Archive for October 19th, 2008

Hero or Zero?

If we study history closely we see that man is often manipulated by larger forces at work. Then as now. Little by little, a man who is in positions of trust and authority often serves the interests of  some party or of such forces that are in ascendancy. What controls were set in place after the Great Depression was in the 80s were circumvented to allow risk taking as a virtue to be rewarded. What was the buzzword of that time? ‘Greed is good.’  Investment banking and hedge funds came into being as a result. Let us now look at an example from the time of American war of Independence. The scene is set in France, though.
In 1783 Treaty of Paris was convened to ratify American Independence during which one of the demands made by Britain was free-trade provision for its control of the Atlantic trade. (You may imagine Britain’s position as somewhat similar to what America holds now.) By a separate treaty of 1786 France was forced to accept terms that were suicidal. By accepting it the French economy was ruined overnight. From 2% annual real physical growth in the 1770s and early 1780s, France’s textile, shipping, mining and agriculture went into a downward spiral resulting in famine in many places. Naturally the royal budgets collapsed, and in stepped the banker Jacques Necker as the Finance Minister and First Minister. He was the Swiss agent for Lord Shelburne(  Prime Minister, Whig,  1782 – 1783) If you look into Necker’s antecedents you shall see he wasn’t entirely clean in his dealings: By 1762 he was a partner and by 1765, through successful speculations, had become a very wealthy man. He soon afterwards established, with another Genevese, the famous bank of Thellusson, Necker et Cie. Pierre Thellusson superintended the bank in London -his son was made a peer as Baron Rendlesham, while Necker was managing partner in Paris. Both partners became very rich by loans to the treasury and speculations in grain. ack:wikipedia)) and he through his contacts in Geneva and London brought in huge international loans to fund the royal budgets from 1787 onwards. (His service was something akin to IMF coming to the aid of developing nations.) Apparently his policy ‘Compte Rendu’ was meant to subject the royal treasury to transparency and austerity and in practice it made Louis XVI under the financial mercy of Necker, and the banking interests he represented. The kings attempt to regain control led directly to storming of the Bastille in which the populace cried themselves hoarse for reinstating Necker, the man who really was responsible for their ruin!

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