No Surprise: the Continuing Power of Finance


In „Surprising outcomes of the financial crash“ (Financial Times, 7.9.2018) Gillian Tett cites five valid „counter-intiuitive surprises“ about the lessons (not) learned from the recent financial crisis: overall debt is significantly higher than before, market concentration of US banks has even increased, American investment banks – at the root of the crisis – are outdoing their European counterparts, as are New York and Chicago, „shadow banks“ not command a higher share of financial assets than before, and retribution, measures in terms of indictments and jailing of high bank officials, is practically non-existent. After the onset of the crisis, high leverage was seen as a root cause, too-big-to-fail needed to be addressed, the power of investment banking rolled back, shadow banks to be brought into regulatory regimes, and the culprits to be punished – as they had been in the Savings&Loan crisis during the 1980s.

Tett concludes that „cynics might say that these five surprises show just how powerful the financial elite remains in the west“ and that the crisis should have led to a resurgence of left parties, but that instead right-wing populists had become the political beneficiaries, who are not interested in reining in the financial sector.

I think that Tett‘s relegation of the power argument to „cyncics“, i.e. its dismissal by her, is at least premature. Let us recall that Wall Street‘s financing of US campaigns is still rampant, that emasculation of the Frank-Dodd regulation by bank lobbying and the more recent deregulatory attempts by the Trump administration and soundings from the City of London that after Brexit the UK should engange in de-regulatory competition with the European Union are significant examples of the continuing influence of the financial sector on politicians, let alone the unsolved problems of the bank-sovereign nexus, where banks hold significant amounts of sovereign debt, making sovereigns dependent on banks, etc. Let us just remember that the neo-liberal Big Bang and Mayday deregulations of the 1980s ran under the banner that financial markets needed to be „free“ (from regulation) that self-regulation worked and that freed financial markets would benefit citizens and businesses. As long as this ideology reigns, as long as financial institutions, „investors“ are the prime arbiters of businesses‘ and countries‘ viability (and can influence these assessments through their own activities), as long as the „Resistable Rise“ (Unaufhaltsame Aufstieg, B. Brecht) of the financial sector is not stopped and reversed, as long will „business as usual“, adorned with a number of small regulatory restrictions, reign – and the underlying instability caused by the unleashing of the financial sector continue. The risk of another, still deeper, crisis looms. The power of the financial sector is unbroken.

 

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Filed under Crisis Response, European Union, Financial Market Regulation

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