Domingo, 24 de Fevereiro de 2008

Ainda a nacionalização do Northern Rock

Mais condescendente, Will Hutton mostra compreensão pela decisão do Governo britânico e defende que a intervenção do Estado na economia não significa necessariamente um retorno a velhos hábitos socialistas. Recorda que o mesmo tipo de pragmatismo levou às nacionalizações do pós-guerra, assentes na convicção de que os proprietários privados das minas, caminhos-de-ferro, centrais eléctricas e siderurgias não iriam investir o suficiente para recuperar uma infra-estrutura destruída pela guerra e para gerar emprego e riqueza.


Como afirma, as empresas estão indissoluvelmente ligadas à sociedade na qual desenvolvem a sua actividade económica. Utilizam o sistema de transportes e edifícios públicos, o seu pessoal é educado em instituições públicas e os seus clientes vivem na mesma jurisdição, partilhando ideias, valores e processos formatados pelo Direito Público e pelo costume. Sector público e privado são ambos indispensáveis e interdependentes. Ou seja, o fundamentalismo do mercado livre, sem qualquer intervenção do Estado, é irrealista.


Moral (subtil) da história: a regulação existe justamente para evitar que o Estado tenha que interferir no mercado. Se o Estado se vê forçado a intervir, é porque algo falhou na regulação. E esse é que é o problema, não tanto a própria intervenção.


No Financial Times em:

The ‘nationalisation’ that is no such thing

By Will Hutton

Published: February 19 2008 19:32 | Last updated: February 19 2008 19:32

The “nationalisation” of Northern Rock is no such thing. It is a period of pragmatic public stewardship until market conditions improve when, in one form or another, it will be unwound. This pragmatism resembles that of the postwar nationalisations – an uncomfortable truth that neither Old Labour nor David Cameron’s Conservatives are willing to accept.

The postwar Labour government was able to build a coalition in favour of nationalisation that included capitalists and some Tories because it was an urgent and practical imperative to modernise a decaying infrastructure devastated by war. There was distrust that coal-mine owners, railway magnates, private power generators and iron and steel companies would invest to the degree necessary to generate wealth and jobs for homecoming heroes. They had not done so during the 1930s; why should more be expected in crippled, savings-free, postwar Britain? In France, where nationalisation went even further, it was brute reality and sheer economic need that created the same pragmatic coalition.

As the postwar period wore on, nationalisation became more obviously justified only by pragmatism, whatever the rhetoric. The government of Edward Heath did not nationalise Rolls-Royce for any reason of socialism; it took it into temporary public stewardship because its technology was deemed too important to allow it to slide into bankruptcy – a decision amply justified by events. The government of Harold Wilson could justify the nationalisation of the bankrupt shipbuilding industry and British Leyland only because it was the last hope of saving them and, as it transpired, organising their orderly dispatch. The Bank of England did not “nationalise” the secondary banks in 1974; it operated a financial lifeboat for the same pragmatic reason that today’s government has ended up owning Northern Rock. It was likewise for this reason that the US government came to own Continental Illinois in the 1980s.

The debate between the Tories, arguing that Northern Rock’s public stewardship should have been undertaken by the Bank of England, and Labour’s actual alternative is splitting hairs. Governments have to act in extreme circumstances, but that does not mean they have succumbed to a rebirth of socialism. What it demonstrates is that there is an ongoing symbiotic relationship between the state and enterprise, of which nationalisation is the ultimate example. Very few successful businesspeople would claim otherwise.

There are few companies in the FTSE 100 that have not in some way had their franchise today shaped, supported and helped by government action. One obvious example is BP, which was nationalised by Winston Churchill in 1913 in part for the pragmatic rationale of securing oil supplies. But Vodafone, which was given the 900 MHz spectrum on which to launch mobile phone services by Margaret Thatcher, and GlaxoSmithKline, which was until recently accorded generous margins by National Health Service procurers to support pharmaceutical research, are other examples. Whether it is ITV, BAE Systems, Tesco, HSBC, Johnson Matthey or Standard Chartered Bank, every corporate history is intertwined with the state.

It could not be otherwise. Companies are embedded in the society in which they trade. They use its transport system and public buildings; their staff are educated and trained by public institutions; their consumers live in the same territorial jurisdiction; their ideas, values and processes are borrowed from the society around them. They are shaped by public law, custom and practice and foreign policy. As J.K. Galbraith argued, companies interact with public authority and it with them. The free-market fundamentalist proposition that the market is the spontaneous natural condition and any form of public interaction is therefore unnatural – which feeds Northern Rock shareholders’ extraordinary sense of entitlement – is to misdescribe reality.

Claims that the public’s embrace is an automatic palsy on enterprise are just ideological. Both sectors are indispensable and interdependent. The latest research suggests that some public enterprise – rail and electricity generation – was reasonably efficient in the postwar period. Some interventions, such as the one in Rolls-Royce, were vital. Public enterprise tended to do well when their leaders were depoliticised and dynamic; some, but not all, achieved the alchemy.

What Northern Rock’s “nationalisation” invites is not a discussion about the impending collapse of the arguments for free-market capitalism and a return to the 1970s. Rather, the question is a more subtle one about how to create the most fecund relationship between state and enterprise – one that Labour dodges in its desire to show that it has left its dark days behind and that Mr Cameron’s Tories do not even entertain.

It is because a failing bank needs public guarantees and perhaps even public ownership, with the consequent potential market distortions, that the authorities must prevent it failing in the first place. That, in turn, requires recognition of the symbiotic relationship between enterprise and state, which is even more obvious in banking than in other industries. The solution will require more comprehensive deposit insurance, pro-active regulation, stronger corporate governance and some limit to the irrational bonuses that have provided an incentive for such reckless behaviour. It may be a conversation that few in the political class and even fewer in the business class want to have. But it must be had; and with no ideological blinkers.


The writer is chief executive of The Work Foundation

publicado por MMP às 02:00
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