Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Hey Eric: Lend Your Euros Directly To Other People

Like previous financial crises, this one won't end until individual and collective confidence in banks and the financial system is restored. And while it's all very well for the Eurozone's political masters to be demonstrating their 'political will' to hold the Eurozone together at individual taxpayers' expense, their latest attempt at restoring confidence has not exactly impressed Spain's debtors...

But such bail-out headlines merely the typically dominant institutional narrative. The real question is whether the Euro and EU institutions actually have the confidence of EU citizens - especially taxpayers. A recent poll suggests they do not: only 42% of Europeans trust the European Union - reflecting a general disenchantment with EU institutions over the past few decades. Meanwhile, in sharp contrast, bottom-up facilitators that enable citizens to participate in shaping and personalising their own services have done very well.

This is reflected in the behaviour of EU citizens on the economic front. The implications of the one-size-fits-all Eurozone monetary policy seem to be regarded as just as unfair by German taxpayers and the French savers supporting Eric Cantona's suggestion for mass bank-withdrawals on 7 December as by those hitting the streets of Greece and Ireland. The Guardian quotes Valérie Ohannesian, of the French Banking Federation, as saying Cantona's appeal is "stupid in every sense". Yet, crucially, she did not explain why people should feel more confident about leaving their money on deposit, or why it is fair that banks receive taxpayer bail-outs while taxes increase and spending is cut. In the absence of any other narrative, each bail-out undermines our confidence even further, to the point where we hit the streets and seriously consider suggestions like Eric Cantona's.

But it doesn't have to be this way. There is a bottom-up narrative emerging, and our politicians need to focus on it.

Eric Cantona's confident call for mass withdrawals hints at the fact that people are prepared to put their money where their mouth is. But it would be futile for those with surplus cash languishing in low interest savings accounts to withdraw it all and hide it under their beds. Instead, they should join those who already put their money to work helping others, by lending it directly on peer-to-peer lending platforms to creditworthy people and businesses at a decent rate that also represents a decent return.
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