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Thursday, December 24, 2009

'Twas the night before Christmas

'Twas the night before Christmas
And all of my flat
Was awash with old papers
And toys for the cat,

The aftermath of baking,
Washing up in the sink.
A half-opened bottle
Of very strong drink

(Used for the pudding)
Was still on the side
Next to piles of work:
Poor Mermins cried.

With brows that are beaten
And nagging at home
No wonder I pen this
Unseasonal poem!

I turn to the future
(in a manner of speech)
Where's my silver lining?
Is it just out of reach?

I'm not looking forward
To pretending it's fun
Eating and jesting.
I'd rather just run

Away from forced laughter
And boring family tales
And stay in my duvet
Until Boxing day sales.

Christmas dinner? Bah humbug!
All the presents are trite
And there's no Disney feeling
And the Christmas ain't white.

Oh I know of the Reason
- Good news of great joy -
So despite all the moaning,
I hope you enjoy

But if you're feeling gloomy,
Just about all done in,
Join with me at 6:30
(I'll be hitting the Gin).

Bottoms up! And your chin, too.
We'll drink til we moan
2009 may have been dreadful,
But we're never alone.

Good luck for this Christmas
God bless you as well.
2009 was a scoundrel,
But 2010 will be swell.

Monday, December 14, 2009

the Banker's dozen

The New Economics Foundation claims that banks are socially useless, as, unlike cleaners and care workers, they have no benefit to society at large NEF.

Evidently there is some political pandering to the masses with this report. Without banking, cleaners could not get loans to buy houses. Without banks, care workers would not have hospitals or homes to work in.

This is a glib response. The arguments against banks being socially useful are plentiful: while some bankers have lined their own pockets, they have contributed to the economic woes of the poorest nations, lining their coffins (well, they probably don't have coffins, but there had to be some element of thoughtful prose). Banks have racked up their own debt, gearing their balance sheets within an inch of their lives, and created a situation where not only are banks in debt to the taxpayer, but the taxpayer is faced with a higher tax bill as a result. Great scott! Our debt is being used to pay off the debts of the banks, so that we can start borrowing from them again. What a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to receive...

But are banks morally bankrupt? Certainly, the policy of chasing that last nickel at the expense of the customer is immoral. The policy of making consumers pay for a bank to manage their deposits, just so the bank can get out of debt - that, too, is immoral. Banks recalling loans to schools, charities, small enterprises and community concerns is, also, immoral - they could, if they wanted to, recall loans from other, larger, private and public companies although this might create relational problems with potentially profitable long-term clients. A charity might not have a lot of money to repay, but it will never be a high earner for the bank.

In that sense, banks are morally reprehensible and have displayed little social usefulness.

However, leaving aside the obvious 'some banks good, some banks bad' argument, banks in general have an important part in society, one which is part of the very woof and fabric of our being. They oil the wheels of industry. They provide the loans for hospitals and similar organisations. They provide mortgages for millions. Without a place to put money, even the smallest depositors would have to bury their money in the backyard or stick it in a cookie jar under the bed.

Thanks to the recklessness of a few, we're all affected: decent mortgage rates are harder to come by, MPPI comes with a higher premium, our jobs are tenuous and our interest rates, zero. But what choice would we have if there were no banks? Who would give us a loan, provide us with a mortgage, cover us for holiday accidents or supply us with cash-in-hand when we're out and about?

I'd challenge the good folks at NEF to try to live for a year without using anything to do with a bank: ask your employers to pay you in cash (and tell them that they cannot take that out of a bank). Don't use credit or debit cards for a year. Refuse to write, or to accept cheques. Put your money under the mattress. Raise a mortgage - and your children - without any loans. Pay for your expensive private healthcare using copper coins. Send your children to a school that has not been helped out by any bank loans.

Without banks, we'd be trading in beads and corn, or heading down to the wharf to find a nice money-lender who will charge an extortionate fee without any security or means of redress. He'll then launch into a diatribe about how 'sufferance is the badge of all his tribe' or climb a tree because he's short. No, wait, I'm getting Shakespeare and the Bible mixed up again - it was bad enough the last time that happened. Fake Scottish accents, witches and a talking donkey? Shrek has a lot to answer for.

Anyway, the banks may have shown little moral fibre, but by golly the economy needs whatever fibre it has.