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Friday 6 July 2012
Letters: It wasn't the bankers - it was easy money
We seem determined to single out individuals to blame for our financial malaise, but the problem was not caused by Bob Diamond, or the bankers, even though their actions were motivated by greed.
Most economic systems are not actually controlled by anyone and the more global the reach, the less control we have. Trade imbalances created huge amounts of cash swilling through the western economies. Legitimate investment opportunities were soon exhausted, and the banks and governments poured money into inappropriate targets.
These varied across countries: the USA had sub-prime mortgages, Ireland had a property boom, in the UK we allowed people to stack up credit on multiple credit cards, the Greeks financed a bloated public sector, the banks in Iceland went haywire, Northern Rock doled out 125 per cent mortgages and Gordon Brown threw money at anything that moved.
All this created asset bubbles in all sorts of areas and the banks eventually had to invent opaque financial products to sell to each other. It was nothing more than gambling, but the money had to go somewhere.
Bob Diamond and other bankers were caught up in all this but they didn't create the situation, they merely reacted to it and made money from it. That's what banks do.
If we search out scapegoats we ignore they fact that we're all greedy, and that greed creates boom-and-bust and always has done. We don't need to punish bankers – most of them will be redundant anyway now that the easy money has dried up – and we certainly don't need to line lawyers' pockets with an endless public inquiry whose recommendations will be outdated by the time they arrive.
Andreas Whittam Smith is of course right (Opinion, 5 July) that we need a change in the culture of business. The single most effective way to do that – and it's relatively easy – would be to remove the obligation on companies to maximise shareholder value as their be-all and end-all.
In every other respect companies are legally treated as pseudo-people, and real people have many other motives in making decisions, even business decisions. Ethics usually enter in somewhere. Let businesses do the same. Some want to, the others would at least lose the "there's nothing we can do" excuse.
What is the answer to the ills of the NHS?
In simple summary: banish the silly girliness of indecisive, nattering nurses and instead employ many more male nurses (never mind if these have no aptitude for the job – they're bound to pick it up as they go along). This measure will change the girly, over-emotional culture of nursing and ensure increased life-expectancy in patients.
Sexist and silly argument? No more so than the sexist finger-pointing of misandrist fantasists who believe the gender of bankers was to blame for the banking crisis (letter, 5 July). The true culprit here is excessive deregulation and people's demand for easy credit – not all those awful non-women out there!
And remember: behind every irresponsible, risk-taking banker (or, at least, a great many of them) is an equally greedy and demanding wife whose shopping habits demand ever-larger bonuses from hubby!
Ed Miliband may have claimed Bob Diamond's scalp, but it is Barclays shareholders who get a haircut as he trousers £30m.
On the very day that scientists announced the discovery of the God particle, the Master of the Universe was facing questions before a select committee of the Commons.
Worryingly for epistemologists, empiricists and the bond markets alike, it would seem that He didn't know.
No alternative to area bombing
Unlike Chris Hunt (letter, 4 July), I never lived through the Second World War, but I believe his assertion that Bomber Command bombed Germany for no other reason than to kill and terrify its civilian population to be a gross misrepresentation.
Night area bombing of Germany was not directly aimed at the civilian population; the purpose was the reduction of Nazi industrial capacity. It was impossible for bomber crews to pick out individual German factories from 18,000 feet at night. Bombing the centre of German cities, however, could reduce industrial output by the destruction of power stations, sewage works and transportation hubs. Further disruption could be caused by damaged housing, blocked streets – and yes, the deaths of workers and their families.
Critics of Bomber Command often laud the operations of the American air forces. However, their attacks hardly spared ordinary Germans. In the closing months of the war, a USAAF raid on Berlin caused the deaths of 20,000 civilians.
The campaign should also be placed in a strategic context. For much of the war, Churchill and his military advisers viewed the re-invasion of the Continent as a pipe-dream. Pulverising attacks on German cities were a means to placate an impatient Stalin and avoid the Soviet Union making a separate peace with Hitler.
There are troubling concerns over the bombing policy in the closing stages of the war. In general terms, though, it seems to me that critics fail to argue convincingly any alternative British strategy.
