Thursday, 12 February 2009

The Dubious Pleasures of Blaming Individuals

Show trials for Bankers? Richard Murphy has a little list....

But so do others - and increasingly these lists extend to the government. What had been a refrain arising from the libertarian blogosphere has grown to include Guardian editorials.

My judgment - which is inevitably subjective - of the general public mood is that most people are still in the stage of shock and disbelief that the relative prosperity of recent years has come juddering to a halt. At least that seemed to be the mood in the Newsnight studio last night when they had an invited audience of West Midlands people. People are looking for someone - anyone - to blame. There remains a default expectation that things can 'return to normal', albeit after some pain. It's a case of identifying the individuals responsible for the 'errors' which have plunged us all into this mess and punishing them in the most appropriate manner to hand.

Except, whisper it quietly, it really isn't. Now I'm as willing to pour scorn and abuse on the heads of our disgraced Masters of the Financial Universe as the next only semi-reconstructed eighties radical, and my pleasure in seeing New Labour getting its cumuppance is only tempered by a regret that Blair himself isn't there any longer to take some of this flak. But this is beside the point in anything other than a purely superficial sense.

Because I have a hunch we're not going to 'return to normal'. The real discussion is how we start on the business of refashioning our economy so it's less like a casino and more like something which might actually serve people's needs. Perhaps I don't go out enough but, on the blogosphere, only Richard Murphy has attempted even a semi-convincing stab at sketching this out (with a honourable mention to Stumbling). Even ex-Worker's Power types see we can't magic up a new set of financial elites overnight, unpleasant as they might be: we need to get them corralled into a new paradigm. That's a task for the politicians.

Such a new paradigm will, obviously, involve severe restrictions on their previously obscene levels of pay and will also carry legal penalties for anti-social behaviour like excessive risk taking and large scale tax avoidance. But its primary feature will be a framework vision of how the banks should serve the rest of the economy. About which there currently appears to be diddly squat discussion in the public sphere...

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