I have written frequently about the denial culture over the recession – ordinary people and those on the left and many left liberals denying that anyone other than bankers played a part in the great crash. The rhetoric of the campaigners against cuts is riven with such unreality, and undermines the arguments of the Trades Unions, the 'voluntary' sector and others, even if one disagrees with the reckless pace of the Coalition Government's cuts. I see the lack of personal responsibility in the get rich quick claims industry culture all around me. I believe many people rushed into greedily borrowing without thought for their means or ability or intention to repay. My friend John Wallace while disagreeing with my attack on the financial policies of the Labour Government made this comment with which we both agreed: "It is the general public who are to blame for the reliance on credit in this country. … Ultimately it is greed and impatience that has led to where we are now." I found a 1932 quote saying the same from John Buchan.
"everybody's after his share in an imaginary loot. .. there's a general scramble each for the booty he fancies. But there's no booty, only an overdraft at the bank."
Armine to Melfort & Jacqueline, p. 141.*
"There's a get-rich quick mania about – that's my complaint. Everybody wants to take short cuts". Armine to Melfort, p. 142.
Lord Warmestre's speech penned in 1933 could just as easily have been decrying the get 'something for nothing' / get rich quick attitude of the house price casino / claims culture / cheap credit craze of 1998 to 2008.
My criticism has been too harsh though for giving the responsibility entirely to people who borrowed more than they could afford. I saw that I should tone down some of the criticism of the public on my website after talking to a representative of the Money Advice Trust at the Liberal Democrat party conference in Liverpool in September 2010. She explained how even ordinary borrowing and expenses can get people into unmanageable debt in some circumstances outside of their control. The representative gave convincing simple examples of how debt could spiral out of control.
At the same time as criticising individual greed the bankers and chief executives and auditors and financiers do deserve much of the criticism for their greed and recklessness. My criticism here may have been too harsh too about some of those making a lot of money (our money) out of the recession they (collectively) connived in creating. I said that rather than pay £4.8 million to PricewaterhouseCoopers to value Bradford & Bingley when it was nationalised that any class of sixth formers could have done it. Having read Peter Clokey's report 'The Bradford & Bingley plc Compensation Scheme: Assessment Notice in respect of shares and subscription rights' 5 July 2010 in fact it is quite an impressive report. I must declare an interest – Mr. Clokey lost me money as he said that the shares I had had in Bradford & Bingley were valueless (I'd opposed privatisation but was given shares anyway). The report itself is 23 pages of detailed work. Was it worth £4.8 million – still NO. That is robbery by LLP that the Treasury under a Labour Government went along with.
'Continued questions' I asked in September 2009 remain unanswered. These include:
'How much have accountants and administrators made out of the collapse of leading institutions?'
'Bank executives made huge losses for their shareholders; they let the companies down; why has the system failed that they have not been financially liable to their companies for their reckless or negligent behaviour for their part in the losses?'
Again, wisdom can be found in the pages of a John Buchan novel –
"It's maddening for an intelligent man to see a business on which his livelihood depends at the mercy of stock-jobbing finance and him and his friends powerless to interfere."
Utlaw to Alban, p. 161.
"I see generally what you're after – a fairer share of the reward of industry for labour and more say in its management. You want first of all security, and after that better chances, better conditions and more leisure. You want to give the ordinary fellow a better life. But merely tinkering at his material environment won't do that." Alban to Utlaw, p. 162.
This could be straight out of Keynes in the 1920s or the 1928 or any Liberal Party manifesto. For example Britain's Industrial Future: Being the Report of the Liberal Industrial Inquiry of 1928 to which Keynes contributed (Ernest Benn Ltd., London, 1971 reprint) chap. XVII: A Programme of Industrial Co-Operation and chap. XVIII: The Status of the Worker.
Here, though the preacher's insight is spiritual, Buchan's insight could be equally predicting that the great increase in living standards between the 1950s and the 1990s would not make people in Britain particularly happier. Increased ease of material well being is not enough for people to be fulfilled.
* All quotes from A Prince of the Captivity (Hodder & Stoughton, 1933; November 1941 impression).
For previous stories on debt on this website see: 'The recession was obvious if you used common sense' 24/09/2009; 'Who caused the financial crisis? Who will solve it?' 26/09/2008.