This week the chancellor confirmed that there will be no real change at the Bank of England. There will be no change to the Treasury and Bank of England’s obsession with inflation targeting and “price stability”. Above all, he confirmed that there will be no reining-in of the banks; that banks will not be re-structured – to separate the retail and investment arms, and ensure that banks are no longer too big to fail.
He confirmed this by appointing an ex-Goldman Sachs banker, Mark Carney, as governor of the Bank of England.
The FT was right when in January this year it described Carney as [£] “the leading example of a new breed of ambitious, internationally focused central bankers who view regulatory and monetary policy issues through a more market-based lens”. He favours an “open and resilient financial system” – code for giving the banks free rein in global capital markets. And like many of his peers he believes that the key to recovery lies in all western economies “capitalising on the immense opportunity that emerging markets in general and China in particular represent”. Like others, he prefers exports over the expansion and strengthening of domestic markets.
So be very afraid. Business-as-usual will prevail. And nothing will be done to constrain the City, and therefore to prevent the next collapse of the financial system.
Carney is a central banker steeped in the culture and practices of Goldman Sachs’s investment banking arm. Before becoming Canada’s central bank governor, he spent 13 years with Goldman Sachs in its London, Tokyo, New York and Toronto offices. He held a range of senior positions. The most significant was as managing director of investment banking.
In a speech made recently Carney made the right noises. He complained of “a system that privatises gains and socialises losses” and endorsed the approach that sets capital and leverage ratios for banks. He’s even commended the Occupy movement for being “constructive”.
But there is nothing in his speeches that indicates that he will help give Britain’s real economy the protection it needs from its over-mighty – and still very dangerous – banking sector. Nothing, in other words, that indicates the real economy – the productive sector – will be given priority over the City’s preference for reckless global speculation.
Instead like many others who adopt a “market-based” approach to regulation, Carney prefers to tinker – retrospectively – with the capital ratios of banks. This is because he and many others in central bank circles know that most of the Britain’s banks are very highly leveraged. That without the support of the Bank of England’s quantitative easing programme, and its very low lending rates – all effectively backed by British taxpayers – Britain’s banks would effectively be insolvent.
And so Carney will continue with quantitative easing – which has provided British banks with the liquidity needed to indulge in speculative activity both at home and abroad, speculative activity that bears a scary resemblance to that undertaken before the crisis.
He is unlikely to pressure his friends in the City’s commercial banks to lend at low sustainable rates to Britain’s productive sector. He is therefore most unlikely to reverse the most bizarre and historically unprecedented aspect of today’s British banking system: the fact that those of us in the real economy are lending to banks. Their original mission – of lending into the real economy – has been turned on its head. Today Britain’s banks are recipients of loans (deposits) from those active in the real economy – and subsidies from taxpayers.
None of this is likely to change.