Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Market meltdown and the millennium development goals

Have others seen the irony in Barclays acquiring Lehman Brothers US operations for $1bn today but walking away from the opportunity to rescue the group on Saturday despite the chairman of Barclays trumpeting today that it was a great deal at any price?

I was a financial journalist in the early 1980s when Mrs Thatcher was presiding over a financial meltdown that caused similar headlines to the ones we're seeing now. Unemployment hit three million plus, interest rates were in double digits as was inflation. Manufacturers were queuing up to go to the wall. Whole towns were left wasted and broken. In those days, furrowed brows combed the public sector borrowing requirement numbers for evidence of who knows what... There was much chin rubbing and mutterings of 'the markets will correct'.

Now as we face a yet another serious correction in the financial markets and jitters like we've not known for a good while, we are nightly treated to ever younger reporters overdosing on hyperbole as they seek to tell us that things are even worse than they were yesterday. I find myself sounding like the classic grumpy old man, shouting at the TV screen 'how many recessions have you seen, sunny boy?' Of course, when I was pontificating on the state of the economy, I was a mature 25 year old! 'Twas ever thus...

I wonder how much of this might have been avoided by cooler, wiser heads suggesting no one panic, no one buy or sell anything, no one create yet another fictitious financial instrument to make it look as if our asset-base is bigger than it actually is and we are all richer than we really are. I remember an FT ad in the 80s that asked where the money goes in our crazy 24 hour, global securities trading system, asked 'does it even exist?' I wonder...

Soon, it seems, we'll all be banking at the single global financial services conglomerate left after the current meltdown. Funny how unfettered markets and rapacious competition reduces the number of players and the choice left to hapless and baffled consumers.

Nothing like a good rant.... It makes me feel better about my bank being taken over by the bank I left because I wasn't happy with its service. But it also leaves me with a broader question.

When the dust settles, what will have happened to the Millennium Development Goals? How much of the money that was earmarked for achieving those - you know the ones, free primary education for all children by 2015, rising levels of healthcare, access to clean water, action on HIV, TB and malaria - has been diverted into propping up the financial institutions that fuel the global economy that has kept the developing world on its knees for too long?

Bruce Cockburn got it right back in the 1980s when the seeds for this mess were being sown in the privatising policies of the Thatcher/Reagan governments and the IMF started intoning its free-market mantra. He sang: 'spend a buck to make a buck, you don't give a flying f... about the people in poverty.' Now that's high quality economic analysis and commentary from a seasoned hand!


Iain Stephenson said...


My first degree was in economics and am now a Baptist Pastor. For my dissertation i looked at the 1990 crash and have been waiting for this one for the last 2 years.

I totally agree with your comments. It makes me so angry that when everything was going great and the banks were making shed loads of cash the cry was "free market". (not too disimilar to the energy firms now!) But when it goes wrong, the government (which means taxpayers money) is used to bail them out. Of course i know that not doing so may be worse in the long run for the taxpayer anyway - but it is so wrong that those that made the mess will pretty much walk away and enjoy a nice retirement in luxury. I heard one bank exec talk about a lesson had been learnt about liquidity. I thought they taught that in GCSE Economics.

Another song writer wrote "history she keeps on and on, repeating herslef". So only another 25 years till the next financial meltdown then!

Anonymous said...

While the world of ministry is better off for having you as a part of it, it's a pity you're not still a financial journalist and asking these quetions! Margaret