What slogan is above the door of the free marketeer’s think tanks? No, it’s not “Abandon hope all ye who enter here”, you naughty people. It’s “Government small enough to drown in a bathtub”.
These people believe that “government” should leave banks and financial institutions alone, get rid of regulation, has no business in business, as it were, should “get out of the way” of private enterprise, and so on. Any suggestion that the “government” should do something about CEO salaries, risky investments, fees, interest rates, is met with the outrage usually reserved for apostates from a religion. And the outrage in turn is largely met with acquiescence by the media, themselves determined not to be regulated in any way. Faced with the unanimity of “think tanks”, media, and of course the financial institutions themselves, politicians from both “sides” have quickly jumped in to say “oh my goodness gracious me heavens to betsy why no of COURSE we wouldn’t want to regulate banks etc. Reckon we are socialists or something?”
So let’s think about this for a moment. Twenty two million Australians elect several hundred people from among their number to represent their interests. Each one has gained the confidence of tens of thousands (in the case of Senators hundreds of thousands) of people. And yet, these people, combining to form a “government”, are told, by a handful of people with a bizarre ideology, that they must not attempt to have any control over the organisations that not only serve the financial needs of the 22 million, but through their activities fundamentally control the economy of the nation.
That is forget the word “government” as used pejoratively by this little band of reverse Sherwood Foresters, instead say to yourself – these financial bodies are supposed to have no oversight by we, the people of Australia? Really? How did that come to be a thing?
Well it came to be a thing because the banks and the think tanks kept saying it, and a lie repeated often enough becomes the truth for all practical purposes these days.
Look, money isn’t a get out of jail free card. Oh, sorry, yes it is of course. Let’s start again.
Just because your major activity, your role in society, involves money, doesn’t mean you can do what you like. I mean, banks aren’t churches, are they?
In almost all other major kinds of activities in our society we, as a people, through our government, decide how we want those things to work. If you are in medicine, teaching, building roads, serving food, police, flying planes, and all the rest, you work within structures, within limits, for the good of society.
Once upon a time only the church was, as they say, a law unto itself. the reason was obvious, they had you over a barrel, in an explicit, and exquisite form of blackmail – try to rein us in and we will damn your soul to eternal hell, no white robes, harps, bunches of grapes or virgins for you. So they were left alone and for centuries did very nicely thank you. Still do pretty nicely actually with tax exemptions, and ability to make their own laws, and avoidance of laws on discrimination, and largely a freedom from discrimination. Nice work if you can get it and they got it.
And then a second group achieved a similar status floating above and beyond ordinary mortals – the media. Achieved in the same way – hey, try to control us, even look sideways at us, and we will hack our phone, have you on the front page of a fish and chip wrapper; or running the perp walk between serried ranks of cameras and blonds with microphones as weapons, outside your own front door every morning. Wouldn’t like that would you mr politician, we know where you live, and we know where your children go to school, oh, and we have a copy of that ill-advised video you and your wife made on holiday in Bali. Any questions? Right then, piss off and leave us alone.
And now the third of this unholy triumvirate. The blackmailing style the same, the weapons slightly different. Not being poked by imps with red hot pokers for eternity, or junior reporters with red hot microphones, but worse, much worse, blackmailed by the guys, and gals, with the keys to the treasure chest. You want us to do what? Cut CEO salary from $20million to $19million, pass on interest rate savings to home buyers, lend more to small business, reduce fees on breathing while in bank, stop playing risky games with dodgy financial brothers? Right, we’re out of here, got a place to go to in Panama, Liberia, Burma, Zimbabwe, no nonsense about regulation there, few dollars to the country’s president and you can do what you like. See ya.
No wonder solidarity from the media, playing similar games. No wonder support from libertarians who mistake a license to print money for a statement about human freedom. No wonder that other industries, seeing the way these groups have got away with murder as effectively as Al Capone, are adopting the same tactics. MIners, clubs, supermarkets, manufacturers have all been at it, when faced with royalty payments, or regulation of problem gamblers, or food labelling.
So time we the people told our representatives we want the bluff called. Want banks behaving responsibly before we count to ten. Nine, ten, knockout. And the blackmail? To hell with it. Do you really think a rich country with 22 million people can’t develop new community banks if the others pick up their notes and coins and go home? Some genuine competition from groups prepared to work with community for a modest return rather than against it for greed would quickly emerge. Competition, you see, remember that quaint concept? Bit old-fashioned, but then I’m just an old fashioned guy with an old-fashioned idea about millionaires.
And with that victory under the belt the government could then tackle the media, and then, gulp, the church. Let’s move from the 14th to the 21st century in one giant leap. And put the fear of god into these other wannabe blackmailers while we are at it.
Oh, and that sound you hear? Tents being folded in the night as the freemarket think-tankers, no longer a job to do blocking regulation here and no money to be earned from doing so, head for Zimbabwe and freedom.