An interesting article in the Financial Times this morning, from Michael Skapinker, entitled ‘Our sorry need for others to apologise’. It is about how the overpaid idiots who brought the financial system down around their heads and so will cause millions to suffer – lost jobs, lost pensions, lost futures – still can’t bring themselves to say they’re sorry. The reason, says Skapinker, is cognitive dissonance – which is to say, because saying they were sorry would mean they were not the wonders of nature they imagine themselves to be.
I suspect there is another, more serious problem – which is that they really don’t think they’ve done anything wrong.
Be that as it may, I would like to apply Skapinker’s complaint to another group – the cheerleaders for deregulation. Step forward the Economist, the right-wing press – and the FT. As Skapinker himself puts it:
Then there are those of us – governments, regulators, ratings agencies and journalists – who never blew the whistle… It is worth asking why bankers find it hard to apologise. It is also worth wondering why the rest of us need their apologies so badly.
But that is a bit selective – what about all the others he mentions – the governments, regulators, ratings agencies and journalists? More specifically (and just to prove that I can be as selective as the author), when can we expect an apology from the FT, Mr Skapinker?
The answer is, of course, never. The stock in trade of journals like the Economist and the FT is that they know more than you and me – and, in their case, that they are cleverer than you and me too. Which is hard to stomach, especially at times like this, but it does make it difficult for them to admit that for more than two decades now they have been endangering society as a whole with their willfully ideological advice.
Not that I have any problem with ideology. In fact I have far more problems with people with no ideology. But they really should get theirs straight. If they must go for Adam Smith, they really should get the whole story. Smith refers to the shibboleth of FT-style economics, the ‘hidden hand’, only once in the whole of The Wealth of Nations – exactly as many times as he describes business people as –
an order of men, whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who generally have an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it.
Even landlords, who are otherwise roundly criticised by Smith, are seen as being in greater harmony with society as a whole than capitalists, and he presents the condition of wage labourers – which has declined so badly relative to that of capitalists – as a sensitive barometer of the state of society in general.
I look forward to the FT and the Economist checking out their evidently untouched copies of The Wealth of Nations and apologising to the world for their ignorance and sophistry. We will try to forgive them. Maybe.