11 July 2013

One Rule for the Rich?

My suspicions were aroused when the credit-rating agencies started criticising the capital holdings of the Co-operative Bank. After all, any bank is effectively bankrupt at all times, so pointing the finger of accusation just becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I put my suspicions down to paranoia, but now that the BBC's Robert Peston is starting to make similar noises about the Nationwide I am beginning to wonder whether I wasn't suspicious enough.

As Peston notes, the response by many to the disasters and calumnies of the banking corporates has been to look in the direction of mutual ownership. I have called for the Royal Bank of Scotland, rather than being sold back to shareholders, to be broken up into a system of local community banks, owned by those in the local economy who would uses their services, and with boards made up of local businesspeople, councillors, and citizens. Green MP Caroline Lucas made a similar point during her intervention in the banking debate earlier this week.

The logic is clear: if we, the public, provide the guarantee that allows the banking system to have credibility while operating in a state of permanent insolvency then we should have control over how it directs credit and should also see the profits from banking invested for public benefit not private gain. The redistributive effects of such a shift would be massive, which may be why the commentators are now portraying mutual financial institutions as unreliable.

Yesterday's suggestion from credit-rating agency Moody's that the situation is improving for the commercial banks is the final piece in the puzzle. Since the problem for both the Co-operative Bank and the high street banks is that they are holding commercial property assets that have massively lost value since the crisis, it simply cannot be right to say that their credit ratings are moving in opposite directions, at least not if you take this as an independent indication of financial health, rather than a piece of political propaganda. The rules set by the Basel Committee as to what counts as a reliable form of capital are similarly prejudicial to the interests of building societies, whose assets really are safe as houses and far less subject to risk than the complex financial instruments counted as assets by the banks. Nationwide boss Graham Beale made a similar point in an interview with the FT recently.

The inconsistency with which mutual and shareholder-owned financial institutions are being treated by financial commentators leads to an unsavoury conclusion. Could it be that, having used austeria to attack public services and the working conditions of those employed throughout the economy, the defenders of capital are now using it to destroy the vestiges of the co-operative and mutual economy?

1 comment:

  1. Austeria - have you coined a new word Molly? Sounds like a cross between austerity and hysteria - pretty useful under the present circs!