Mal Fletcher comments

Mal Fletcher
Mal Fletcher

Credit crunches and bank collapses - is there anything you and I can learn from the rapid downturn in Western economies?

The British government announced this week that another UK bank will be nationalised, in the face of growing pressure on international economies. The Bradford & Bingley bank becomes the second bank to be nationalised, after Northern Rock received similar treatment last year.

Meanwhile, the US government has agreed on a $700 billion rescue package to prop up its ailing economy after the collapse of several major Wall St firms.

News is now emerging that a continental European bank is also in trouble and seeking a buyer.

Most of us who don't breath the rarefied air of the corporate big wigs of Wall Street or the Square Mile in London are left scratching our heads and wondering what all this means for our futures.

Why should the tax payer, we ask, foot the bill for the misdeeds of reckless money traders and bankers who've overstretched their use of other people's money?

As comedian Jay Leno put it, the events of the past week suggest that, 'If you screw up, you pay. If they screw up, you pay.'

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York last week attacked city traders for greed and questioned the value they bring to society.

There can be no doubt that much of the blame for the current mess must be laid at the feet of these players in the money market game - a game that's played with other people's futures. And perhaps some of the responsibility must rest with those who are meant to regulate their activity, our governments and the bureaucracies that support them.

Yet there's also an opportunity here for the rest of us, who are left to sort out mortgages and balance our family budgets, to reflect on and readjust our own priorities.

Recently I met with a friend who was once a speech writer for Margaret Thatcher. Looking back, I should have asked him what exactly she meant when she said, 'There's no such thing as society.'

It wasn't a popular statement at the time it was made. For many people, already suffering under various reforms, it seemed to suggest that they should simply take responsibility and stop complaining about the hurt that government policies inflicted on them.

Whether or not it was the best thing to say at the time, I don't know. But it may have been intended to remind us that society as a concept simply represents large collectives of people. People's choices do count - even in the worst of social crises.

Facing a society-wide problem with the attitude of, 'It's not my fault, so there's nothing I can do to change it' is unhealthy and counterproductive.