Let's get one thing straight. I hate bankers just as much as you do.
They're the ones who should have protected us, they're the ones who supervised the crazy casino credit boom which has left us all deep in recession, they're the ones whose only care was to rake off as much cash as possible, and still they can be seen staggering around the ruins of their economic castles, demanding that they should be paid bonuses for the chaos they have created.
BUT -- I've sadly come to the conclusion that we have to let bankers run banks, because when governments take them over, things can get even worse. I know our politicians have poured in billions of dollars to keep the banking system afloat, but full-scale nationalisation?
Well, we did that in this country with the first casuallty of the crisis, a bank called Northern Rock which had lent too much too riskily. There was a run on the bank, investors lined up outside branches to withdraw their money, and the government stepped in, partly because it feared the impact of collapse on the whole system, partly because that bank employed a lot of people. The political fallout of collapse would have been spectacular.
At first, the government was in stern mood. No more borrowing, the bank was to get rid of its assets and pay the state back. For a year it tried. The net effect -- good quality customers left. Their credit rating was fine so no problem. The bank did raise a lot of money to pay back its loans, but it was left with toxic debt, low quality customers with no option but to stay where they were.
Meanwhile the government faced another problem. No one was selling mortgages.
There was one simple solution. Overnight, Northern Rock was told to change direction -- to start lending -- to lob a cool twenty billion dollars at customers who are considered by other banks not worth the risk.
And the net result of that? Obvious isn't it? A bank with even more toxic debt. A bank which has got rid of its good customers and replaced them with bad customers. A bank which has already cost the taxpayer billions and will cost us all a lot more in the future.
In the end governments have to respond to voters, which means they will use any methods to win votes. And if you try to run a business with a view to winning votes, you're bound to discover that it just does not work. The only alternative? Those lovely bankers. Sorry about that.
By Peter Allen
Copyright 2009 CBS. All rights reserved.