A contemporary criminal epidemic
Is the subject of this polemic
Its epicentres are the financial sectors
In the United Kingdom and United States
And its reverberations have left entire countries in dire straits
That crime is corporate fraud
Committed by the banks and the fraudulent accountants
Fraud by the hedge funds and ratings agencies
And in the fraudulent delivery of fraudulent securities
To people who hardly knew an asset from a liability
by Antoine Cerisier
“An unexciting truth may be eclipsed by a thrilling falsehood”, Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
A Brave New World?
European economies have been facing severe difficulties since the outset of the global financial meltdown. The Eurozone crisis makes the headlines in financial publications and the mainstream media virtually every week. The accepted wisdom on economic recovery and debt reduction has rarely been questioned by journalists and policymakers. If a Martian were to land on earth – say in The Economist’s London press room – with no preconceived ideas or previous knowledge of our old continent, he would probably come to the following conclusions. In this world, Scandinavian countries like Sweden, with high taxes and bloated welfare states, cannot reverse their inevitable decline and will soon be faced with mountains of debt. Britain, he would think, is on the verge of becoming Europe’s new economic superpower thanks to a vibrant financial sector and courageous reforms undertaken by David Cameron’s coalition government since 2010. Southern European economies like Greece, Spain and Portugal are quickly recovering from recent debt crises and can expect a future of prosperity and competitiveness. And they lived happily ever after.
by Joseph Markus
Over the past few days much has been written seeking to predict the course of events in the New Year. Among the left-leaning columnists and writers, social security – a “war over benefits” – tops the list. That this is the case should not surprise anyone. This year will be the year when, for the first time, social security payments will fail to keep pace with the rising costs of living caused by inflation. We have also seen Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, unleashing splenetic attacks on the alleged overspending of the last Labour government, most recently in relation to tax credits. This is the same Mr Duncan Smith that believes in the Romney-esque mantra that the worst possible thing that society can do for the poor and out-of-work is to maintain their “dependency” on the state.
by Antoine Cerisier
Environmental issues have gained salience over the past decades due to greater awareness of ecological degradation and growing scientific research on climate change. The latter issue has been particularly present in the media in the last ten years. Numerous scientific reports on global warming and sea level rise have been made public; a recent World Bank publication observed a 4 degree rise in global temperatures by the end of the century “would push some countries or regions to the brink of collapse”. US politician and activist Al Gore even won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, along with the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). But environmentalism did not start with Al Gore and his emphatic coverage of climate change: environmental concerns lie far back in time.
By Marc Morgan
“If I have seen a little further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” (Isaac Newton, 1676)
A simple idea, embodied in a proverb, has been at the core of mainstream economic theory since the conservative-libertarian economist Milton Friedman popularised it in 1975. This is that “there is no such thing as a free lunch”. Essentially what this proverb intends to say is that one cannot get “something for nothing”. The first reference to this idea originated in 19th century US saloons whereby free lunches were offered to customers who purchased at least one drink. The foods, being high in salt, would entice customers to consume more drink, usually beer. As such the “free lunch” carried a hidden cost, namely the price paid for each extra unit of drink, which effectively ended up paying for the lunch. In economic terminology “no free lunch” represents the trade off (or opportunity cost) that must be made between two things that one values.
By Marc Morgan
The IFSC: where the decisions are really made?
Earlier this year, formal records were released under the Irish Freedom of Information Act which revealed the intertwined relationship between the Irish Government and the Irish Financial Services Centre (IFSC). These records become known to the general public on Monday October 8th in an article by The Irish Times. The relationship between the two parties has been, and continues to be, played out within the IFSC Clearing House Group, a lobbying group, chaired by Martin Fraser, the secretary general of Government. The group comprises of civil servants from state agencies like the Industrial Development Agency (IDA) and Enterprise Ireland, as well as representatives from the principle financial corporations in the country; JP Morgan, Citigroup, State Street, Barclays, KPMG, Bank of America, Bank of Ireland, among others. Meetings between the two parties take place in Government Buildings, so it is no surprise that the Government’s policy bears striking resemblance to the Group’s position in two related areas: tax incentives for the financial industry and the stance on the EU’s proposal of a European-wide financial transactions tax (FTT).
If insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results
Then calamity is clearly what these guys are all about
It doesn’t make you a Luddite to say
“Well, with hindsight, our confidence in the ratings agencies was totally misplaced”
Does anyone else remember the way
That they acted yesterday?
They said to put your mind at ease with a few of these mortgage-backed securities
Good enough for Lloyds TSB
Endowment funds at universities
And public sector retirees
Whose pension funds are intentionally designed not to invest in anything
Under a couple of B’s
By Antoine Cerisier
French Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg among Arcelor Mittal workers in Florange
It has been almost six months since French voters elected François Hollande as their new President, giving his party – Parti Socialiste – the absolute majority in Parliament several weeks later. His victory came as a great relief for those critical of the rightward shift operated by the French conservatives since Nicolas Sarkozy’s election in 2007 – which I addressed in a previous contribution to this blog. However, both Mr Hollande and his quiet Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault have been suffering from a sharp decrease in popularity in the last few weeks: more than half of French citizens seem to disagree with their policies. Part of the explanation lies in the current socio-economic context. Unemployment just hit the three million mark and is expected to rise in 2013; dire growth prospects may undermine the government’s efforts to reduce the deficit; and massive layoffs often make the news, including those incurred by the recent closure of Arcelor Mittal’s blast-furnace facilities in North-Eastern France.
A complement to: Financial Suicide: Lessons From Economic Demography
By Alexander Green
In a recent article for this blog, Joshua Mellors highlighted the usefulness of economic demography in letting us know that:
“…if large portions of your population suddenly emigrate, or suicide rates markedly increase, it might be time for a Plan B.”
Now, as a lawyer, I am of a more vindictive and backwards looking sort. When the proverbial substance hits the fan I want to know who to blame and why. Mellors points to a study in the British Medical Journal, which indicates that around one thousand people in England have committed suicide as a result of the recession, due to a combination of rising unemployment and the devaluation of savings. Intuitively, it is clear who is to blame: those that made the choices giving rise to the conditions that prompted these unfortunate individuals to end their lives. This is commonly assumed to be politicians (by imposing austerity measures) and bankers (by prioritising short term profit over sustainability).
By Babak Moussavi
The effects of the financial crisis that blew up with the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008 are still with us. Many Western governments pursue harsh austerity policies in a vain attempt to shift the huge overhang of debt that they took on by propping up economies in freefall. But few have had the courage or political imagination to reshape their economies in ways that will place them on a more sustainable, and equitable footing, in order to ensure a similar crisis does not strike again. Certainly, the world economy has not been reformed sufficiently.
This is a pressing concern, argues Philippe Legrain in his excellent book, Aftershock. A return of the status quo ante will lead to another almighty catastrophe, with effects far worse than what we have experienced already, as governments will be less equipped to step in. Bubbles will grow, laissez-faire economic policies will do nothing about them, and financial crises will recur. Governments need to enact major reforms if we are to prevent this from happening.