Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/551/6470
Responsibility for the 'age of irresponsibility'
For years opinion-formers have been mobilised in defence of capitalism. They have argued that it is not fatally flawed, that it is only the criminally reckless elements ripping off the system that created the disaster.
The Observer's Will Hutton wrote: "This is not the end of capitalism...there is no intellectual, social or political challenge to a system based on respect for private property rights...Rather it is a crisis of a particular capitalism that has set aside respect for trust, integrity and fairness as fuddy-duddy obstacles to 'wealth generation'."
Similar arguments have been deployed in the past. Roosevelt's administration, after the 1929-31 Wall Street crash, for example, outlawed insider trading, the alleged cause of the crash.
The Daily Telegraph's Charles Moore writes that what is revealed in the crisis of the banks "is the corruption of the market, not its natural expression."
This argument recalls the celebrated clip from the Godfather when mafia chief Don Corleone instructs his capo regime to carry out an act of violent retribution, short of murder, on two thugs who have violated the daughter of a friend. "I want responsible people," he insists, "people who are not going to be carried away; after all", he says, sniffing the rose in his lapel, "we are not murderers." The mafia, not murderers?
Most of the political class and the financial world are now demanding regulation and transparency, even demanding action against the profiteers.
Even Hank Paulson, the United States treasury secretary, has belatedly joined calls for regulatory limits on the bonus culture on Wall Street as a condition of his $700 billion bailout programme. But his credentials as a pay reformer have been quickly called into question. His initial position was for 'no strings' and that the deal should be 'non-reviewable.' But congress people, reflecting pressure from their impoverished constituents, greeted this with howls of outrage.
The Guardian revealed that before joining the treasury two years ago Paulson was arguably Wall Street's most influential banker, with bonuses to match. As Goldman Sachs' chief executive, he received $18.7 million half-year bonus in cash before moving into government. The previous year he had been Wall Street's highest paid chief executive, receiving $38.3 million in salary, stock and options.
His move into government was sweetened with a huge tax break. Faced with a conflict of interest that would have made his job at the treasury impossible, he sold about $500 million of Goldman shares built up during his time at the bank. In return, the US tax authorities waived a requirement for him to pay capital gains tax on the sale - handing him a $200 million tax break, according to some estimates.
Gordon Brown has branded the past few years an "age of irresponsibility", a volte face on his fawning encouragement of precisely this irresponsibility. After New Labour's conference, many trade union leaders queued up to praise Brown as the man to 'lead the country through the crisis.'
That means that for the millions of workers who have long seen through this, there is no mass vehicle for protest. The question continually raised by workers, aghast at the prospect of a looming and long recession, growing unemployment and a Tory victory, is 'whom do we vote for at the next election?' This is a question that must be answered by building the Campaign for a New Workers' Party.
In The Socialist 8 October 2008:
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