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John Passant

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March 2012



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My interview Razor Sharp 18 February
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp on Tuesday 18 February. (0)

My interview Razor Sharp 11 February 2014
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp this morning. The Royal Commission, car industry and age of entitlement get a lot of the coverage. (0)

Razor Sharp 4 February 2014
Me on 4 February 2014 on Razor Sharp with Sharon Firebrace. (0)

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Save Medicare

Demonstrate in defence of Medicare at Sydney Town Hall 1 pm Saturday 4 January (0)

Me on Razor Sharp this morning
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace this morning for Razor Sharp. It happens every Tuesday. (0)

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Let’s get serious about bashing the banks

A friend of mine recently commented that you know something is wrong with society when the biggest buildings in the city are all banks, writes Simon Olley in Socialist Alternative.

But if the CEOs of Australia’s “big-four” (the Commonwealth Bank, ANZ, Westpac and NAB) are to be believed, then there’s really nothing amiss with this at all. These and other major banks are only doing their best to deliver a service for the benefit of the community, and all those people who’ve lately taken up the craze of bank bashing should lay-off.

Otherwise the banks might end up walking home, bruised and battered, with tears smeared down the side of their small bank-ish faces, risking irreparable damage to their self-esteem.

This idea of “bank bashing” is an interesting one. There have been times when I’ve felt that, given the opportunity, I would happily engage in whatever activities such bashing may involve.

Not that I’m generally a violent person, but there are just certain things that banks have been known to do (like, say, trigger a global economic crisis that drives tens of millions into unemployment and poverty then convince governments to prop them up with trillions of dollars of public money) that somehow manage to get to me.

The problem is, I’ve never really known exactly how to go about it.

So I was encouraged when, in recent weeks, I started seeing headlines in the papers about all the bank bashing that’s currently going on. I have to say though, that I’ve been bitterly disappointed.

According to the banking CEOs, all it takes for one to be partaking in a bit of bank bashing is to make the apparently outrageous (but also, awkwardly, true) claim that Australia’s big-banks seem to be making quite a bit of money. Like for example the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, with his comment that the banks have made a profit “despite global volatility in financial markets” and that this “shows that they are hugely profitable.”

But seriously, if the CEOs of these banks think that a bit of verbal upbraiding at the hands of the Labor Party and the Greens constitutes a “bashing”, they obviously had a pretty soft time of it back in the school yard. Perhaps they were home-taught by their butlers or nannies.

In reality, recent comments by the likes of Wayne Swan, Julia Gillard and Bill Shorten are much more akin to those of parents who tut-tut at the thuggish behaviour of their bullying children in public, while in private they smile with quiet pride at what they see merely as evidence of ruddy good-health.

Thus, having described ANZ’s decision to sack 1,000 workers soon after announcing record profits as “reprehensible”, Gillard went on to talk-up the “bright future for financial services in Australia.”

Similarly, after upbraiding the banks for being “misguided” in thinking that “cutting jobs or sending them offshore is a remedy for their problems” and highlighting the government’s determination to “make sure there is no corporate amnesia” , Employment Minister Bill Shorten practically clucked with pride as he informed the public that “ANZ perhaps has set a new standard for redundancies, which I think has been overlooked in the discussion.”

As if all we need to do is set a few “key performance measures” for the banks to ensure that when it comes to sacking staff, they’re doing it in line with “world’s best practice” (whatever that might be)!

The Greens’ Adam Bandt came off as a bit more hard-hitting with his comment that “the banks are out of control, taking public support when times are tough and making huge profits then slashing their workforce”.

But his proposed solution to the problem is, to put it mildly, underwhelming.

His plan is for the Treasurer to convene a finance sector summit, bringing the top bankers together to discuss ways “to ensure that workers aren’t being sacrificed for the sake of excessive profits.”

One can only imagine what a laugh it would be for the participants. Such an exercise would be about as useful as bringing the mining bosses together to discuss the super-profits tax.

Profits are, for such people, by definition never “excessive”. Excessive profits are what they are all about. And if a few thousand workers, or in the case of Greece an entire country, have to be sacrificed in their pursuit, then so be it.

So for all the talk of ‘bank bashing,’ what we’ve seen is much more along the lines of a slap on the wrist, with a feather, while the other hand pats them on the head.

Nevertheless, it was enough to outrage ANZ chief executive Mike Smith, who came out with what he clearly regarded as a call to reason: “I have to be blunt here and say politics isn’t helping, we need to bring more focus to the long-term opportunities and challenges facing Australia, rather than short-term point scoring.”

Get some perspective, people! Don’t you know the banks are in a parlous state and they need our sympathy and support in their hour of need? After-all, the big-four only made $24.3 billion in profit last year – which would leave barely $14 billion remaining after, say, funding the total investment in new public transport infrastructure in Australia and New Zealand made in the first decade of this century.

In a context where, due to “stress” in financial markets, margins being “squeezed” and so on, the big banks are being forced to increase interest rates and lay-off thousands of their staff, any reference to irrelevancies such as the massive profits they continue to make are unnecessarily inflammatory.

The banks are doing everything they can to make sure they can continue with their profit binge, which, as they like to remind us, will be digested through shares, superannuation and other means before trickling down onto our grateful heads.

For god’s sake ANZ have gone as far as to promise that “most senior executives’ salaries will remain fixed for the rest of the 2012 financial year.” That’s another four months!

The financial sector in capitalism has grown into a monster. It is, to adopt the appropriately lurid terms that Marx applied in Volume I of Capital, a vampire-like parasite.

Far from creating anything of value, its mega-profits come from sucking the value away from anything socially useful into the vaporous realm of various forms of speculation.

And far from being representative of some kind of “collective wealth” in which we all, through our superannuation, shares and so on, have a stake, the immense profits of the financial sector are really the expression of the power and privilege of the super-rich.

Consider, for example, that according to a study carried out in 2004, the wealthiest 10 percent of Australian households owned 61 percent of the national total worth of financial assets including shares, managed funds and property trusts. And this proportion is only likely to have increased in the time since.

Suffice to say that a bit of verbal upbraiding, proposals for summits and so on, do nothing to challenge the basic relations within society that have allowed these banks to grow into the monstrosities they are today.

The status-quo is one in which institutions like these sit at the summit of economic and political power – deciding not only the fate of their own workers, but, through their power as possessors of the funds needed for investment in anything from a new train line down to a house or a car, the fate of society as a whole.

In the aftermath of the financial crisis the notion of “zombie banks”, i.e. banks that are only kept alive through massive injections of public money, has increasingly made its way into mainstream public discourse.

And it’s in line with this that I imagine what a genuinely satisfying “bank bashing” might involve. Less employment of nasty sounding words like “reprehensible”. More employment, classic Zombie-film style, of heavy weaponry. Metaphorically of course.



Comment from snoopy
Time March 6, 2012 at 10:26 am

Why don’t we just ourlaw banks full stop, and all lending institutions, insurance companys.
Make it a crime for any one to make a profit.

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