Belfast Telegraph

Why I've faith in euro plan even if greedy firms do not

By Christina Patterson

It's quite hard, when you're lying in the dentist's chair, with a funny mould thing in your mouth, to shriek. But on Monday, to my dentist's surprise, I did.

I shrieked not because the mould was cold, or because being told not to move always makes me want to. I shrieked because a man on the TV monitor above me was saying things you couldn't possibly hear and keep your mouth shut.

The man was an 'independent trader'. He was being asked about the latest eurozone rescue plan. "It's not going to work," he said, "because this problem can't be solved".

The euro, he said, was "going to crash". But when the interviewer asked what he thought might work, he looked confused.

"I'm a trader," he said. "We don't care whether they're going to fix the economy. Our job is to make money from it." And then he offered some advice: "Governments," he said, "don't rule the world. Goldman Sachs rules the world."

Certainly, as the euro crisis unfolds, it's beginning to look as though governments may not rule the world after all.

On Newsnight on Monday, even Jeremy Paxman admitted that he was struggling to understand what was going on. Economics correspondent Paul Mason explained how a group of "movers and shakers" (note: not world leaders) had taken part in a "war game" looking at possible solutions to the euro crisis.

What this US think-tank, Bruegel, came up with was a $3-5trn fund to be used to rescue European countries, largely donated by the European taxpayer.

But an American economist, Austan Goolsbee, said we'd had two years to raise capital and it was all a bit late. And Jim O'Neill, chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management, said that "to work all this stuff out" was "not easy". We were, he said, "talking big numbers".

When one of the top people at the company which some people think "rules the world" says that you, as a European taxpayer, could be paying for something for the rest of your life that might not even work, it doesn't really cheer you up.

It makes you think of the way the company they work for helped to create the global economic crisis by selling sub-prime mortgage debt and how that company made even more money by betting on a collapse in the sub-prime market, and of how it made money by underwriting bonds and later advised other clients to short-sell those bonds.

It makes you think of Greek debt, which is a very big part of the euro crisis, and of how some people said that Goldman Sachs helped the Greek government hide the true scale of it for years.

What it also makes you think is that you're really quite tired of being lectured to by these people and being told that you can't ask them to pay even 50% tax on annual incomes that are often paid in millions.

And it makes you think that, when a shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, gives a long list of apologies that don't sound at all like apologies, and says that his party "didn't regulate the banks toughly enough", that that (although you've never heard the word "toughly") is certainly true, but doesn't begin to do justice to the monster that has been created.

Now, we all live with this monster, which gobbles up jobs and hopes and dreams. We all live, as the shadow Chancellor's boss, Ed Miliband, said, with the "fast buck economy"; a "fast buck economy" that seems to be destroying the Western world.

We didn't need to. We didn't need to make finance our biggest industry and our biggest net export. We didn't need to live in a bubble made out of debt.

But we did what we did and the banks did what they did and the traders did what they did and here we are.

Unlike that 'independent trader', I hope that the euro bailout works. I hope that we don't have another recession, or a depression, or a crash.

And I hope that we, and the other countries that have made the same mistakes as us, get the chance to build an economy that is made less of hot air and more of things that you can see and touch.

It was Brueghel, by the way - the painter, not the think-tank - who painted Landscape with the Fall of Icarus.

Now he knew all about flying too close to the sun.

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