Thursday, June 11, 2009

LRB · John Lanchester: It’s Finished

All of this leads us to the fourth and deepest reason why the government won’t nationalise the banks. The deepest reason is:

4. Because it would be so embarrassing. Some of the embarrassment is superficial: on the not-remembering-somebody’s-name-at-a-social-occasion level. The Anglo-Saxon economies have had decades of boom mixed with what now seem, in retrospect, smallish periods of downturn. During that they/we have shamelessly lectured the rest of the world on how they should be running their economies. We’ve gloated at the French fear of debt, laughed at the Germans’ 19th-century emphasis on manufacturing, told the Japanese that they can’t expect to get over their ‘lost decade’ until they kill their zombie banks, and so on. It’s embarrassing to be in a worse condition than all of them.

There is, however, a deeper embarrassment, one which verges on a form of psychological or ideological crisis. To nationalise major financial institutions would mean that the Anglo-Saxon model of capitalism had failed. The level of state intervention in the US and UK at this moment is comparable to that of wartime. We have in effect had to declare war to get us out of the hole created by our economic system. There is no model or precedent for this, and no way to argue that it’s all right really, because under such-and-such a model of capitalism . . . there is no such model. It just isn’t supposed to work like this, and there is no road-map for what’s happened.
LRB · John Lanchester: It’s Finished
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