
Given her position at the FT, Tett was never going to present the sequence of events as a damning indictment of capitalism. That said, however, she did not demur when several in the audience raised the issues of accountability (or the complete absence of it), regulation & even nationalisation of the banks.
I look forward to reading the book.

* "Fool's Gold", Gillian Tett, published by Little, Brown, 2009.

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