Too Big

Camp was already parked in his seat by the window in our seaside pub, focused on his small screen like a teenager. Maybe his bookstore is financed by Credit Suisse?

‘Hey Camp what do you think of the implosion and subsequent acquisition by its rival of one of Switzerland’s and indeed the world largest banks? Was Credit Suisse Too big to fail?’

‘That’s an oxymoron right there my friend. It should be: too big to function, too big to trust, too big to protect, too big to be responsible. As it turns out the Swiss taxpayers are on the hook for billions of dollars of unconditional bailout money and guarantees.’

‘You nailed it: Too big to trust. On the other hand, I have to trust my bank teller who knows everything about my financial situation at the click of a mouse. They know more than my family and sometime even myself, like: Are you aware that your account is overdrawn or your term deposit needs to be renewed?’

‘Corporations and banks are not people, although they are warrens of thousands of people, many of them now in jeopardy of their jobs.’ 

‘And we know those responsible for this fiasco – they sit on the board of directors and all of them have becomevery rich over the years and nobody wants to talk about their obscene million-dollar bonuses and their spectacular and ruinous miscalculations. How did Axel Lehmann, the outgoing Credit Suisse president, react when the press drew hisattention to this failure last Sunday evening? Looking backwards does not help, one must now concentrate on the future, he glibly said. Wrong! Before we can talk about the future, the past must be dealt with. And that includes clarifying, identifying and charging those who are responsible for this epic mis-management of other people’s money.’

‘Good luck on that one. How many went to jail for their part in the financial crises 15 years ago’? I tell you how many. One. Kareem Serageldin. He lied about the value of his bank’s securities – Credit Suisse – and helped to revise their financial statements to account for almost $ 3 billion missing. Serageldin’s conduct was, in the judge’s words: a small piece of an overall evil climate within the bank and with many other banks.

‘Faster than you can transfer money overseas, UBS was able to absorb its rival with the help of the Swiss taxpayers at a nod from the Swiss government. Too big to fail. You bet.’

‘I’ll tell you a little story. The people of a small Micronesian island called Yap created ‘stone money’. Those were mined discs of anthracite with a hole in the center for insertion of a stick in order to carry them. Some were large, some small, depending on the social standing of the owner. The chief had the biggest discs. They were called Rai. These discs were used to trade for cobra, beads and coconuts and the danger and time it took to ferry the stones between the islands were part of their value, as well as size and age. Then one day a large, modern boat sailed into Yap and offered to transport the stones to the neighbouring island, 500 km away. They gladly accepted and stowed their outrigger canoes and kicked back. Within weeks the value of the discs dropped and then the whole system collapsed. The value of the Rai is now fixed and they aren’t mined or traded anymore and the locals now use US dollars.’

‘Not much different from our construct of paper money which now has morphed into numbers on a plastic card or even a phone app.  Until one of the big guardians of that belief system – the bank, sort of like the Vatican of money – fails due to loss of faith and trust when everybody gets their stone discs out of the bank’s vault and takes them home. Sort of what happened at Credit Suisse.’

‘Any good news this week?’

‘Maybe the UN’s landmark climate change report. Sorry, did you say good news?’

‘Ok, Mr. Cynic. How about it’s spring! Old man winter goes into hiding for a few months. That is good news.’

‘Here are some fresh ones,’ Vicky said with a sunny smile setting down two golden brews in front of us. ‘Happy spring!’

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s