Wednesday 18 August 2010

Badger's Lair

I went along to hear Alistair Darling's much reported and pre-reported speech last night:
The Scotsman revealed yesterday that Mr Darling was preparing to launch a thinly-veiled attack on former prime minister Gordon Brown, saying Labour lost the General Election because it ignored the deficit.
Actually, despite being given several opportunities I didn't reckon that Darling was very critical of Brown at all.

The Donald Dewar Lecture was chaired by BBC Scotland's Brian Taylor who introduced Darling as a friend. Now, Taylor's a good chap and is probably a friend of most of our leading politicians. But "BBC Scotland journalist a friend of Scottish Labour politician" - not exactly the revelation of the week...

Darling was convinced that he'd done a good job and I accept that he was probably more competent than any alternative Labour chancellor, including his predecessor. But I heard no evidence of any real understanding of the nature of the economic crisis.

We heard some of the usual Labour tricks. Cutting government expenditure was "taking money out of the economy". I hoped in vain for Taylor to pick up on that Brownism. But, to be fair, it took David Cameron weeks to catch on to that one. Darling talked about Labour's plan to halve the deficit in five years. How many others in the audience realised that such a policy would mean that total debt would still be rising? As indeed it is under the current government.

Clearly there are no Austrian School economists in the Treasury, as Darling told us that no one saw the crisis coming. Actually, I think he quietly corrected that to "almost no one." Perhaps he saw this constituent lurking in the back corner...

Darling told us that the banks had made many mistakes. Often, they didn't know what sort of assets they were buying. He's right there of course. But he was wrong in saying that the British banks had avoided the subprime mess that hit the US ones. Northern Rock was invested in subprime mortgages and the big British banks bought the bulk pre-packaged portfolios of subprime from the American banks.

The most worrying thing was the total lack of any questioning as to why the banks were able to act so recklessly. The idea that the fundamentals of the very monetary system itself are wrong has clearly never entered Mr Darling's head. But he's not alone in that. We'll keep on going through these financial crises until we learn the lesson.

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