For me, it marked the end of an exciting and creative period which really started with the Rio Summit in 1992. During this period there was increasing space within the world of government to discuss what a sustainable economic system might really look like. I felt part of a policy community of people who were engaged in designing a new system.
In the UK, this period reached its zenith with Tim Jackson’s work at the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) on what “prosperity without growth” might mean. The SDC held a series of workshops which I felt at the time were really pushing the boundaries of the possible within government.
Ironically the Treasury had given the OK to this seemingly radical discussion in 2007 as they felt so confident in the state of the economy. After all they had made “boom and bust” history. Even Cameron visited the Arctic circle and talked about the need for a happiness index.
“Bankers also suggested that they had been a convenient scapegoat, when politicians and regulators, media and public behaviour had all contributed to the overdeveloped risk-taking culture.”
Lehmans then marked the beginning of the existential crisis that meant conversations about sustainability were seen now as a luxury we couldn’t afford. Jackson’s resulting report landed on Gordon Brown’s desk in 2009 as he was about to launch the global rescue plan based on…growth. It was never spoken of again in government and the sustainable development policy community dispersed.
I suffered a period of depression at that time which in retrospect I can see was fed by the resulting loss of hope (combined with reading books on civilisation collapses). To recover, I, probably like many, narrowed my focus to the immediate and practical for the following years. At least I managed to remain employed.
Others of course will have very different and probably much more painful stories of losing money, jobs and houses, of the loss of basic services and benefits from the resulting austerity, of relationship breakdowns, homelessness and ill health. Why not write to us with your story?
So how did this happen? And has anything changed as a result?
Many pointed the finger of blame squarely at bankers, particularly given the huge rewards they had gleaned. And the bankers seemed ready to shoulder some of the blame in the extended aftermath. As a very senior banker is quoted in a 2013 YouGov report on public trust in bankers: “Banks lost control of their businesses and had to go cap in hand to ordinary folk to continue to run them. If you add to that the fact that banks are pretty poor on customer service, and in some cases have systematically exploited the relationships they have with customers, it’s pretty clear that the industry needs comprehensive reform and change.”
But bankers also suggested that they had been a convenient scapegoat, when politicians and regulators, media and public behaviour had all contributed to the overdeveloped risk-taking culture.
So has there been comprehensive reform and change? In this issue we have a range of expert analysis on what has changed and what hasn’t since 2008 including an interview with John Kay, a leading commentator on the finance sector.
“Part of the reason why banking reform has lost the focus it previously had, is clearly because other seemingly much bigger issues are dominating the political agenda.”
Unfortunately it doesn’t look great. At least Goldman Sachs’ much publicised next chief is a yoga practitioner and part-time DJ. Apparently, he is going to drive significant change…. By moving away from trading towards providing more personalised wealth management services for the elite. It should all be fine then.
But should we also see Lehmans in a much bigger context?
Part of the reason why banking reform has lost the focus it previously had, is clearly because other seemingly much bigger issues are dominating the political agenda. Since the Brexit vote and the election of Trump, we have entered a new world which no futurologist could have imagined in 2008. The news is dominated by Trump’s latest tweets and the next row over Brexit. Was Trump colluding with Russia? Is Boris tacking rightwards with dog whistle politics? Has Labour become anti-semitic? Or is it all fake news anyway?
Can we track this back to the trigger event of Lehman’s collapse as Frances Coppola argues in her column in this issue? Have new dominating strong men risen from the ashes of the Lehman collapse as our faith in the previous world order was fatally wounded by that collapse? Do we now live in zombie nations that have lost their rationale as the Outsider argues? Or can we never really work out when it all started, as David Fell writes.
Finally we interviewed three leaders of the new economics movement in a search for hope.