OPINION

The alchemists of capitalism

Alchemists in the Middle Ages were considered important personages because the naive lords they served believed they could transform lead into gold. The dream would crumble when not only gold failed to appear, but the costly experiments often put the lords deep into debt. In this day and age, no sane person would believe in alchemists or other charlatans who promise to create wealth out of nothing. Unfortunately, though, millions of shareholders, savers and investors around the world have fallen victim to the administrative status quo of major multinational banks and, more generally, to a club comprising famously ingenious yuppies, managers of the major funds. They revived the myth of the alchemist by promising their investors and shareholders endless wealth through the profitability of banks and funds. They cultivated among the public the illusion that bank loans and their derivatives (structured bonds based on loan securitization etc) would bring greater profits, including increasingly higher dividends. Who were they giving these loans to though? Not to healthy businesses to help them boost productivity, but to poor American folk with zero credit worthiness so they could build their dream house. A huge bubble was thus created in the real estate market, which had tragic consequences when it burst on those who had placed their trust in banks and hedge funds. The greed of those yuppies who received huge bonuses when their banks posted robust profits almost sank the global economy. Many, of course, were crushed by the crisis. But they received fat compensation packages, while shareholders lost billions. This crisis proves yet again that the free market does indeed help modernization and development, but also that without state supervision it risks degenerating into a destructive force against the weak.