Blaming people feels good, but is ultimately fruitless
Angela Knight from the British Bankers' Association (BBA) and Nottingham MP, Graham Allen, were on TV in the East Midlands last week discussing a financial transaction tax. It's a frightening real-life parody of the Bill Nighy Robin Hood Tax campaign video! Have a look for yourself [at fifty-one minutes thirty].
It was interesting to hear former Conservative MP Angela Knight responding to the campaign for a Robin Hood Tax, most significantly she suggested we need to wait for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) report into a variety of financial regulatory measures that could be introduced. So presumably if the IMF comes out in favour of the tax, then the BBA will welcome its introduction? Given the way Knight has robustly opposed anny moves to strengthen the regulation of banks defended the banks in public over the last couple of years against any moves to strengthen regulation, that seems extremely unlikely. However, unless the IMF's major paymasters in Washington change their minds and lend their support for such a tax, the chances are it won't be introduced and the BBA can stand down from Def Con 2.
Angela Knight stated categorically that the banks were the biggest contributors to charity in the UK. I'm not sure by what criteria she measures this - though it seems unimaginable that if the true costs and benefits were analysed calculated, that their philanthropy outweighs the £250bn of public investment money they have received. However, despite my desire to challenge this unsubstantiated claim, I feel it is necessary to temper my instincts in order to avoid falling into the unhelpful polemic that characterises the debate about banking. Allen can barely keep the smirk from his face as he says he is ‘the bankers' friend' and Knight responds in-kind by stating that the recession would have happened even if the banks had acted more responsibly. This kind of polarised debate doesn't move us forward at all.
The banking crisis was bad for all of us - the banks, the government, the third sector and citizens - who all suffered as a result of the fallout. We need a healthy banking sector that serves social needs and efficiently directs the flow of capital to where it can be put to best use (a kind of dating agency for investors and entrepreneurs). Apportioning blame ultimately serves little purpose. Frankly everyone is to blame. Government loosened regulation, the regulators failed to properly understand the risks the banks were taking and financial institutions distorted their balance sheets to over-inflate profits.
Perhaps it is legitimate for citizens who pick up the tab for banks' malpractice to expect to see remorse on the part of those (at least in part) responsible and get ‘closure'. Sadly there is little sign of anyone among the banking fraternity accepting any responsibility for what's happened. Have a look at the car number plate that one One Morgan Stanley Vice President actually bought the car number plate :
How blatant can you get?
Whilst I believe it's entirely legitimate for people to feel angry with the banks, we also need to ensure we channel our anger into something constructive, to ensure we learn from recent history. The Better Banking campaign's proposed solutions, offer a way forward, towards a socially useful but commercially viable financial service sector.