I don't know in which part of London Chris Hunt lived during the Blitz. I lived in Brixton, where, in September 1940, we survived fires caused by incendiaries only to have our house destroyed just two weeks later.
We moved to Streatham, where we continued to suffer many air raids during the following two years. Three high-explosive bombs fell within 400 yards of our house. We also experienced further incendiary bombs. All the buildings damaged or destroyed were residential. I also saw a school in Catford after it was destroyed during a daylight raid with considerable loss of life.
Of course we in this country did not suffer air raids to the extent that the Germans did, but more than 22,000 Londoners were killed during the Blitz and it is nonsense to imply that the Germans only bombed strategic targets, not residential areas.
King's Lynn, Norfolk
The old pitted against the young
Defending the latest salvo in what many of us see as a campaign against the elderly, namely your headline "The old get richer and the young pay the price", your editor states that you were "merely reporting the facts" (Letter from the Editor, 30 June).
This is not so. The headline, incorrectly and contentiously, pits one group against another, as if there were a causal link between benefits for the elderly and hardship for younger people, and the former were seizing resources from the latter.
You could equally have concocted the headline "The young pay the price for government commitment to renewing Trident". But presumably you are happier with taxpayers money being spent on Trident than on bus passes for the elderly.
Scenario: Cameron wants to abolish the welfare state for everyone, and replace it with the Poor Laws. But he wants to tread cautiously where old people are concerned.
So he ostentatiously announces measures against the young, together with the intention to spare the old. Mainstream papers obligingly react to the perceived unfairness by stirring up hatred against the old. This leaves the door open for Cameron to cut benefits for the old, in response to popular demand.
Meanwhile, it never enters anyone's mind that the disparity might be resolved by making the young better off rather than the old worse off. I think the usual expression is "race to the bottom".
Prestonpans, East Lothian
Lords for the voiceless
A basic assumption of democracy is that each person is the best judge of his or her own interests. But it is well known that both our current form of democracy and our current form of market economy emphasise short-term decision-making.
Might it be possible to structure the reformed House of Lords so that this problem is to some extent addressed?
There are groups of people – notably children and the mentally infirm – who have no direct say in the electoral process. Nor have future generations, the environment or non-human creatures we co-exist with and depend upon. Could the Lords have a mandate to review Commons legislation with the long term and currently under-represented parties in mind?
Farewell to Mr Sykes
What a shame that Eric Sykes has gone off without his knighthood. Eric's manager, Norma Farnes, and the Goon Show Preservation Society fought tooth and nail to get it for him, but the folk who decide these things ignored him. More than six decades of entertaining us in films, radio and TV, as well as a mass of charity fund-raising till he was as deaf as a post and almost blind, was not enough.
Never mind, he probably couldn't have cared less, so long as he was getting the laughs, which he was. Well done, Eric. Give our regards to Spike, Peter and Harry.
Goon Show Preservation Society, London SW14
Multilingual train windows
I too used to enjoy the multilingual instructions on European train windows (Letters, 4 July). I fancied that they gave an insight into national attitudes. Law-abiding British ("Do not lean out of the window"), German ("Nicht hinauslehnen") or French ("Ne pas se pencher au dehors") could be relied upon to obey instructions. The more free-wheeling Italians, on the other hand ("E pericoloso sporgersi") had to be reminded of the danger of decapitation to get them to comply.
My colleagues and I admired the Italian version of the train-window notice so much that we named our pub quiz team "E Pericoloso Sporgersi!" (not forgetting the all-important "!").
Over the border
Your report of the sale of The Lock, by John Constable, for over £22m (4 July) calls it "an idyllic depiction of rural Suffolk". The view is from a lock at Flatford, in Suffolk, across the river Stour, which forms the county boundary, towards the church tower at Dedham, in Essex. The Vale of Dedham remains a rural idyll. Being accessible for free, it is also cheaper than the painting.
I read that at the opening of the Shard, "the London Philharmonic Orchestra will entertain guests including the Prime Minister of Qatar, Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jabor Al Thani, and the Duke of York with... Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man". Irony has finally died.
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