Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Layer 423 . . . Britain's Banks, Fear and Loathing, Excess, Failure, Greed, Justice, Peston, Sandel, Hobsbawm, Citizenship, Spiritual Values, Ethical Questions, and How To Change The World

The film Battle in Seattle was shown again on TV last week. An excellent, but enraging piece of work.



The film depicts the historic protest in 1999, as thousands of activists arrive in Seattle, Washington in masses to protest the WTO Ministerial Conference of 1999. The World Trade Organization is considered by protesters to contribute to widening the socioeconomic gap between the rich and the poor while it claims to be fixing it and increasing world hunger, disease and death.  - Wikipedia


I'm now watching a documentary on BBC2 about bankers and banking.

Britain's Banks: Too Big to Save?


It's more than two years since the giant banks were bailed out with billions of pounds of tax-payers' money, yet little has been done to reform or regulate these vast institutions. The BBC's business editor Robert Peston looks at how the international regulators, a little-known and secretive committee that sits in the Swiss city of Basel, have consistently failed to curb the excesses of the giant banks and how new proposals fall short of the root-and-branch reform promised after the crash.

With the fate of Ireland, brought to its knees by the excesses of its banking industry, fresh in our minds, Peston asks whether Britain would be in any position to bail out our huge banks should there be another crisis. Are the banks, once thought to be too big to fail, now actually too big to save?

This programme is well-conceived, well edited, and well presented. Respect to Peston.

I'm hearing about greed, deception, huge profits, ludicrous levels of risk, corruption, foolish politicians, crazy levels of credit, property booms and bubbles, aggressive takeovers, casino capitalism, cut-throat competition, immoral bonuses and salaries, fraudulent practices, complex financial 'products' (that no-one can really understand or explain), ruthless heads of banks, insane pressure on individuals to engage in reckless investing and trading, and so on.

None of this will be news to anyone who's been paying proper attention over the past two years or so. But that doesn't make this sort of documentary any less infuriating. Pure hate and fury - for the disgusting bankers, the complacent and compliant politicians, the lazy bureaucrats and the so-called regulators - all of them university educated and apparently pillars of our society. So much for so-called higher education. So much for cleverness, wisdom and enlightenment. This is their world. This is the way they have made it, and the way they want to keep it.

Even the governor of the Bank of England now says that we have the worst possible banking system. So does our government plan to do anything about it? Does the Labour party have any proposals for radical change?

The banks are too big, too complicated, too interconnected, and too powerful, says Peston. They're also too big to save if they fuck up. The first one that goes down now will take the rest of us down with them.


Layer 167 deserves another read, especially for the comments by boonery and guardianreeda.


The other reason for revisiting that piece is for the notes on Professor Michael Sandel on New Citizenship, spiritual values and ethical questions.

Prof Sandel was on Start The Week this week,


Start the Week focuses on justice, fairness and ethical dilemmas. Leading Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm argues that Marx remains as relevant today as in the last century. The American academic Michael Sandel looks at the philosophy that underpins notions of justice.

Prof Sandel spoke about justice, utility, rights, freedom and virtue. Fundamental questions about the good life and the meaning of virtue.

[In the 1960s we had heated debates about visions of competing philosphies.  Ha!  We were naive enough to imagine that truth and justice would prevail, when all that really mattered, as ever, was the reality of power, which always trumps justice and truth! ]

Sandel spoke about the Tories' Big  Society   -  does it really address questions about the common good and the good life?

Fundamental questions always raise the deepest passions - questions of virtue and the good life. Questions about freedom, rights, etc.

Eric Hobsbawm talked about criticisms of Bentham's Utilitarianism and Kantianism.
Also about the Importance of community and solidarity.
Large modern societies make decisions on common values very difficult.
Social contract? Morally engaged debate? Choices about what motivates us individually?
Public v private good. Civic visions.

Do our citizens seriously engage in debate about the big issues?
The fucking Labour party even closed down any serious debate about policies within its own ranks of engaged citizens!!!

Eric Hobsbawm's new book is called How to Change the World.He points out that Social Democracy is just as much the child of Marx as revolutionary socialism.
How to change 'human nature'?
How to run economic policy and practice?
1848 Communist Manifesto.
Marx is always 'rediscovered' after the occurrence of the capitalist crises that he predicted.
The historical inevitability of the rise and fall of capitalist and bourgeois societies.
First globalised capitalism, then a transition period, then post-capitalism.


It seems to me that China - since it is a society with a tradition of deep intelligence and civic engagement, had its revolution in 1949 and has since progressed to post-capitalism because it has managed and controlled capitalism for the benefit of the country as a whole, ever since the revolution.

Arguably, the Soviet Union collapsed because the USSR wasn't a country as such, and therefore Russia was always seen as illigitimate, imperialist, and non-democratic.

Aside from Tibet, there has never been any question in China about Chinese nationalism and the legitimacy of China's version of democracy. Neither is there an great appetite in China for bourgeois democracy. Ideas about social justice, equality and a good life for all citizens are still predominant. We can contrast this with the situation in the USA where ideas about so-called freedom for individuals, extreme individuality, individual enrichment, the American Dream, rags to riches, the right to bear arms, low taxation, etc, are predominant.
Europe and South America are still battlegrounds for competing philosophies of both left and right. As are India, Australia, Africa, Canada, etc.



Someone on a science programme this week pointed out that ever since the Big Bang the general state of the universe is for things to get ever cooler and colder. There have been, and there will continue to be, fluctuations in the climate of this planet, but in due course the sun will cool, the planets will cool, and the solar system will cease to be.

Whilst the Big Bang of deregulation in the City initially caused intense heat and expansion, can there be any doubt that the long term trend will be for contraction and the collapse of the financial system?

Thankfully, human affairs are not governed by the laws of physics, and we can control how our system operates - if we have the political will. However, left to their own devices, who can doubt that the bankers and the other City fat cats will continue to cause the system to overheat and then implode?


Eric Hobsbawm: a conversation about Marx, student riots, the new Left, and the Milibands

As he publishes his latest book, 93-year-old historian Eric Hobsbawm talks communism and coalition with one of Britain's newer breed, Tristram Hunt, now a Labour MP

The global crisis of capitalism, which has wreaked havoc on the world economy since 2007, has transformed the terms of debate.

Suddenly, Marx's critique of the instability of capitalism has enjoyed a resurgence. "He's back," screamed the Times in the autumn of 2008 as stock markets plunged, banks were summarily nationalised and President Sarkozy of France was photographed leafing through Das Kapital (the surging sales of which pushed it up the German bestseller lists). Even Pope Benedict XVI was moved to praise Marx's "great analytical skill". Marx, the great ogre of the 20th century, had been resuscitated across campuses, branch meetings and editorial offices.

So there seemed no better moment for Eric to bring together his most celebrated essays on Marx into a single volume, together with new material on Marxism in light of the crash. For Hobsbawm, the continual duty to engage with Marx and his multiple legacies (including, in this book, some fine new chapters on the meaning of Gramsci) remains compelling.

And after one hour of talking Marx, materialism and the continued struggle for human dignity in the face of free-market squalls, you leave Hobsbawm's Hampstead terrace – near the paths where Karl and Friedrich used to stroll – with the sense you have had a blistering tutorial with one of the great minds of the 20th century. And someone determined to keep a critical eye on the 21st.


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