Thursday, 9 October 2008

You can't just throw money at the problem....

I was going to do a post last night, inspired by all the economic turmoil / rescue stuff all the newsreaders were getting so exited about. But I was a bit tired so we just ate a nice dinner, drank some red wine and watched some telly instead. Just as well, really - I was going to call my post International Rescue, but I see that this morning The Sun nabbed that headline. Yes, I'm finally beginning to think like a Sun headline writer, an admission which makes me feel grubbier and less human than I'd ever thought possible.

Recent dramatic action by governments hosing down crashed and burning banks with gazillions of our money had me reflecting on the nature of these bankers and hedge fund managers and the like. Most normal people, having screwed up so completely would be rather sheepish and have the odd iota of gratitude for those who'd saved them from complete annihilation. Yet Radio 4 always seems to find one of these people to come up to the microphone and whinge on about how it was all the regulator's fault for not saving them from the results of their own actions, or how governments had done "too little too late" to help the banks deal with the consequences of their own bad decisions.

Clearly, these people are financial titans who can rise above such petty human emotions as shame or gratitude. I'm struggling to find a down to earth analogy for such superhuman feelings of entitlement and awesome capacities for blame-shifting and I'm imagining a weekend sailor. A rather overconfident weekend sailor, who sets to sea in an unseaworthy boat, without bothering to take a chart and without tuning in to to the weather forecast which would have warned him of stormy weather ahead. Heedless, he sails into the approaching storm, to be tossed about like a cork. Up go the distress flares and the lifeboat battles though the surf to save Captain Catastrophe.

Members of the lifeboat crew fight their way on board the stricken vessel. In the cabin, they find Captain Catastrophe, impatiently drumming his fingers on the (empty) chart table, ostentatiously looking at his watch.

What time do you call this? I let off those distress flares over an hour ago. Look, I'm a very busy man and I really don't have time to sit in all day just waiting to be rescued. And don't start giving me some pathetic excuse about force ten gales. Anyway, you've already made me late and I don't want to waste any more of my valuable time, so let's get on to this lifeboat and get home. Now where is it? What? There? You sent that thing out to rescue me? What the hell were you thinking of? You couldn't swing a cat in it. I've seen bigger toys in my bath. This rescue is a complete joke and you are really beginning to piss me off. Listen, when I want to be rescued I expect it to be done by professionals, not by a bunch of clowns who bring me this sorry excuse for a lifeboat. Just look at it - where the hell is my private cabin? Wi-Fi enabled conference suite? Bar? Cinema? I'll tell you where; nowhere. And you know why? Because you bunch of pitiful losers have screwed up, big time. Nobody tries to palm this sort of crap off on me and gets away with it. Call yourselves a lifeboat crew? Not any longer. You're fired!

Clearly, unimaginably, eye-wateringly colossal shed-loads of cash are just not enough to satisfy our poor, needy little pan-national megabanks, so I'm wondering what more could be done to make them feel good about themselves. Then I remembered a lovely little phrase. Ever since the glorious Reagan-Thatcher revolution we've heard a pithy little slogan from the ideologues of the unchained free market - "you can't just throw money at the problem." Education? Well, throwing money at it won't help, obviously. The National Health Service? You'd just be chucking your money away. Pensions? No, no, no, just wasting taxpayers' money - we're all self-reliant now, and able to provide for our own old age, thanks to the wonders of financial services. Help for the industries and communities destroyed in the rush to de-industrialisation? That would just be propping up failing industries - financial services again, my boy, now that's the wave of the future, no more state-supported lame ducks in today's dynamic Britain.

That's it! Money isn't the answer - you can't solve this problem by throwing money at it. By Jove, I think I've got it! But if money won't help, how do we save our banks from hurting themselves like precious but clumsy toddlers let loose in the big world? Maybe our politicians have to think outside the box here and provide a few of those things that money can't buy. Personal services. Now let me think, what would an international hug-a-banker task force look like? I think the national leaders would have to play to their strengths. Obviously, America would have to take the lead, maybe with the President doing that motivational speech thing which Americans do so well and which corporate execs love. But which President? Well, up to the election George W would do a fine job - his mangled speech and thought patterns don't seem obvious for a motivational speaker, but just think of the effect on the listener - after five minutes of listening to Bush mangling the English language, the most obtuse Banker would feel like a sophisticated amalgam of Carey Grant and Einstein in comparison. Confidence restored, job done.

After the polling, well, if Obama gets the gig, he'd be a natural for the more traditional sort of motivational speech - lots of soaring abstract generalisations backed by a driving soft rock soundtrack - the suits would lap it up (note to speech editor - delete all references to "America" and replace with "Citibank"). If McCain lands the job, he might find the inspirational thing a bit more challenging, but he could always deputise the job to Sarah Palin, whose chirpy moose-brained streams of gibberish could instill a warm feelings of effortless superiority in any half-sentient being.

What about our own dear leader? I wouldn't recommend Gordon Brown for the more personal form of personal services - if there's an element of interaction and reassurance needed, he might just ruin it with one of his scary not-quite-smiling grimaces, but he could always make himself useful in the background by polishing the bankers' Mercs, Rollers and Lexuses.

And if you've got a flash, shiny car, obviously you'll need someone to drive you around. Step forward Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel, bewitchingly squeezed into a chauffeur's uniform. Because I think a lot of these fabulously wealthy and powerful men (and they are mostly men) would go for that. After all, bossy uniformed women speaking German certainly did it for Max Mosley.

I'm sure that other world leaders could chip in to increase our bankers' feelings of confidence and well-being - M Sarkozy could flit about dispensing fine wines, canap├ęs and the occasional wafer-thin mint, whilst the Icelandic President must have loads of time on his hands now that the banks have turned his entire country into an ungovernable basket case, so might as well devote all his free time to dabbing the bankers' poor, stressed foreheads with little silk hankies dipped in eau de cologne or soothing lavender oil.

Like they say, you can't just throw money at the problem. So can we have ours back please? Ta very much.

Then I woke up....