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Casino capitalism!
Sunday, 16 November 2008 17:48

According to Nobel Peace laureate, Muhammad Yunus, today's capitalism with its lack of adequate regulation has degenerated into a casino.  Financial markets are propelled by greed.  Speculation has reached catastrophic proportions.  The collapse has hurt so many people and has suddenly made the entire world unstable.  Finance and the real economy have to be connected.  In the US, the financial system has completely split off from the real economy.  Moreover, there is a need for more companies whose primary aim is not that of earning the highest profits possible, but that of providing the greatest benefit possible for humankind.


At a recent Asia-Europe meeting, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh blamed the financial crisis on casino capitalism and regulatory failure.  "There has been a massive failure of regulatory and supervision powers.  Speculators have had a free run for far too long...", he said.  "There has been an unacceptable failure of effective multilateral supervision of major developed economies and in particular of what has been going on in their financial markets."

Although many observers are in a state of shock about the global financial crisis, some 22 years ago the late British academic, Susan Strange, wrote a book entitled "Casino Capitalism".  All those years ago, well before the arrival of the Internet, she argued that "The Western financial system is rapidly coming to resemble nothing as much as a vast casino.  Every day games are played in this casino that involve sums of money so large that they cannot be imagined.  At night the games go on at the other side of the world. In the towering office blocks that dominate all the great cities of the world, rooms are full of chain-smoking young men all playing these games.  Their eyes are fixed on computer screens flickering with changing prices.  They play by intercontinental telephone or by tapping electronic machines.  They are just like gamblers in casinos watching the clicking spin of a silver ball on a roulette wheel and putting their chips on red or black, odd or even ones."

In the years leading up to today's global financial crisis, many trade unions, civil society groups and academics were blowing the whistle on casino capitalism.  In 2007, the European Trade Union Confederation resolved to expose casino capitalism and short-termism and press for them to be fought by taxation, regulation and worker involvement.  They believed that the economy had been made dependent on short-term, fast buck-making deals that are rarely in the interest of sustainable business or improved long term growth. But at the time no-one wanted to hear the whistle-blowing.  Wall Street and the City had convinced regulators that they knew what they were doing!  And even today, most of those responsible for the crisis will not be the ones to suffer the consequences.

Back in 2003, Warren Buffet, the US's most successive investor, called financial derivatives "weapons of financial mass destruction".  These spiffy new products had supposedly whisked away risk (all they did was hide it) such that Wall Streeters didn't worry about risk at all!

US Treasury Secretary recently said that "raw capitalism dead". 

It may be salutory to contemplate a few verses of a poem on casino capitalism by Sasan Seifikar "... a society structured on greed and envy unleashes the wickedness of men .. blame (the crisis on the) the get-rich-quick Jackpot mentality ... blame the failure to find other ways of living one's life ... other ways of valuing and finding happiness and meaning ... the wild horse running with no reins, is us ...".

For a more colourful meditation, we can turn to filmmaker Michael Moore who describes the bailout as "the biggest robbery in the history of this country... Though no guns are being used, 300 million hostages are being taken... After stealing a half trillion dollars to line the pockets of their war-profiteering backers..., after lining the pockets of their fellow oilmen to the tune of over a hundred billion dollars..., Bush and his cronies... are looting the US Treasury of every dollar they can grab.  They are swiping as much of the silverware as they can on their way out...".

The world's leaders must bring an end casino capitalism.  We need new regulations of course.  Perhaps we need to put a break on the excesses of financial innovation.  And corporate social responsibility must guide financial institutions' behaviour.  Ultimately, the financial sector must serve the real economy, not vice versa.


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