Sunday, October 30, 2011

Food, glorious food

Sorry but it needs saying: without the banks we’d all be broke.

It’s easy to hate the banks. We all need a scapegoat and City spivs with their snouts in the trough are the best targets of all.

That’s why the anti-capitalist activists who set up a camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral in London have won a surprising degree of support.

We are all anti-capitalists now – if that means we all deplore the excesses of a system which imploded a few years ago and has still not recovered.

It’s not in the least fair that the people who perpetrated this crime against capitalism still get millions in bonuses and keep getting bailed out by the world’s taxpayers.

The Eurozone crisis – and it will go on being a crisis for months to come – is the latest example of the two-faced hypocrisy of a system which rewards the failure of the rich by impoverishing the poor.

It’s wrong, it’s not fair. But what’s the alternative?

To find out, I visited the small encampment outside St Paul’s as Europe’s leaders were gathering for yet another failed make-or-break summit on Brussels.

If a couple of hundred middle-class crusties can close down one of the nation’s most imposing landmarks, I reasoned, they must know something I don’t.

There’s a famous wartime photograph of St Paul’s defying the Blitz. Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, says we are now fighting an economic war so maybe it’s appropriate the anti-capitalists picked the cathedral for their protest.

But at 8.30am there are few signs of life from the orderly lines of cheap tents. The occupants haven’t surfaced though as most of them go home at night for a bath, a change of clothes and a decent meal, they probably aren’t there at all.

(There was no justification for the closure of St Paul’s, by the way. Worshippers and tourists could easily get in and out despite the tents.)

Commuters march past without glancing at the “occupy London” camp. The only protester in evidence is an apparently-drunk Pole singing loudly but tunelessly before breaking off to say to no-one in particular: “What the xxxx do you want?”

The posters are more helpful though their messages are confusing. One says simply “End wealth”, another demands “Let's have a maximum wage”.

We are urged to “Investigate the 13 families that run the world” while being assured “Capitalism is crisis” and “You are an artwork”.

The campers have a recycling centre, a first aid tent and another offering “tea and empathy”. It’s all calm and well-organised though there is a nasty smell of drains.

Early in the morning is clearly not a good time for an insight into the protesters’ plans for a post-Capitalist world.

But I think we can get the general idea from the poster which declares: “Capitalism so far embodies insufficiently damped positive feedback loops.” (Honestly, that’s what it says.)

In due course there will probably be an attempt to move these people on.

When that happens, there will be wall-to-wall TV coverage of the event and the usual suspects will have great fun playing to the cameras and getting themselves arrested – just as they did at the Dale Farm gipsy camp eviction.

What we see at St Paul’s is an incoherent howl of rage. It would be utterly insignificant but for the fact that the protesters chose such an iconic landmark, bamboozled the Church authorities and closed down the cathedral.

The fact remains, though, that while they have secured worldwide publicity for their protest, it is impossible to discover what alternative they propose to the capitalist system.

There was a horrible moment back in 2007 when it looked briefly as if every major bank in the USA and Britain – and quite possibly around the world – might go bust.

Never mind how we got to that terrible state, imagine how much worse it would have been for all of us if the banks had been crushed under the weight of their bad debts.

We are all paying the high price of the rescue in job losses, smaller pensions, fewer Government services and lower living standards.

It’s hard to believe but the destruction of our entire financial system would have been worse. We would all have been left penniless, jobless, with debts we couldn’t pay and assets turned worthless overnight.

Banks are a necessary evil. We need them to run even the most basic economy. We cannot live without them.

Banks are not to be confused with bankers, however. I have long believed legal action should be taken against some of the individuals who grew rich while plunging the world into the worst financial crisis in history.

They are not solely to blame, of course. Lazy regulators and over-optimistic politicians are just as guilty. So are those of us who borrowed as if there was no tomorrow.

Actually, the St Paul’s protesters are lucky we still have a capitalist system left to complain about.

Without it, nobody would have the time to stage juvenile demos on cathedral steps. We’d all be too worried about where our next meal was coming from.

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