ICB

Michel de Montaigne and the Independent Commission on Banking

The Memory Chalet

A must read this year is Tony Judt’s posthumous collection of essays “The Memory Chalet” reviewed by Thomas Nagel in this issue of the NYRB.

“The articulate recreation of the active life that he has lost, writes Prof. Nagel, is Judt’s answer to his imprisonment and impending death, and it gives him a more personal posthumous existence than do his historical and critical writings, important as they are. These eloquent personal recollections are infused with historical consciousness, but they also explain and reflect the strong opinions and attitudes that marked Tony Judt as a distinctive presence among us, unforgettable to those who knew or read him. Wary of group identity, he was an Englishman but exceptionally cosmopolitan, a Jew who became an outspoken critic of Zionism, and an egalitarian social democrat who was also an elitist and a defender of meritocracy.”

From the White House to Michel de Montaigne

I am not altogether desperate to uncover the identity of the author of “O: A Presidential Novel” but enjoyed Mark Lawson’s piece in the Guardian (22 January). Of particular interest to this reader were the references to Vivian Grey and to the lineage of the ” model political novel”. Disraeli, Trollope, R. Penn Warren and Allen Drurry… forbears indeed…

In the same Guardian issue Saul Frampton’s delightful extracts on Michel de Montaigne and the “true language of human nature” reminded me to push “When I Am Playing With My Cat, How Do I Know She Is Not Playing With Me?” to my trolley at the next opportunity. Another must read.

The Road to Serfdom

No surprise yesterday in the speech of John Vickers, chairman of the Independent Commission on Banking. Inadequacy of “Basel III”, nefarious effect of the disappearance of any barriers between ” retail” and so-called “investment” banking (remember “Big Bang”?), costs to society of bailing out the speculators, all have been debated to saturation since the onset of the what started as the “sub-prime” crisis. What is striking, on both sides of the Atlantic, is governments and regulators’ apparent incapacity to bring the “big banks” to any serious commitment to real changes. This appears equally to extend to any commitment to small businesses from the four largest UK banks (Preston’s Picks of 22 January). The choice is ever clearer: finance capital or society, them (obscene profits, speculation, derivatives of derivatives, plunder and wastage) or us (the real economy, households and businesses, our children’s futures).

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