Earlier this month, Bernie Ecclestone was able to terminate the prosecution for bribery against him in a German court by agreeing to pay £60 million. His lawyers insisted, of course, that this payment was not an admission of guilt.
£60 million is a lot of money to pay when you are innocent. It is, however, considerably less than another out-of-court settlement this month: that by Bank of America following a charge by the US Justice Department of “misconduct in the production of mortgage-backed securities”. This was for $16.65 billion. Like the settlement of the German court case, it is intended to ‘wipe the slate clean’ and forestall any further prosecutions or claims for damages. As in the Ecclestone settlement, there was no admission of guilt.
We will probably never know whether Bernie Ecclestone’s payment of £60 million represented value for money for him. As he risked a jail term if the prosecution was successful, perhaps, it did. After all, he is not a young man and he might have been required to serve his sentence in one of our grubby, under-funded and over-crowded prisons rather than in a more humane German lockup. We do know, however, that Bank of America’s settlement of $16.65 billion represented a real bargain for them. According to the US Government Accountability Office, the 2008 Financial Crisis triggered by the mortgage backed securities scam cost the US economy alone $22 trillion. The cost to the world economy must be a multiple of this huge sum.
Crises are endemic in capitalism. While Marxists have a good understanding of this phenomenon, capitalists and their advisers tend to ignore it until it happens. Even if they are interested in anything beyond mere personal and family accumulation, the economists to whom they listen fail to see beneath the surface of the economy and mistakenly conclude that the system can be managed and boom and bust avoided. The snake oil remedy they invariably peddle is ‘more competition’ as, for example, did John Vickers in his report on UK banking. It would be more honest to admit that capitalism is a casino for the rich who must get out of the market before the bubble bursts.
If the Bank of America had not decided to peddle worthless mortgage-backed securities, another trigger would eventually have kicked off the recession. Thus the real remedy is for ordinary working people to own the banks and all the other major undertakings in the economy, not the other way round. Until that day dawns, however, let’s kick up a fuss about the inadequacy of the fines and penalties, such as they are, on those banks whose reckless behaviour triggered the financial crisis.