Giles Fraser in the Church Times puts in a good word for the short sellers. We’ve all been on the game, and the easiest thing in the world is to fix on someone to blame, when, to use and abuse a metaphor from the world of choir training, we all need to tighten our underpants. “The Bubble needed to burst.”
... by blocking short-selling, all that the regulator does is to encourage the value of stock to become over-inflated — and that is precisely the problem of our world markets. For instance, there is no way of short-selling the housing market. As a result, house prices have become absurd.My other weekend serendipity was Andrew Brown’s Guardian article. He starts from the twaddle the ignorant and foolish produce, painting Rowan as a crude Marxist (actually ludicrous, if you know anything at all about where he’s coming from) and draws attention to his work on Dosteyevsky, in which Rowan
Householders may scream blue murder if the value of their property goes down, but it ought to be clear to most people that a great many houses are vastly overvalued. It is just this overvaluation that generated the sub-prime crisis in the first place.
Short-sellers are a vital corrective to the instinctive bullishness of most city traders. Sure, it is immoral to sell a stock, talk it down, then buy it for a large profit. But that is no different from buying a stock, talking it up, then selling it on at an inflated price — the “pump-and-dump” manoeuvre.
Modernity has given us the myth of continual improvement; that technology and human advancement will lead us ever onward and upward. It is the philosophy of New Labour’s “things can only get better”.
And it is the naïve mantra of the city trader for whom the stockmarket always goes up. Such a philosophy encourages us to borrow money against our ever-rising fortunes. In such circumstances, making money is easy: borrow as much as you can, and invest. It is a proven recipe for boom and bust
...hates the consumerist ideology of limitless choice because he thinks it tears us way from our real and limited wants; and he sees it prefigured in some of Dostoevsky's villains, for whom "Everything depends on choice, and what is chosen today need have no relation to what is chosen tomorrow or what is chosen by anyone else". Reading these words detached from their context, it's obvious that they are also the perfect description of the workings of an untrammelled market, which may go up, down, or merely sideways depending entirely on the free choices of participants today. For Williams such a market is dehumanising and by extension diabolical:
What is depicted as The Devils moves towards its conclusion is the process by which the elevation of choice increasingly produces an evacuation of desire.
Bruce Springsteen put it in rather fewer words: "57 channels and nothing on".
...Williams's real objection to the market is that it turns its participants into things to one another – and that, he believes, is a blasphemy because we are not things, but, in some sense, images of God. Money allows us to treat other as impersonal means to an end, and this offends both his reactionary and his socialist instincts profoundly. In 19th-century Russian literature, it is almost always nobler to be a serf than a wage-slave. Though the relationship between a serf and his master is based ultimately on violence, it is personal violence, not the impersonal and invisible transaction of the market, and so it has more room for virtue, and for growth.
...There's a great deal that could be said about Williams's particular critique of the markets: although he's a very clever man, I don't suppose he knows any more about economics than all the other very clever people currently bewildered by the question "What should we do?"; and to know that the archbishop supports a ban on short-selling doesn't make it much clearer that this ban is a good thing.
But the one thing you can't say is that this is a knee-jerk response, or a piece of publicity seeking. The belief that capitalism tends towards evil is one of his deepest convictions.
This is not crude Marxism. The old puritans drew all their theology from what they called “total depravity”. The current bonfire of the vanties on Wall Street is its own critique of human tendencies to build castles in the air out of fantasy. Perhaps the whole sorry business started in the garden, when Adam and Eve chose “choice.” It’s no more realistic to point a grizzled finger at City Traders as though they were somehow qualitatively more selfish than the rest of us — Christian views of the human condition caution about idolising “choice”. We are all in need of redemption, including our fears and fantasies... interesting times!