and various tangents involving implausible analogies and credit cards….
[Results of the Vote: 338 votes for, 281 against and four don’t knows]
For: William Right, Anthony Fry, Jennifer Moses
Against: Ken Livingstone, Tony Curzon Price, Aditya Chakrabortty
As the Chair acknowledged to me following the Intelligence Squared debate – ‘London Should Love Its Bankers’ may not have been the right statement to debate in the first place, nonetheless, the motion was carried.
According to those present last night – Not only should we stop blaming them, stop joking about hanging them, and bail them out when they mess up, we should also love our bankers. Perhaps the outcome would have been different if bankers, trainee bankers and partners of bankers and trainee bankers had withheld their votes.
Growing up, we didn’t have political debate in our household. The general mentality was – we know it all – don’t believe a word they say anyway – we’re on the same side in this house so there’s nothing to debate. My parents rarely read newspapers. The news was generally criticised for being too depressing ‘why can’t they report nice things?’
So when I tried my ‘the credit card analogy is bullshit’ argument on my mum the other day she was a bit taken aback by my passion and told me to calm down. I suggested (declared) she had become a Tory – apparently that’s not the case and she’s still LibDem (if only they were).
The problem with heated debates between me and my mum is that neither of us knows what we are talking about. So I relished the opportunity to try it out on an expert last night.
I went to the debate because I’m looking for a more nuanced discussion than I can get through consuming the standard fare of political rhetoric, and because I want to know more from both sides. I’m still cultivating my own political views – the process began when I started making my solo show ‘Opposition’ two years ago. I was angry about not being able to care about voting for any of the political parties, frustrated by the fact that when they speak they rarely communicate. Not much has changed.
I won’t attempt to do a potted version of what the panellists said. There were many analogies. Tony Curzon Price’s comparison of loving a banker to Stockholm syndrome was my favourite. The ‘for’ side repeatedly quoted Ken Livingstone talking positively about the city and its importance to London, which was interesting as last night he was sitting on the ‘against’ side. Jennifer Moses mentioned flip-flopping, though my favourite statement of hers was her opening: ‘It’s very kind of you to have a woman on this panel’. Both sides said those who committed crimes needed punishing and regulation was necessary. So no one took the same view as Jamie Whyte on Radio 4 recently, defending the free market and arguing that the crisis was the fault of state interference.
William Wright’s argument focused on a comparison of bankers with wayward teenagers; they were just responding to the context they were in and should be given stricter boundaries and forgiven. Wright said ‘by not loving them [bankers] we are denying our own role in the crisis’. – We apparently played a part in creating the monster. I wanted to know how I was responsible, never having taken out a mortgage, not seeing myself doing so in the conceivable future, having paid off my credit card and student overdraft (not much chance of paying off the loan), how did I, or others of my generation and younger play a part in the crisis?
Initially this was mistranslated as the Mike Bartlett clichéd moan – my generation are paying for the mistakes of our parents etc. Actually I don’t think I am owed a house or a car or a job. I am happy that I can pay my bills and that I am able to do the work I want to do in this climate, working in the arts has never been paid well and that’s my choice. I met quite a lovable banker following the debate (reminded me of my Granddad), I invited him to Opposition and he said he hoped it would make me some money. Which was amusing. Anyway, my question was rephrased and Wright’s response was to suggest that I wasn’t whom he was referring to, as perhaps I am not contributing to the economy (just a little bit patronising). It seemed that by ‘we’ he meant the Cameron ‘we’ as in ‘we’re all in this together’ not a literal ‘we’.
But we discussed it further afterwards. In fact by ‘we’ he means those who, during the boom, took out mortgages that were triple their income. And I disagree with this too. To use yet another analogy –when you go to a doctor you acknowledge that they are experts and that you are not. You give your symptoms and accept the prognosis even if it sounds dubious. If it turns out the doctor administered the wrong medicine and endangered you they can be tried, maybe fired, maybe jailed.
Like a doctor, a banker is a professional and an expert. If a gardener goes to a banker, presents details of his income and finances and is offered a large mortgage, the gardener will accept it. Then the differences set in. When it turns out it was wrong for the banker to offer the mortgage, that the banker did not calculate the sums correctly and the gardener cannot afford the mortgage, the banker is not punished, the gardener is. Although perhaps that’s another poor analogy, as it wasn’t so much the high street banking that was the problem but the casino style speculative gambling with our money. If that’s the case, then Wright is certainly wrong to suggest all those who took out high mortgages played a role in the crisis.
