Wednesday 20 February 2013

Twelve step programme for speculators

The World Development Movement has just launched a clever campaign called Bankers Anonymous, including a Five Step programme to break their addiction to speculating on food.

The only slight quibble I have with this is that the programme turns out to be for us, and not really for the bankers - beginning with writing letters to our poor exhausted MPs.  The original Twelve Step programme is what we need here, the one that was originally developed with the help of Carl Jung for alcoholics - and it is directly relevant.  It involves recognising the addiction, realising you are powerless to control it, and eventually making amends to the people you have hurt.  That is a programme for bankers, not for campaigners (who have their own addictions, but let's leave that on one side).

There is a depth and a truth about the original Twelve Step programme which makes it relevant here, especially now that Barclays seems to have embarked on the first step - which means they have announced that they are no longer going to be involved in speculation on food.

Goldman Sachs, it hardly needs saying, is still speculating away.  They made over £250 million last year from raising the price of food, and adding to people's hunger around the world.

The truth is that speculation on anything is actually a great evil.  The medieval moralists recognised it, but we have somehow forgotten it.  Speculation on agricultural commodities creates uncertainty - precisely what the speculators want - and pushes up the price of food.  Speculation on property pushes up the price of homes, and is undermining people's lives over here.  It is a rather scary thought but, if property prices in the UK rise in the next 30 years as much as they did in the last 30 years, the price of an average home will stand at £1.2 million.  And I don't believe wages will rise that fast.

That is partly because we are not building enough homes.  But that is only a small part of the story.  It is also because the banks flooded the mortgage market creating house price inflation, because bankers bonuses have ended up largely in property, and because foreign buyers have been speculating in the market.  And up the prices go.

If that isn't an urgent issue for the coalition to tackle, I don't know what is.

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