Andreas Whittam Smith, writing in the British newspaper
the Independent (of which he was the founding editor),
commends to us the words of Franklin D Roosevelt,
uttered in 1933 after he’d been sworn in as US President.
Faced with the worst economic depression anyone had
ever known, Roosevelt condemned those he called the
money-changers, saying, 'Stripped of the lure of profit by
which to induce our people to follow their false leadership,
they have resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for
restored confidence. They know only the rules of a
generation of self-seekers. They have no vision, and when
there is no vision the people perish.' Boy, does that sound
familiar. FDR continued: 'The money changers have fled
from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We
may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The
measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we
apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.'
Well, thanks, Frank. You were right on the button there.
As Whittam Smith adds, 'Today many would say "Amen"
to that.' And Roosevelt’s New Deal certainly got the US
economy back on its feet in the 1930s (though what really
launched it into the stratosphere for the next 50 years was
the Second World War). There’s just one problem. The
money-changers never went away. Heedless, it seems, of
the President's words, they were soon back in their high
seats at Casino Globale, with consequences we have seen
all too plainly in recent years. No ‘ancient truths’ were ever
restored to the temple.
Now we have Barack Obama using rhetoric similar to
Roosevelt's in the face of the worst depression since the
1930s and, you can bet, it’ll have the same effect: lots of
fine talk in the short term about fairness and decency, some
ameliorative measures, restoration of something
resembling prosperity—enough anyway to pacify people’s
fears—and then business as usual among the financiers and
Amid all the consultations and exhortations, we're still
waiting for even one Western leader to announce that tough
new regulations will be introduced to control the money
markets and bring them to heel. Until that happens (and
that's the least of what needs to be done), all the
Rooseveltian rhetoric in the world doesn't mean a damn