Mayhem in the market

Putting out fires after the Tottenham riots (picture Christophe Maximin / Flickr)

The authorities are under criticism for losing control.  A mob mentality took over, looting local businesses, robbing innocent people of their livelihoods and their savings.  What started as a small complaint was allowed to turn, thanks to negligence and complacency from those supposedly in charge, into a general free-for-all, with gangs descending from all over to take what they can.  There was riots in Tottenham over the weekend, and something similar in the financial markets.

What destruction has been wrought.  For example, the FTSE 100 fell by 9.7 per cent last week, which is its worst week since Lehman Brothers collapsed, losing £148 billion in value (around £2,500 per person in the UK).  That’s bad.

And what complacency.  President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy supposed that the spectacle of meetings of the eurozone heads of government would in itself be sufficient to calm investors’ nerves.  He observed with dismay that:

“Astonishingly, since our summit the cost of borrowing has increased again for a number of euro area countries.”

But it is not meetings that matter but actions.  President Van Rompuy might think that the market’s disbelief in the governance of the eurozone “astonishing”; to the rest of us, that word describes the feebleness of the European response to the crisis.

Angela Merkel, leader of the largest EU member state, compounds the problem.  She declared that:

“Markets caused the drama now they have to make sure to get things straight again”

As if markets are naughty schoolboys and can be scolded and told what to do.  As the shopkeepers of Tottenham High Road have learned in the last few days, it takes more than exhortation to restore order to the chaos.

In face of a crowd mentality that is out for what it can get, with no regard to the sentiments of the community as a whole.  What the wider community does have, though, exemplified by the political leaders it elects, is the power to take and enforce decisions that will bring some kind of discipline to the marketplace.  But the people in the position to take those decisions are the ones who are transfixed by the unfolding disorder and doing nothing.  It is getting harder and harder to think that this is going to end well.

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