Iain Martin on the RBS story, and what it tells us about the future

Iain MartinThe political commentator and author Iain Martin has a must-read new book out on the Royal Bank of Scotland story (‘Making it Happen: Fred Goodwin, RBS and the Men who blew up the British Economy, Simon & Schuster, 2013). Iain has spent two and a half years investigating the story of RBS, interviewing many of the actors in this ” spectacular drama and asking what on earth they thought they were doing.”

The result is a fascinating story, full of anecdote, much of it amusing. But Iain has also identified important lessons for corporate leaders, regulators and politicians. Writing in this week’s Spectator, he also warns that we could be heading for trouble all over again:

“But the dominant ideas of that period made the disaster possible. The ‘end of boom and bust’ and the billions of CDOs stuffed with sub-prime junk all rested on a very stupid idea: the notion that we are much more sophisticated and smarter than our predecessors. For all the complexity of the crisis, the lesson of the whole experience is quite simple: conservative scepticism is essential.

Mankind is susceptible to manias and over-confidence. It was there in the South Sea bubble, or in the Darien disaster. The 2008 banking disaster was simply a remake of a very old story.

Look closely, and you can see the start of the next story. Many of the techniques that lay behind the financial crisis — the obsession with innovation, mining data, quant theory and the excessive reliance on epic computerisation — are now rife in business and politics. Politicians are, yet again, trying to manipulate the housing market with cheap mortgages. Global internet giants, with their huge resources and supreme confidence, remind me of the banks before the crash.  What could possibly go wrong this time?”

To read the Spectator article in full, click here: http://www.spectator.co.uk/features/9019531/braveheart-banking/

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