Clem Sunter

The New Illuminati

2009-09-16 09:41

One of the characteristics ascribed to the shadowy group of Illuminati members, who meet once a month to decide how they are going to control the world, is immense wealth. The other is influence over governments and the media that borders on domination.

Now I've never believed in the existence of this group. It makes a good story for the conspiracy theorists but that's as far as it goes. But I'm beginning to wonder in light of some interesting developments in the banking industry in America and Britain.

Take wealth for starters. In 2007 before the crash, two of the highest paid CEOs in the world were an American and British banker, each one of whom was paid nearly half a billion rand for one year's work. Recently, after the crash, one banking firm has set aside an amount equivalent to just over four percent of South Africa's annual GDP to compensate its staff for six months' work. For trading paper for heaven's sake!

Let's now turn to government. For me it is amazing that no action has been taken against any bank for reckless trading, even though depositors' money was being used to buy derivatives which turned out to be devoid of value. No Enron this time round. The American and British governments then bailed the banks out using public money which ultimately belongs to those depositors. The central banks then all but zeroed interest rates so the only victims of the crash are the depositors. They no longer get any income. But the banks get their money for free (and, you can be sure, lend it out at a healthy interest rate).

Talk about punishing the innocent and letting off the guilty. Not one single banker in America has been asked to repay bonuses or pensions accumulated before the crash, and only one as far as I know was approached in Britain. The recent G20 meeting kicked any idea of a claw-back provision for future misdemeanours of this nature into touch. Bankrupting the bank still incurs no penalty whatsoever.

But it's the behaviour of the overseas financial media that convinces me that there is something fishy going on. The line taken is that bankers in no way could have prepared for this once-in-a-century event. Indeed, it wasn't foreseeable.

Give me a break. Chantell Ilbury and I wrote the following about a "Hard Times" possibility in Games Foxes Play published in April 2005: "This is a scenario of a normal economic downturn caused by the usual suspects of government and consumers overextending themselves and building up an inordinate amount of debt, stock markets getting too greedy, companies installing too much extra production capacity, etc." By mid-2007 we were giving this scenario a 50% probability and by December 2007 we had increased the figure to 80%.

If two South African scenario planners on the margin could have foreseen that the light in the tunnel was an oncoming express train, these guys with all their expensive advisors and infinitely superior networks must have picked it up too. Strings must have been pulled to limit the bad publicity by putting a different interpretation on the way the crash unfolded. The spin was that it was an unfortunate accident, despite being caused by the banking sector itself in issuing subprime mortgages.

So there you have it. They probably don't meet secretly in locations worthy of a James Bond novel. Nor are they really worthy of the appellation "Illuminati" which is Latin for "The Enlightened". Yet they have the power, they have the money and they have the connections. That's why I call them the New Illuminati.

I know Dan Brown has brought out a new book, but he should deal with this subject in his next one. The theme is right up his street and will carry more authenticity than The Da Vinci Code.

Send your comments to Clem

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