Information Landmine

"The Americans keep telling us how successful their system is. Then they remind us not to stray too far from our hotel at night." - An un-named EU trade representative quoted during international trade talks in Denver, Colorado, 1997.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

It's A Not-So-Wonderful Life for Northern Rock

There is not much amusement to be had in any banking crisis, but one thing that's been borderline hilarious is the number of people in the media and, particularly, on online message boards who've jumped to make comparisons with It's A Wonderful Life and who, in particular, have compared Northern Rock CEO Adam Applegarth to the film's protagonist George Bailey (as played by the great Jimmy Stewart). I suspect most of that comes from the famous speech Bailey makes when there's a run on the Bedford Falls Savings & Loan and he has to try to reassure the institution's panicked customers that their money is safe even though it's not actually located in the branch's vault:

"Wait a minute, now, let me tell you. Let me tell you. Your money's in people's houses! In the Kennedy house, and the MacClaren house, and in your house, and a hundred others. You all put your savings in here and then we make loans to people to buy homes and cars and other things. Now, what are you going to do? Take their homes and cars and things from them?!"

It's a spurious comparison, not just because Adam Applegarth (like any modern CEO or high-flier) is no George Bailey but because the basic problem is that it's not the average customer's savings that are tied up in people's houses so much as it is the large corporate financiers' money that funded Northern Rock's lending and its associated rapid expansion as a business. And now it's public money via the Bank of England loan that is allowing Northern Rock the margin necessary to continue its basic operations.

I'm not sure what Frank Capra would have made of all that.

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