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Showing posts from October, 2008

Cultural Austerity: Political Seriousness

In some previous posts, I suggested that the likely effect of the economic downturn might include some significant cultural changes. After the age of excess, I suggested, there might come an age of restraint, and that not of of this would be negative.

To a certain extent the suspension of Jonathon Ross and Russell Brand for making obscene telephone calls on a radio programme is the kind of thing that I meant. I do not particularly like Ross or Brand whose style of humour is pretty coarse at the best of times, but the spectacle of two middle aged men behaving like teenagers seems to have been pretty unedifying to a whole lot of people. Although some sources close to the BBC have suggested that the root of the complaint was "salary envy" at Ross's £18 million package, in many ways the whole idea of such a vast amount of money being paid to anyone seems, well so "last year". Ross's vulgar humour in any event is based on a certain level of cruelty which now seem…

Osborne: Goodnight and thank you

George Osborne "has done nothing wrong"- or so the leadership of the Conservatives is trying to tell us. How then, to explain the news that Mr. Osborne will no longer be taking an active role in fund raising for the Conservative party.

If he is not a fit an proper person to be concerned in the finances of his own party, how then, can he continue to pretend that he would be a credible Chancellor of the Exchequer?

I mean, it is not as if Mr. Osborne's entire brief is to look at finance and regulate financial probity or anything.

The man is holed well below the waterline- David Cameron might have left him with a bottle of whisky and a pistol, but he seems to be too caddish to take the hint.

It would now just be a kindness to put him out of our misery and remove him- Osborne is simply a laughing stock.

Russia: The Financial Storm becomes a Hurricane

For a long time this blog has warned of the dangers of the aggressive regime in place in the Moscow Kremlin. In common with commentators like my friend Edward Lucas, I have pointed out the consequences of the lack of property rights and the extraordinary level of corruption in modern Russia.

This prickly and aggressive approach has had an impact on any country that is the focus of Russian policy. As Vygaudas Uzackas- the Ambassador of Lithuania in London- observed in a conference last week, Russia still has trouble escaping the mindset that it must deal with other states either as enemies or as vassals. This zero-sum world view of the Kremlin looks not only old fashioned, but self defeating.

The Russian Federation , during the past five years, has built up an extraordinary war chest of liquid reserves. Indeed, although there is some uncertainty about the actual level of reserves, it seems clear that they are now around the third largest in the world. This gave confidence that the Russia…

None dare call it treason

"Treason doth never prosper, what's the reason?
Why, if it prosper, none dare call it treason"

Sir John Harrington (1561-1612)

There is more to the Osborne affair than meets the eye.

The alleged facts are simple, in the words of Nat Rothschild's letter to The Times,

"George Osborne, who also accepted my hospitality, found the opportunity of meeting with Mr. Deripaska so good that he invited the Conservatives' fund raiser Andrew Feldman, who was staying nearby, to accompany him on to Mr. Deripaska's boat to solicit a donation. Since Mr. Deripaska is not a British citizen, it was subsequently suggested by Mr. Feldman during a conversation at which Mr. Deripaska was not present, that the donation was “channeled” through one of Mr. Deripaska's British companies. In a subsequent phone call in mid-September about one month later, Mr. Feldman again raised the issue of the donation with me. Mr. Deripaska decided that he did not wish to make any donation."

In …

Those who are not with us...

The US election has as they say over there "gotten" nasty.

While it may have been a joke to say that they only difference between a pitbill and a Hockey mom was the lipstick, I really don't understand why American pitbulls wear lipstick. The bare faced lies that Sarah Palin has been prepared to sell to the American public: that Barack Obama "pals around with terrorists" etc. either mark her out as a truly exceptionally stupid woman or they demonstrate a contempt for the American people that is, quite literally, an insult to their intelligence.

It is now hardly a surprise that the McCain campaign is going down with all hands.

In fact, and more accurately, it is the Republican party that is holed below the waterline.

Sen. McCain has a record of distinguished service. However even he -and still less the witless Gov. Palin- can not overcome the legacy of the Bush administration and its record of reckless arrogance. The strutting mock-Texan George "W" Bush tr…

The night is darkest..

It is just over seven months since Bear Sterns was forcibly incorporated into JP Morgan. It is just over six weeks since the United States government took over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. It is a month since Merill Lynch sought an emergency sale to Bank of America and Lehman Brothers went under. AIG was rescued four weeks ago. Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley were transformed into bank holding companies on September 22nd.

Over the past four weeks all of the listed former building societies in the UK have disappeared. HBOS has been forced to merge with LloydsTSB. Of the former big four clearing banks two have essentially been nationalised.

In the Euro-zone, Dexia and Fortis have been rescued, the latter forced to merge with BNP-Paribas.

The run on the Icelandic kronur has brought the country to the brink of penury.

Any single one of these events would have been considered spectacular on its own, taken together they represent the greatest single economic failure in at least two generations…

For fresh bank confidence

Another week begins with a panicky market marking down value across the board. Even though the UK banking system has now largely reverted to the Pre-liberalisation big four: Barclays, Lloyds, Natwest (RBS) and Midland (HSBC) plus the government and the large Spanish bank, BancoSantander, there is still pressure on the British government to follow Germany, Denmark and Ireland and issue an unlimited guarantee to British bank depositors.

Now, this is getting silly.

Firstly the scale of the guarantee is much bigger for the UK banking sector than it is for the others- largely because the UK depositor base is much bigger, so it is more difficult for Britain. Yet paradoxically the larger base is a sign of the relative strength of UK banks- they are able to fund relatively more from deposits than from the money market and in the current circumstances that is a good thing.

Despite the fall out of the Lehman collapse, the British bank sector has now consolidated dramatically and although RBS faces…

Return of the Undead

Peter Mandelson is an... unusual... political figure.

He began his career as an exponent of the blackest of the black political arts. The quintessential back room boy, he was one of the most ruthless of the political spin doctors who jointly founded the New Labour project. Fiercely loyal to Tony Blair, he repressed anti-Labour stories and promoted the New Labour project with a will that one of my friends, who as a Newsnight producer was a regular recipient of Mr. Mandelson's brand of charmless bullying, did not hesitate to describe as "evil".

Yet, as a Minister, he was surprisingly clumsy. He was forced from office, not just once, but twice under circumstances that would have destroyed any other political career. His forgetfulness over loans advanced to him to purchase his large house in Notting Hill could have left him open to fraud charges. His handling of the Hinduja passport applications was said to be "naive", yet the very word naive seemed the antithesis of…

Taleb tries not to say "I told you so"

In the dead slot of the BBC Radio 4's Today programme, after 8.45 when everyone is arriving at work, there are often interesting debates about the issues of the day.

Today Nassim Nicholas Taleb was one of the guests and, as he has done before, he spoke out about the systemic risks that bankers did not realise that they were undertaking.

He also made the point that in the 1982 Emerging markets crash the Bankers lost all the money that they ever made, and then they did it again in the 1991 Savings and Loans crash. In other words, most of the banking system has not, in the long term, been a profitable business. He added that with each successive crash, risk has become concentrated in a smaller and smaller number of banks. As a result the problems have grown larger.

The answer is clear- if not simple- the ecology of the global banking system needs to change and become more diversified. Single risk should not be concentrated in the system. Diversity is critical in order to reduce the con…