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Is it fair to blame investment bankers for the global downturn? Essay

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It seems to be quite easy to jump on the ‘bank-wagon’ and blame investment bankers for the current global economical downturn. The current downturn in question is one which is generally accepted by the financial industry to have started in 2007, and was officially dated December 2007 by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER).The question is, whether this industry and its bankers are the root cause, and if so, could they have avoided it? The word ‘bankers’ can imply different meanings to different people, so to clarify, when I use the word ‘bankers’ in this text, I am referring to investment bankers.

The first article I analysed is by Jonathan Wang, Ph.D., and entitled ‘Real Causes For US

Financial Meltdown and Global Recession’ (March 2009). Wang is the President of Amlink, a multi-million dollar company which provides links in trade and politics between China and the United States of America (USA). He is based in Michigan, USA. I will be comparing it to John Gapper’s ‘Promises that proved ultimately empty’ (January 9th 2012)[1].

Gapper is the assistant editor and chief business commentator for the Financial Times newspaper and website. He is based in New York, USA.

Wang has an opinion that the bankers are unaccountable as the blame is with the governments whereas Gapper has an antipodal view in line with the assessment Wang gave, stating ‘it was within banks where the crisis emerged and where its heart still lies’.

Wang seems to have a widespread knowledge of many fields. He has a Ph.D in geosciences from the University of Michigan. Geosciences have no relevance to economist articles on the banking industry but this Ph.D allowed him the expertise to start Amlink a year later, as he originally focused on importing and exporting high quality marble between US and China. He increased his links with the two countries by giving financial & trade advice (business consulting), intervening in politics, research & development, manufacturing and IT services. This how we gained his expertise. This expertise of 19 years strengthens his perspective as he has gained the relevant knowledge and skills to talk about this topic with credibility.

However, his trade is between (mainly) US and China thus may so it is questionable to whether his experience can be applied to Europe, where many economies collapsed, such as Greece.

Gapper currently works for the Financial Times (FT) since 1987, an international daily broadsheet newspaper and website, available in 24 countries. They have a daily readership of 2.1 million and 5.7 million online subscribers. His position is associate editor and chief business commentator. He was trained by the Mirror Group and worked for the Daily Mirror, Daily Mail & Daily Telegraph newspapers in the United Kingdom. Additionally, he has worked as columnist for the BBC, UK & Worldwide. His resume also lists New York Magazine, CNBC & CNN among his employers. This striking list of employers may show, at first glance, that he is not politically bias possibly leading him to be known as a highly reputable columnist. the Conservative Party, one that is centre-right; The Daily Mail is also a Conservative supporter; and

However, his political stance may be more Conservative as the FT is a public supporter of the Daily Telegraph has been nicknamed the ‘Torygraph’ due to its support of the Conservative party. He has previously worked for politically independent media but his main contract of employment has been with FT since 1987. This political bias may narrow his perspective.

Additionally, in 2011, he won four awards in multiple countries. In the United States he was awarded the Best Columnist Citation by the Society of American Business Editors & Writers; and in the UK he was award with the Best Business Columnist at the Comment Awards. He also has a degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from Oxford University.

Both articles have strengths and weaknesses, and it is better to analyse these sections rather than attacking the author (ad hominem). The chain of argument in both articles has been constructed quite rigidly, and allows the statements made by the respective authors to reach their necessary conclusions.

Wang concludes that increasing tax on the top income groups becomes necessary as the government must focus on stabilization rather than expansion. His main reasoning for this is ‘when the share of total income going to [the] top 10% reached 50%, the capital market crashed in the United States’. He also has an intermediate conclusion that the ‘Government’s improper interventions in the capital market before both episodes of crisis had accelerated the extreme inequalities and ultimately intensified the crisis.’

Wang reasons that ‘It is the extreme inequality that has resulted in the great depression in

1929 and again caused the global recession today’. This is fallacy of the single cause as the recession in 1929 has three are three general theories on what caused the 1929 depression, Keynesian, Monetarist & Austrian. None of these theories are based on inequality. The Monetarist view blamed the Federal Reserve for ignoring the importance of money, who themselves agreed with this and apologised on the 8th of November 2002 via Chairman Ben Bernanke[2]. It may be that the recession is part of the business cycle, and happens quite frequently whereas a depression is a sustained, long term economical downturn.

The NBER stated that ‘The expansion [from November 2001 onwards] lasted 73 months’ which then strengthens Wang’s reason that ‘two major economic expansions led to two episodes of extreme inequalities in the United States. Both ended in severe economic depression.’ [3]Elizabeth Allgoewer (2002) states that this was the cause of the Great Depression, however the true cause is still being debated by economists, with around a dozen other heterodox economical theories such as non-debt inflation or population dynamics. His reasoning here needs further clarification or research before this can be fully taken as evidence.

Gapper states that ‘driven by the rise of derivatives, the loosening of regulation and capital standards, and a hubristic belief that they had somehow broken their old habit of losing billions of dollars in downturns’. He does not strengthen this with any evidence on the ‘loosening of regulation’

etc., and deserted his statement.

He also quotes credible sources such as Ranu Dayal, senior partner at the world’s leading advisor on business structure, the Boston Consulting Group – ‘There is a deep question of legitimacy that banks need to face up to’. However one of his sources is credited as being a Professor but in fact he is only an Associate Professor, a position which still has very high credibility, but of less than the one quoted by Gapper.

Also, Gapper does not give any conflicting perspective, the only views you read are the ones that agree with him. This weakens his argument as he has not considered alternative perspectives.

After analysing both articles, my view is still similar to Gapper and I already thought that it was fair to blame investment bankers for the 2007 downturn. Whilst I note that they dealt with a lot of money and it was not handled in a correct manner by anybody who had access to it (including the

Federal Reserve), I also can see where Wang‘s concept bases its format. His perspective of social inequalities is only US based but I can understand his assumptions that expansion was high and the consequence of this led to social inequalities. This has happened elsewhere, such as during the Chinese Mao era of 1949-1976, in particular during the Great Leap Forward (1958-61).

Gapper’s perspective has persuaded me that he is of more expertise than Wang as he is so influential in finance media. His analysis was concise and constructive. He quoted many important figures in his article including an executive director of the Bank of England; Chairman of the Financial

Services Authority; and a Professor of Entrepreneurship at MIT Sloan school. His arguments are quite strong however he does go a stage of a circular argument where he should be concluding his article. His evidence did strengthen my perspective however Wang’s comments led me to read more into financial theories, especially of those surrounding the 1929 Great Depression. He managed to intrigue me into the history of the financial world and I do believe that 1929 and 2007 are very similar in the cause, but the cause is the banking industry, not the housing market.

Wang has only commented on the United States but his views may apply worldwide however his lack of evidence weakens his perspective as it is too narrow.

My final conclusion is that investment bankers were the major, not the only, cause of the global downturn which started in 2007, and we have to share the blame for the current economical state

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