There was a question from the floor ‘are they actually going to be punished?’. I think it was Ken Livingstone who made the point that they didn’t let (us) have clauses in our mortgages that prevented our homes being seized if we default on payments, so why are their pay offs and salaries protected when they mess up? But of course they are self-serving institutions with little interest in the health of the wider economy or the people they are ‘serving’. They had no need to protect against collapse because they are ‘too big to fail’. We’ll bail them out etc. Going back to that Radio 4 programme, Whyte made the point that without state interference, without the cushion of knowing the state will bail them out if they failed, perhaps the banks would have been more cautious about how they gambled with our money in the first place.
So I don’t think my generation had anything to do with the collapse, and neither did those individuals who applied for mortgages and were given them. They were individuals. One of them could have refused a mortgage and been careful with borrowing (surely many were) – this wouldn’t have made any difference whatsoever. Wright asked me if I had a student loan and how much it was. Not sure where we were going with that. Did I exist in a culture of entitlement, did I think I somehow deserved a subsidised education?….Well…yes….otherwise only those who can afford one can have one… He may actually have just been making an argument for the rise in tuition fees (while at the same time saying that accepting high loans is reckless?). Anyway, an independent body did think I was entitled to an education, on merit. The AHRC funded me full time for two years to do an MFA, and they don’t ask for it back with interest either.
If it isn’t the fault of all of us, or the fault of bankers, is it the government’s fault? Obviously it’s convenient for governments of all colours to blame bankers to avoid being blamed themselves. Is this influencing the rhetoric we are being spun? But if it was Britain’s particular government’s fault then why was it that the financial collapse wasn’t restricted to our country but occurred at the same time under other governments elsewhere? Were all governments getting it wrong? Or all bankers? Or was it just ‘a tiny minority of bankers’ in many countries….Very convenient to blame tiny minorities. Saves rehauling entire systems.
Going back to the credit card analogy – it’s been bothering me for a while so good to have a chance to run it past Wright. The Tories and the LibDems continue their chant that Labour ‘maxed out the country’s credit card’ and that when a credit card is maxed out you don’t keep borrowing you pay it off.
A lot of people seem to buy this; the argument comes up as often as the phrase ‘the mess we inherited from the previous government’. But surely it’s a cheap trick used over and over again to brainwash voters into agreeing with austerity measures and to ridicule Labour. Weirdly, even now when it’s clear austerity isn’t working that analogy is holding fast. But surely a personal credit card is completely different to government borrowing? Now that I’ve Googled the issue turns out other people have been saying that for a while and explaining why. Never mind I’ll keep going.
Sticking with the inappropriate credit card analogy…my thoughts go like this: You have a debt on your credit card, you have a great idea for starting a business that will generate jobs and profit. The government’s view is, no you can’t borrow anymore you need to pay off your credit card. You say: how can I pay off my credit card when I don’t have a job? There aren’t any jobs, but I’ve got this great idea and not only will it employ me, in the future it will generate jobs for others too. But the government says it would be reckless to borrow more. Therefore you can’t start up a new business, you can’t pay your credit card, the interest increases and you are driven into double dip poverty.
If the whole analogy isn’t appropriate anyway, then whether or not my continuation of the analogy is accurate or not is irrelevant. If it’s true that the analogy is nonsense in the first place then the economic argument the current government has been using to communicate their policies to the voters is fundamentally flawed. Either they think we’re idiots, they are idiots, or their economic policy is idiotic. Or am I over simplifying things?
As someone trying to figure out her own position and understanding of all this, I’d appreciate it if those communicating the situation would do so without flawed analogies and repetitive sound bites. So far I haven’t understood the arguments for severe austerity measures and reducing government borrowing. Mostly because they have been repeatedly presented with this credit card analogy. (The fact that they’re clearly not working and the national debt and borrowing has gone up considerably doesn’t help either.) Wright told me the austerity measures will start working next year. Looking forward to it.
In the meantime, join me in Opposition: Ovalhouse 6-17th Nov