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We're All as Greedy as Bankers
Even as banks granted loans to people who could never repay them, the people took them
Peter Hinchliffe (Hinchy)     Print Article 
Published 2008-09-18 03:06 (KST)   

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It isn't oil, gas, coal and nuclear power that keep the 21st century world spinning. It's greed.

No one has summed up this fundamental truth more eloquently than Gordon Gekko.

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Gekko, the heartless super-successful money grabber played by Michael Douglas in the 1987 film "Wall Street," addressed the stockholders of Teldar Paper, just one more company that he intended to squeeze the pips out of before throwing it into the trash can:

"I am not a destroyer of companies. I am a liberator of them!

"The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed -- for lack of a better word -- is good.

"Greed is right.

"Greed works.

"Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.

"Greed, in all of its forms -- greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge -- has marked the upward surge of mankind" (www.americanrhetoric.com).

The mini-Gekkos of Lehman Brothers and AIG have this week come face to face with a second great truth. Greed drives the capitalist system, but unfettered greed can grab greedy little Gekkos by the throat and choke the life out of them.

Bankers have rewarded themselves with annual bonuses running into millions of dollars. They are now sitting targets for criticism from the multitude whose jobs are at risk and whose homes have declined in value; those who can no longer get a loan to buy a home or afford to go on holiday.

Bankers, pursuing more business and bigger bonuses, have granted loans to people who stood a snowball's chance in Hell of ever repaying them.

The Lehman Brothers and AIG money-grubbers have displayed a greater willingness to play the get-rich game, which motivates what is inappropriately called "the developed world."

Annual bonuses of $20 million have been paid out to some bankers, to loud shouts of "obscene" by underpaid newspaper columnists and citizen reporters.

But would you turn your back on such a bonus if it were offered?

In 2007 the average pay in the United States was around US$40,000. In the United Kingdom it is 23,764 pounds ($42,638) a year.

How many of those on $40,000 do not long for $45,000 a year, then $50,000?

Humans, it would seem, are programmed to want more, to buy more, and never to be satisfied.

Greed is instinctive, not merely confined to the banking classes. Bankers operate in the acquisitive climate that we create. There's more envy than morality in the words of those who criticize bankers.

The London-based bank Barclays today stepped in to buy some of the core assets of the investment bank Lehman Brothers for $1.75 billion. Lehman filed for bankruptcy protection on Monday.

Barclays have acquired Lehman's banking and trading operations, as well as the fixed income, equities sales and research departments in North America.

As I write this story, news is breaking in the U.K. of a merger of two of the country's major banks, Lloyds TSB and Halifax Bank of Scotland. Because of HBOS's exposure to the mortgage market its share value has slumped by 80 percent in the past year. The bank's shares have slumped this week.

Some see these events as capitalism at work, the chopping away of rotten wood to restore normal growth.

Yet the US government has had to come to the rescue of AIG, the country's biggest insurance company -- this because privately owned companies were either unwilling or unable to stump up enough cash to bail out the stricken giant.

The US Federal Reserve has given AIG an $85 billion loan, in return for an 80 percent stake in the firm, whose financial tentacles snake across the globe. AIG is too vital to the economic welfare of the world to be allowed to go bust.

Last week the US government took the decision to rescue Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two financial giants who provided $4.59 trillion of the $10.2 trillion outstanding mortgage debt in the US.

Commenting on the huge financial bailout, US Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson said there was a responsibility to protect the stability of the financial markets, including the mortgage market, and to protect the taxpayer to the maximum extent possible.

In the land of free enterprise, where "socialism" is a word requiring a mouth wash, under the administration of a rightwing Republican president, three of America's most important financial institutions have in effect been nationalized.

Hundreds of hours of broadcasting time and thousands of acres of newsprint have been devoted this month to the financial crisis that has threatened to engulf the US. The navel-gazing Western world, with its talk of financial Armageddon, would gain a far healthier perspective of its so-called economic woes if it paused to ponder how the other half live.

Three billion people, almost half the world's population, survive on less than $2.50 a day.

The poorest 40 percent of the world's population account for 5 percent of global income. The richest 20 percent account for three-quarters of world income.

According to UNICEF, 26,500 to 30,000 children die each day due to poverty. And they "die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. Being meek and weak in life makes these dying multitudes even more invisible in death."

The US and the UK, along with other Western countries, will inevitably ride out this once-in-a-century financial hurricane. It's a fair bet that tighter legal muzzles will be placed on the greedier capitalist dogs.

But not even the threat of global warming chaos resulting from greedy over-consumption of the planet's diminishing resources is likely to persuade any Western government to advise its citizens to settle for what they already have -- and think themselves lucky.
©2008 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Peter Hinchliffe

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