Anthony Hilton: We're stifling banks but no one in charge will be seen being easy on them


The economy had experienced a heart attack, Business Secretary Vince Cable told an audience at an event on Wednesday organised by the think tank Politeia. Recuperation is slow, uncertain and takes a very long time, so you should not expect at this relatively early stage that we would be sprinting down the track like Jessica Ennis.

But there are hopeful signs in that unemployment is much lower than feared, and, though it is less widely appreciated, we have avoided some of the big mistakes of earlier crises. In sharp contrast to the 1930s, for example, the nations of the world have not resorted to protectionism and competitive devaluations, with the result that world trade continues to grow and can play a large part in stimulating global recovery.

Not so fast, said one of the audience. While it is true that there were no new tariff barriers or attempts to stifle the flows of physical goods, there had been a huge surge of protectionism in finance, much of it driven by regulators and encouraged by governments.

The whole cross-border nature of global finance was under attack with regulators demanding that banks be separately capitalised in each country where they operate, and a string of regulations which were national rather than international in their impact.

Cross-border lending had plunged and, from being global a few years ago, finance was becoming increasingly balkanised. This made it more costly, less efficient and less able to serve the needs of the global economy and would, in his view, have huge consequences in the medium term for global growth and recovery from the current stagnation.

The obvious riposte, from others in the audience rather than the business secretary, was that the banks had brought this on themselves and politicians were merely taking steps to try to stop something similar happening again.

The point is valid nevertheless. You could stop serious road accidents by imposing a 5mph speed limit on the nation's roads, but the costs would outweigh the benefits. There is a severe risk that we are trying to do the equivalent in banking and fail to realise that we will pay a high price for excessive safety.

It is tempting to dismiss all complaints by bankers as self serving, but this is too important for that and there are signs that regulators round the world are beginning to feel a bit uneasy about piling too much on too fast.

Some say privately that they would like to be significantly less stringent but their difficulty is that they have so little wriggle room. Banks remain so unpopular that no politician or public official wants to be accused of doing them favours.

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
Highs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
New Articles
i100... with this review
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Senior BA - Motor and Home Insurance

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: **URGENT CONTRACT ROLE**...

Market Risk & Control Manager

Up to £100k or £450p/d: Saxton Leigh: My client is a leading commodities tradi...

SQL Developer - Watford/NW London - £320 - £330 p/d - 6 months

£320 - £330 per day: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group have been engaged by a l...

Head of Audit

To £75,000 + Pension + Benefits + Bonus: Saxton Leigh: My client is looking f...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam