Friday, 13 February 2015

3 shades of vanilla and kink

Are HSBC, the Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, the regulators and the prosecutors all naughty organisations, or just misunderstood? Very, very, naughty according to Bill Black, who thinks that the things that they and the super-rich were getting up to in private were considerably naughtier than anything in Fifty Shades of Grey. Or maybe, to use Lord Fink's phrase, HSBC was just helping jet-setters to act out the the sort of harmless 'vanilla' games we'd all like to play, given the chance. Admit it, you know you want to.

I'm broad-minded enough to allow that there are three possible explanations which fit the facts, ranging from the plain vanilla to the very naughty indeed:
  1. The controlling minds at HSBC, the HMRC and et al. were reasonably competent and honest people who wanted to play by the rules, but  found themselves in charge of, or investigating, an organisation that's too big and complex for any human, however talented, to control effectively.
  2. The people in charge were fools, who should have known what was going on, but didn't.
  3. The people in charge were crooks, or bent officials turning a blind eye, who knowingly created, or tolerated, a 'massive criminal enterprise.'
It doesn't really matter which of the above is true, because the solution is the same in all three cases:
  1. Break up the big banks and reverse deregulation because, however diligent, intelligent and honest the people in charge at the banks, tax authorities and regulators are, these organisations are clearly too big to control without  breaking them down into manageable chunks and because allowing a broad scope for financial innovation has had the unintended consequence of exposing naive junior bankers to more temptation than any fallible human could be expected to resist.
  2. Break up the big banks and reverse deregulation because the highly respected senior tax officials and regulators and the bank CEOs who were ostensibly 'paid like Croesus because they are financial geniuses and managerial wizards' have all turned out to be idiots, so the size of whichever organisation they are supposed to head, or investigate, needs to be reduced until the bosses' responsibilities have shrunk to their level of their incompetence (I call this the reverse Peter Principle).
  3. Break up the big banks and reverse deregulation because banks like HSBC are 'massive criminal enterprises' which suck billions out of the productive economy to line their own pockets and those of a few dodgy plutocrats and have made themselves above the law by a combination of political bribery and regulatory capture.
The financial sector was out of control in 2008 and it nearly broke the whole damn country. It claimed to have reformed but, now that the financial sector has its very own Edward Snowden, it must be obvious to even the most obtuse outsider that it's as uncontrolled as ever.

Never mind, there's an election coming up, so we can always vote for change - or has any party with a snowball's chance in Hell of forming a government already been securely bound and gagged by the grey City suits, knowing it will be mercilessly punished the moment it fails to submit to their every whim? Is being able to vote for an Elizabeth Warren figure who's not locked into some kind of abusive, codependent relationship with Big Finance (and actually has the heft to sort this mess out) as much of an unrealistic fantasy as anything in the pages of E L James?