In the kingdom of the blind

(This is my attempt to play one-eyed man in the kingdom of the blind. And rant. About money.)

The BBC’s Have Your Say invited people to comment on whether they are “worried” about the collapse of sterling to approximately the level of the Euro.

Most people – including me – understand absolutely nothing about international exchange rates beyond whether it will cost more to go on holiday. So, you could predict that most commenters would be complaining about not being able to spend as much in their fortnight in Spain. With the odd exporter or hotelier seeing it as good for their business. Fair enough.

Harder to understand are those commenters who see the collapse in the value of the pound as the fault of the UK Labour government (which they also persist in seeing as being committed to socialism, in the face of the evidence of years of NewLabour devotion to the demands of big business. )

Ignore the fact that even Bush’s government has gone further towards nationalisation than has the UK government, making at least some demands in return for the injection of billions into the banking system. Our government can’t even make the generously-supported banks respond to the interest rate cuts that were made just so that they’d pass them on and lend money.

Can people really not see that the near collapse of the western economies is:
(a) the result of the workings of capitalism, pure and simple. Capitalist economies must have boom and bust. It’s inherent in the system. How did we delude ourselves that a few years of relative prosperity in the system somehow meant the end of history?
(b ) global. We’ve been going through decades of globalisation. No one government can shape the global economy. If any one country can have a real impact, it would have to be the US. The UK is just a bit player.

Free movement of capital, freedom of currency markets, and so on. All that Chicago School economic bullshit that convinced global governments that allowing the rich to keep on getting immeasurably richer was necessarily good for everyone.

My inherent cynicism about the economic system was shown to be actually childishly naive by the Madoff story. The BBC finally gave it a billing today, under the headline “Banks hit worldwide by US fraud” (showing that the UK is just as bad as the US when it comes to ignoring any news that doesn’t involve its own nationals. It’s news, now, only because British banks have been seen to have been ripped off as well.)

Some of the world’s biggest banks have revealed they are victims of an alleged fraud which has lost $50bn (£33bn).

$50 billion dollars. A fair proportion of the amounts that taxpayers have stumped up to prop up the banking system. That’s a good few dollars for every person on planet earth, including the millions who never see a yankee dollar’s worth of cash from one week to the next.

The head of the Nasdaq. LOL seems inadequate, but I’m saying it anyway. That’s the head of the Nasdaq. Whole economies rose and fell on the whims of the Nasdaq.

US prosecutors say Mr Madoff, a former head of the Nasdaq stock market, masterminded a fraud of massive proportions through his hedge fund and investment advisory business.
Mr Madoff is alleged to have used money from new investors to pay off existing investors in the fund. (from the BBC)

Isn’t that called a “long-firm” con, in the criminal world?

Who would imagine that national Serious Fraud Offices and Securities and Exchange regulators and the heads of international banks wouldn’t spot one of the oldest scams in the Book of Old Scams? They really should have read more crime novels and “true-life” gangster confessions. Because reading balance sheets doesn’t seem to have been their strongest suit.

I love this casual aside in the BBC report. (That’s “love” in the sense of “grudgingly admire the bare-faced cheek while being incredibly grateful that I’m too poor and profligate to have any money to invest”)

Among the potential losers is Spain’s largest bank, Santander, which owns the UK High Street banks Abbey, Alliance & Leicester and Bradford & Bingley.
The bank had a direct exposure of 17m euros ($23m; £15m), but clients of its Optimal fund management unit have another 2.3bn euros invested in the firm run by Bernard Madoff.

So the bank lost 17 million euros to the scam. Small change by the standards of current losses. On the other hand, the customers who trusted the bank’s investment nous lost 2.3 billion euros. (2.3 billion euros: savings, pension funds, jobs, services, yada yada yada.)

Inside or outside the casino, it looks as if “the bank never loses.” Well, not its own money, anyway.