Banking chaos: an unaffordable threat

11 Oct 2011

Cameron's call, at the Tory party conference, for households to "pay off credit cards and store card bills", was just another way of blaming the crisis on the working class.

As if workers' widespread indebtedness wasn't due to inadequate wages, in the first place! As if wages hadn't shrunk with the crisis, or even disappeared completely for those made redundant! How are working class households supposed to pay off their debts?

Predictably, this arrogant mouthpiece of big business didn't say. Isn't his government robbing workers of tens of billions of public funds, by cutting welfare, public jobs and services, with one hand, while handing out tens of billions from the same funds to big British banks, with the other?

The banks' limitless black hole

At least Bank of England governor Mervyn King was more upfront when, two days later, he admitted that the present crisis may well prove to be "the worst financial crisis ever" - while announcing another £75 billion of so-called "quantitative easing" to line the bankers' coffers.

Nevertheless, in the same speech, King went much further than Cameron would probably have liked him to, by adding that he was not at all sure that this would be enough to resolve the banks' on-going crisis. But what else could he say, short of a lie, given that he is navigating in the dark in the unpredictable chaos of the capitalist system?

In fact, despite this new £75 billion handout, within 24 hours of Mervyn King's speech, the credit rating of 12 of Britain's 14 largest banks was downgraded. Clearly, for the credit agencies, at least, it will take far more to restore the banks' health. They may or may not be right. After all, they're not any more clairvoyant than King. Nevertheless, rumours are already rife about the need for another round of "quantitative easing" in the coming months, if not weeks.

There is some logic in this madness, however. The real economy has been shrinking worldwide over the past years, and more so in Britain than in most industrialised countries. It's no longer just housing which is in trouble, not even just the construction industry as a whole, but retail, manufacturing, etc... Lower household consumption and cuts in government expenditure have made many loans to businesses unrecoverable. So the banks are more loaded with bad debts than ever and they keep their cash for the most profitable speculative operations instead of lending it to the economy.

We can't afford such a system

While the government's "quantitative easing" provides the banks with more cash to play with, there is no reason why it should get them to resume lending nor make them more healthy.

After all, the £200 billion of "quantitative easing" splashed out by the previous Labour government did neither of these things. The banks took the money and ran. Their profits went up, but not their lending. Meanwhile they were making a killing out of the rising income of the explosion in government debt caused by their own bailout!

But there is another twist to this story. As a remedy, "quantitative easing" may well turn out to be just as bad, if not worse, than the disease it is meant to cure. And it threatens to spread the disease to the rest of us.

Because this "quantitative easing" has some perverse side-effects. For instance, due to the complex way in which most pensions (except final salary schemes) are calculated these days, which is linked to the yield of government bonds, it mechanically reduces pension payments for new pensioners, at least for some time.

But in the longer term, the effects of "quantitative easing" can prove to be even more wide-ranging. Because, after all, this is just printing money, even if that money is only "electronic money" which the rest of us can't use. Printing endless amounts of money can only add to today's 5.2% inflation rate, already the highest in Europe. It is just another way for the capitalists to get the working class to pay for their crisis, by cutting our living standards!

Mervyn King explained in his speech that "we're creating money because there's not enough money in the economy". But this is a sleight of hand. In reality, banks and companies have never had such huge cash reserves, while investment is at a record low. But for fear of denting their profits, the capitalists are not putting their cash into the economy. They'd much rather hoard it, or gamble with it, even if it is at the cost of strangling the real economy and boosting poverty.

This is why this capitalist system is neither affordable nor reformable. It must be replaced!