Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Wall Street And City's Death By Greed

The collapse of Lehman Brothers is the latest ominous sign of the cancer spreading through the US and UK financial markets. The prognosis is terminal. More firms will follow but how long can taxpayers' cash be used to prop up firms who set out to make a fast buck out of the market. This is death by greed

Years of low interest rates to entice borrowers and easy credit, meant the bubble was going to burst one day.

The debt and risk had been bundled up and sold on, making big profits on the way, with the Chinese banks ultimately taking up the risk using their huge investment potential and sovereign wealth fund. 

But when the Chinese banks suddenly stop playing ball and went cold, the whole financial system crashes like a pack of cards.

But these are not 'bundles of risk' - these are people's home, their pensions, their dreams and their aspirations which have been put on the line. The collapse of the sub prime housing market is forcing thousands into misery. 

Pictures of City slickers, with their heads in their hands or clearing their desks carrying out cardboard boxes, cut no ice with people struggling to pay their bills and trying to cope with rising and mounting debt, facing the prospect of losing their homes. 

Wall Street and the City have been allowed to ride high on obscene bonuses, dividends and paper profits, by enticing people into debt by taking out loans well above their means and that lies at the root of the problem. 

Lehman Brothers wasn't the first to go under and won't be the last. 

The State of New York has announced a "multi-billion dollar financing plan" to shore up one of the world's largest insurers AIG, amid growing fears of collapse.

Some, like Merrill Lynch, bought out by the Bank of America, will survive in predatory moves, bought out while the stock is low but only when they are underwritten with government guarantees from public funds, as was the case when JP Morgan bailed out Bear Stearns. 

Others, like Northern Rock here and Fannie and Freddy in the US, where the political fall out is just too great, have been bailed out by the governments with the taxpayers picking up the tab. But without Chinese cash,  others will have to go to the wall. 

One solution proposed in the US and here by Chancellor Darling, is more regulation and more transparency but this has little chance of success. 

The investment banks have been allowed to flourish on the back of unfathomable accounting where it's well nigh impossible to follow a global paper trail. In this global economy, regulations brought in by individual nations can be by passed and ignored.

The UK has been happy to follow the US lead with this borrow more debt culture of global finance and a 'free market economy'. 

UK industry and manufacturing, once the powerhouse of any economy, have been allowed to stagnate and be decimated, to be replaced by an obsessive drive to make the City the financial centre of the world. 

The government was determined to make the City a success and saw that as the future but without any plan for when the bubble burst and the inevitable would happen. 

The government has shown little signs of wanting to look ahead. Preferring instead to sit it out and ride on the back of the good times - in the false hope that those days will somehow miraculously return. 

As the cancer spreads throughout the US and UK economies, the blame should rest on the shoulders of those who have allowed this flawed 'free market' economic model to flourish, without any checks, creating the culture of greed and fat profits. 

The casualties, as always, are the ordinary folk, worried about their homes and pensions. 

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