Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Many would say it's the thin end of a peculiarly ugly wedge.

From the BBC:

Nationalism may impoverish us
  • Robert Peston
  • 10 Mar 09, 07:58 AM

Many would say it's the thin end of a peculiarly ugly wedge.

I'm talking about a report in yesterday's Financial Times that Bank of America has withdrawn job offers from foreign graduates of US business schools.

What's the cause?

Bank of America signA Bank of America spokesman cites a stipulation by Congress on banks and businesses rescued with taxpayers' money that - if they're laying off US workers - they mustn't employ highly skilled immigrants.

Fair dos, you might say. What's wrong with "US jobs for US workers", to re-work an aphorism coined by our Prime Minister, at a time when jobs are scarce?

Well, financial globalisation was associated with a nation-blind and race-blind, meritocratic approach to recruitment that many would have described as making the world a more tolerant place, and therefore a more stable place.

Say what you will about the way that some big global banks, hedge funds and private equity firms have blown up our prosperity by their blind pursuit of short-term rewards.

But they were more culturally and racially eclectic than most other businesses.

What mattered to get to the top of one of these firms was brains and ruthless determination (oh, and it helped to be motivated by the prospect of making money beyond anyone's wildest dreams).

So their upper ranks were and still are filled with Indians, Chinese, African-Americans and a perhaps surprising number of French men (surprising because much of France's establishment took a rather sneering attitude to the Anglo-American approach to finance).

But for how much longer?

The global recession has prompted a rise in nationalism and protectionism.

For example, a Congressional committee is also this week expected to criticise US banks in receipt of state support for continuing to invest or lend in Asia and the Middle East.

This is dangerous stuff - because the less capital that flows across borders, the less money there will ultimately be for all of us.

The point is that when loans are withdrawn in a systematic way, there's a domino effect and a feedback effect, which ultimately cause the total contraction of credit to be much greater.

And although it was perhaps understandable that politicians were unaware of the poisonous impact of financial chauvinism in the 1930s, there's little excuse today (which is not to argue that protectionism caused the Great Depression - but simply to say that it didn't help).

Which brings me back to China - and the role that many would want it to play in reducing the severity of the global recession and in making the world a permanently safer place.

Our government, the US government and most of the developed world would like to see China consuming more of what it earns from exports.

In the short term, this should helpfully increase demand for our goods and services.

And in the longer term it would gradually reduce China's $2 trillion stockpile of foreign exchange - which many see as one of the main sources of the cheap capital that pumped up the credit bubble, whose bursting has done us so much harm.

But China, understandably, wants a tit for its tat.

China's Commerce Minister, Chen Deming, recently said this to me: "Our hope is that we can gradually reduce our financial surplus...The right way to do so is to consume our surplus abroad through our tourists or through our outbound investment activities".

This desire by China to own more of our productive capacity raises great alarm, especially in the US.

But if China is to consume more and save less, is it unreasonable for it to want to safeguard its future prosperity by acquiring businesses and real assets overseas, which will remit valuable dividends to it over the longer term?

Isn't this what the "imperialist" UK and US did at comparable periods of their economic development?

And is there a cost to us or a benefit if China were to provide our capital-starved businesses with the financial resources they need?

There's an argument that if we're to get through this recession in reasonable shape, we've got to become more relaxed - not less - about who owns what."


98. At 2:51pm on 10 Mar 2009, DonthelibertDem wrote:

Nationalism is the greatest problem that we face going forward. Thanks for attacking it wherever it's found.

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