Wokingham Times

The Credit Crunch has brought a rash of moralisers onto the media to condemn the immorality of bankers and capitalism. My advice to all who feel a strong urge to do so is to remember the Christian injunction, let he who is guiltless throw the first stone.

The moralisers think the crisis is an easy story. A small group of very greedy bankers lent too much so they could pay themselves huge bonuses. The answer recommended by these self appointed national preachers is equally easy. Nationalise the banks, and in some magic way lending too much and paying bankers too much will no longer be possible, whilst at the same time the economy will miraculously grow again. As we have seen, the nationalised banks still seem to pay large pensions and salaries to people working for loss making concerns, whilst the government itself decides it and its nationalised banks need to lend and borrow more, not less. Meanwhile the economy goes from bad to worse, with all too many people losing their jobs or their businesses.

If lending too much was greedy and wrong, wasn’t it also wrong for so many people to borrow so much, especially if they cannot now repay it and are going to walk away from their obligations? Who was more guilty – the lender or the borrower?

If the bankers who did the lending were greedy and wrong, weren’t the shareholders in the banks similarly guilty as they were happy to receive the dividends from all that excessive lending? Didn’t that include most people in the country? The Church Commissioners who pay the clergy salaries doubtless owned lots of bank shares, as did practically every pension fund in the country. I don’t remember them speaking out at Bank shareholder meetings asking for the banks to grow less and pay smaller dividends.

If the bankers who did the lending were immoral, surely the governments and Regulators who allowed them to do so by signing off their balance sheets and business plans were also wrong? Weren’t they employed as upholders of public morality, and didn’t they set the tone for the age of irresponsibility?

And if it were morally wrong for us collectively to borrow too much from the private sector, isn’t it even more immoral for us now collectively to borrow staggeringly larger sums through the government, as we are being forced to do?

It it were immoral for the authorities to sanction so much easy credit in the good days, wasn’t it even more immoral for them to bring the whole system crashing down in the bad days, by hiking interest rates too far and by demanding the banks suddenly held more capital? Why is too much private sector credit immoral, whereas too little private sector credit is moral? And why above all is too much public sector credit moral? Is printing money the height of morality and responsibility, a new kind of public duty, as some now have it?

I think it unwise to make this a morality tale. I could take no pleasure in thundering against the immorality of one or two scapegoat groups. We all lived through the age of private sector irresponsibility, and are now all having to live through the age of government financial irresponsibility. It’s a very one sided morality which condemns lending too much but does not condemn borrowing too much. It’s even more bizarre that over lending only matters if it is done by a private sector bank but is encouraged if done by a nationalised one. If lending and borrowing to excess is immoral these moralisers should be on the airwaves condemning the excess of public debt now being built up on a scale which dwarfs the credit boom of 2003-7.

I have expressed my strong concerns about the way in which the government is combining printing more money with borrowing to excess and putting so much of our money into damaged banks. I want them to cut our risks in bad banks, and make those banks sober up and sort themselves out. Giving them too much money too quickly just delays the day of reckoning.

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2 Comments

  1. Minum
    Posted March 17, 2009 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

    Yes – spot on. If one good thing comes from all of this (and actually many good things could come from it) it’s a realistic view of how we have been taking, without understanding the cost

  2. mikestallard
    Posted March 18, 2009 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

    Excellent!
    We all realise that “Wasn’t me it was ‘im” is a game that politicians do play from time to time.

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    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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