Friday, 28 February 2014

Chasing Shadows

In the last couple of decades our banks and bankers have gone from being pillars of the community and respected authority figures in national affairs to be thought of as a bunch of greedy shysters out to screw us and criminals to be punished.

The latest headlines about banks losing unimaginable sums of money only to be given King's ransoms in their annual bonuses do not help the image.  Inevitably, ordinary persons want to know why they cannot be brought to heel, controlled and answerable.

Between the media, who seem to know little and understand less and the politicians, assumed to be in conspiracy with them and on their payrolls there is a lot of noise and posturing but little or no action, nor much reality behind the promises and alleged policies.

What has happened is that the banks we knew, saw and dealt with were once located in places we knew and were evident and identifiable.  You could walk around city centres and the City of London and say this was this and that was that with a degree of certainty and truth.

This is no longer the case.  Tax Justice Network has a key interest in this question because of its pursuit of tax losses to havens abroad which in the last half century have grown hugely in extent and effective monetary power. 

Even there, despite the secrecy there has been the idea that they were locations which could be seen and visited and had buildings and staff where the business was located. 

But in recent years the complexity enabled to accounting and management systems by the series of digital revolutions have transformed this.

What has happened is that another banking system has grown up, called "Shadow Banking", which is not a good way to describe it.  Perhaps "Space Time Banking" might, but that also is a little too loose and confusing.  An article linked from the Tax Justice web site tells some of the tale.

It is by Anastasia Nesvetailova of The City University who tells us that in the last three to four decades there has grown up what is a parallel universe of banking.  It is located nowhere, is difficult to trace and therefore to regulate.  They have become used by the financial elite to create "silos of silence".

Whether you like or hate the idea, or cannot understand or accept them it is argued that they are now vital to credit creation and therefore the function of all our money economies.  If troubles arise they are the key to what might happen and what might be done.

She concludes:  "The real risk is that so much of this is rent-seeking activity: extracting wealth and bringing forwards consumption into the present, at the expense of future generations.  Or, to put it more pithily: we will pay for this."

So if another bust happens it is likely that nobody will know what is happening, why or how it can be dealt with.

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