Matt McCarten on politics

Matt McCarten is a Herald on Sunday political columnist

Matt McCarten: Blind faith in banks leads Kiwi lambs to slaughter

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Paul Keating heavily regulated Australia's banks. Photo / AP
Paul Keating heavily regulated Australia's banks. Photo / AP

Most New Zealanders, like all bank customers in the world, know they're getting screwed by their corporate money-minder.

Despite clever advertising we are all pretty agnostic about our own bank.

We usually sign up to an account when at school or when we take out a loan. Once ensconced we can't be bothered moving.

Even with our own KiwiBank it just seems too much hassle.

We know our banks don't actually produce anything tangible and, apart from topping up ATM machines, no real paper or metal money actually exchanges hands.

The banks have the best real estate in every town and by clipping any transactions from our account they make millions.

Banking is much like organised religion. We don't have a clue whether anything we're told is true but we hope our bankers know what they're doing and all is well.

It's called faith. As long as there aren't too many scandals we're happy to go along with it.

Unfortunately, the banking system around the world is in a state of crisis that is almost bringing capitalism to its knees.

The expensive suits that run most of the megabanks are being exposed as a bunch of shysters screwing their customers and looting government coffers to keep themselves flush.

It started 20 years ago in the United States and Europe when so-called investment banks, run by gamblers, were allowed to merge with traditional retail banks as part of the free-market ideology loved by the right wing there and here.

These new megabanks were then run like casinos rather than custodians of other people's money.

High-flyers were employed to come up with ways to make oodles of millions in bonuses for themselves and investors.

Three years ago the whole facade collapsed, bringing disaster to Europe and North America. Hundreds of millions of people's lives were destroyed by the blatant greed and behaviour of these so-called merchant bankers. To rub salt into deep wounds, rather than send these banking criminals to jail countries had to go even further into debt to bail out these crooks.

Shockingly, some of these criminals got huge bonuses as part of the deal.

As a result of this crime, the economic dominance of the Western world is quite possibly coming to an end.

The countries that regulated their banking and commercial systems - led by China, India and Brazil - are rising rapidly to fill the gap.

After all that, you'd think these bankers would have thanked god they got away with it and promised to change their behaviour. Alas, no such luck.

Last week a gigantic banking scandal started spreading throughout the Northern Hemisphere.

It seems most of their megabanks have been in collusion in fixing interest rates to fleece their customers.

This particular scandal rips off both investors and borrowers, and affects $360 trillion in assets worldwide.

To absorb its impact, think $80 billion to every New Zealander.

Britain's biggest bank has forked out more than $450 million to avoid charges.

But that's only the tip of the iceberg.

That bank's chief executive now claims other banks, including government regulators on both sides of the Atlantic, are in on the scam. Sinisterly, the motive wasn't just related to stealing from customers.

Money rates were also being manipulated up or down as part of a strategy to influence governments' finance policies.

Why has New Zealand escaped relatively unscathed by the financial collapses and calamities inflicted on citizens in Europe and the US? After all, our right-wing politicians at the time were believers in the unregulated megabanks theory, too.

It was former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating who heavily regulated and controlled his country's banks.

How ironic that the rules imposed on the Australian owners of their banks in New Zealand protected us from the reckless behaviour by managers elsewhere in the world.

Many New Zealanders unknowingly still have their jobs and homes today because of Keating's action.

- Herald on Sunday

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