Friday, July 05, 2013

"Are we having fun yet?" John Lancaster in the LRB
As anyone who’s been there recently can testify, the blame in Spain falls mainly on the banks – as it does in Ireland, in Greece, in the US, and pretty much everywhere else too. Here in the UK, feelings were nicely summed up by the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, which reported on 19 June that ‘the public have a sense that advantage has been taken of them, that bankers have received huge rewards, that some of those rewards have not been properly earned, and in some cases have been obtained through dishonesty, and that these huge rewards are excessive, bearing little or no relation to the work done.’ The report eye-catchingly called for senior bankers to face jail.​1 In the midst of this cacophony of largely justified accusations, the banks have had a strange kind of good fortune: the noise is now so loud that it’s become hard to hear specific complaints of wrongdoing. That’s lucky for them, because there’s one particular scandal which really deserves to stand out. The scandal I have in mind is that of mis-sold payment protection insurance (PPI). The banks are additionally lucky in that there’s something inherently unsexy about the whole idea of PPI, from the numbing acronym to the fact that the whole idea of a scandal about insurance payments seems dreary and low-scale. But if there hadn’t been so much other lurid wrongdoing in the world of finance, and if mis-sold payment protection insurance had a sexier name, PPI would stand out as the biggest scandal in the history of British banking.

This is a big claim to make: an especially big claim to make at the moment, when bank scandals come around with a regularity which in almost any other context would be soothing. Here’s a short recap of some of the greatest hits of the noughties. Just to keep things simple, I’m going to leave out the biggest of them all, the grotesque toxic-asset and derivative spree which took the global financial system to the edge of the abyss. That was the precursor and proximate cause of the difficulties which are affecting the entire Western world at the moment, but the causal mechanisms connecting the initial crisis and our current predicament are a separate subject. The crisis and its consequences are too big to count as a scandal: they’re more like a climate. We can all agree that we’d prefer a different climate. We can all agree that we have no idea when this one will change. 
-"John Henry Lanchester (born 25 February 1962) is a British journalist and novelist. He was born in Hamburg, brought up in Hong Kong and educated in England, at Gresham's School, Holt between 1972 and 1980 and St John's College, Oxford. He is married to Miranda Carter, with whom he has two children, and lives in London."

-"Miranda Carter is a British writer and biographer. She was educated at St Paul's Girls School and Exeter College, Oxford.
Her first book was a biography of the art historian and spy Anthony Blunt, entitled Anthony Blunt: His Lives. It won the Royal Society of Literature Award and the Orwell Prize and was short-listed for the CWA Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction, the Guardian First Book award, the Whitbread Biography prize and the James Tait Black Memorial prize. In the US it was chosen by the New York Times Book Review as one of the seven best books of 2002.
She is married to John Lanchester, with whom she has two children, and lives in London."

Culture is politics/ politics is culture. It's interesting.

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