The mother of all bail-outs
In the run-up to the 2012 London Olympics, the New Labour government has put in a credible bid for victory in the financial events with the sums spent on bailing out the banks. The increasing size of the bail-outs shows one thing – the crisis is getting worse rather than better.
The Royal Bank of Scotland has so far received a world-record £53.5 billion since the onset of the crisis in 2007. That accounts for most of the total of £74 billion of taxpayers’ money the government has put into the banks, including Lloyds and HBOS, over the last two years.
The latest £25.5 billion for the RBS announced by Chancellor Darling yesterday is part of a second bank bail-out which adds up to nearly £40 billion, which is more than the amount handed over in 2008. The government is hoping this will keep the banks afloat whilst they tear themselves apart under direction from the EU’s competition commission.
The dismemberment of systemically important “too-big-too-fail”’ banks is a hot topic for the world’s financial community, but there is no agreement on a co-ordinated package of regulation and reform. Some want to return to the regime established in the wake of the 1929 crash which separated high-risk investment – gambling – from the relatively safer, but less profitable business of balancing deposits and lending.
Others, like the IMF, are busy trying to work out how to reduce the grossly unsustainable government deficits resulting from attempts to prevent global meltdown. All of the schemes under discussion concentrate their attention on repairs to the financial system. None of these can work however.
Martin Wolf, the Financial Times’ leading commentator puts it starkly: “It is idiotic to discuss the reduction of the huge fiscal deficits, without considering the nature of the offsetting adjustments in the private and external sectors.” What he implies is that the financial system can’t be fixed without an “extremely perilous” return to credit-led growth.
Yesterday the Indian government gave its verdict on the health of the global economy. It swapped $6.7 billion of its US paper dollars for 200 tonnes of gold bullion put up for sale by the IMF. This is the latest and strongest indication that the Asian countries are moving away from a reliance on the declining dollar. India’s finance minister couldn’t have put his reasons clearer. He said the economies of the US and Europe have collapsed.
The contradictory movement of the tectonic plates of the capitalist financial and economic system is producing seismic shocks throughout the world. Even its most ardent defenders are losing faith in the possibility of a “solution” that is anything but an attempt to repeat the past.
Warren Buffet, the capitalist system’s most long-standing and successful investor of other people’s money has just bought a US railroad, in his biggest ever deal, describing it as “an all-in wager on the future of the American economy”. Burlington Northern Santa Fe is a freight company. Its biggest cargo is coal for power stations. So much for concern about global warming.
Profit-motivated growth has brought us to an historical crossroads. The capitalist road leads to economic destruction, warfare and the collapse of life-support systems. If the historical process could speak to us directly, it would surely urge humanity to move forward to a co-operative social set-up where a financial system that serves only shareholders and speculators is put out of its misery and corporations that plunder the planet become the property of the people as a whole.
4 November 2009