Monday, March 09, 2009

Could the City of London be facing long-term decline?

The UK has an unfortunate reputation for clasping vipers to its bosom, from Karl Marx to modern religious terrorists. But some might say the same goes for its financial sector - the lack of transparency here, of which I've complained more than once, allows problems to develop unchecked, as Brad Setser comments:

Had there been an international “early warning” system that was on the ball – and had the UK been willing to collect the data on flows through the UK in the face of inevitable complaints that such efforts would drive business abroad – it might well have picked up on some of these flows as a sign of brewing trouble in global financial markets.

At one of my old College's Gaudies (class reunion) a few years ago, a City financier complacently and cynically remarked that the UK was always going to have a strong financial community, since it has hundreds of years of experience in "shaving" its customers in subtle ways.

I don't think the Brits have a monopoly of greed, dishonesty and duplicity, and we see now the rotten fruits of their technical expertise. The UK National Defence Association may imagine we can concentrate on financial services and turn the rest of the country into a living museum; I say that just as we need to wean ourselves off coal and oil, so we must reduce our dependence on the old swindlers; no more fossil fuels, no more fossil fools.


Anonymous said...

I think so highly of The City that my money is in the Building Societies and National Savings. Except of course the big money - it's all tied up in an occupational pension scheme.

Laban said...

I suppose the theory is that a combination of lethargy and convenience (between time zones) will keep the dosh rolling into the City, even when world manufacturing is centred in Asia. Just the way that Florence and Antwerp remained the capitals of world banking despite the rise of Britain, the USA and Germany, eh ? It may take time, but inevitably the services will follow the manufacturing.

"Ah, but think of the expertise we've built up !" I don't know about you, but when I've opened my commercial insurance company in China I think I'll get the underwriting done by Chinese rather than imported Brits. Who's likely to be able to gauge the risk best ?

Already lower and middle level (like research) City and legal jobs are being outsourced to India. IT jobs are going there too.

"We mean cultural services - books, music, plays, films"

The Churchillian phrase is "the acme of gullibility". The reason American popular culture dominates the globe is connected with the fact that the US is currently the most powerful nation, economically and militarily, on earth. Lose that and see how many people want to see your movies. Percentage wise, it'll be something like the European audience for Chinese films. The market for our stuff in Asia in 50 years will be on a par with, say, the Edwardian Brit market for Spanish novels and music.

It'll be interesting to see how a nation of 75 million (remember the new immigrants have a high birth rate) survive on selling the equivalent of Lily Allen CDs.

And we'll be as a nation on a par with Edwardian Spain. If we're very, very lucky.

Anonymous said...

Fair comments, but what's your gripe with coal?

Don't we have enough for 300 years or something?

Sackerson said...

DM: snap.

Laban: Think you're right. We're drinking in Last Chance Saloon.

Anon: 300 years comes and goes; the Chinese think the last 500 was an aberration in their 5 millennia history. We messed up with coal - should've kep them open with a skeleton staff till we needed them, now the workings are decayed/collapsed, apparently irretrievably. Though who know what ways their may be to recover caol in future?

Paddington said...

I am becoming more convinced that it is the banking and investment system itself which causes many of the problems, now exacerbated by the speed of electronic transfers. Perhaps no-one will replace the City and Wall Street - they will just die.

Anonymous said...

"now the workings are decayed/collapsed, apparently irretrievably"

Don't really understand this.

If we dug the mines once, we can surely do so again. The state of the old workings is surely irrelevant.

Sackerson said...

Sadly, when the workings collapse deep down you've got a heck of an unstable mess to get through and at present I understand there's no economic way to sort it and extract the coal. Currently there's a plan to sift slag/spoil heaps and extract useful material on a cost-effective basis, but for now many deep mines are effectively lost to us. Maybe that will change when fuel becomes massively more exdpensive and new technologies are invesnted.

Anonymous said...

Have you ever seen an Australian open-cast coal mine Sacks? Our deep mines couldn't possibly compete. It's just fantasy.

Sackerson said...

I'm sure they can't - yet. But when industrialisation in the East really takes off, and coal is being used as fast as - or faster than - it can be mined? And millions and billions more want a real fire to come home to? Will we never, ever need access to our own seams?