Amid the profound pain of the financial meltdown enveloping the globe, this week’s World Economic Forum might have been expected to feature apologies — even a massive mea culpa from the movers and shakers of the financial community that created the crisis.
There have been plenty of excuses, recriminations, hand-wringing and analyses. But scant few have owned up to the pervasive effects of bad business decisions that cost hundreds of thousands of jobs and brought the world economy to its knees.
“There’s a tremendous arrogance about the whole process,” Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz told reporters. The top bankers “think that it just happened, that it was nobody’s fault. But they should feel sorry”.
Meanwhile, its primarily mid-level banking officials who are getting the boot.
Stiglitz said they aren’t to blame. “The senior people — the ones who went to Congress and lobbied for less regulation — they should take responsibility.”
Lord Nicholas Stern, among Britain’s most influential economists, agreed that captains of industry and high-flying business tycoons have not been humbled or even accepted their role in the meltdown. Nor have they recognised the culpability of an unsustainable economic system they prospered under for so long.
“There’s some apologetic gestures. It’s not zero, but I will say it is embarrassingly small,” Stern said.
Many of the businessmen most tainted by the collapse of global banks and record industry losses have skipped this year’s forum. Those who came have taken part in numerous debates about the current downturn — the focus of a sober gathering that lost much of the party atmosphere and lavishness of previous years, even if private jet and helicopter use were expected to climb from 2008.
Stephen Green, chairman of financial services titan HSBC Holdings plc, did attend — his presence noted by a TV journalist at the opening news conference.
Green managed an uneasy smile, saying later: “The banking sector has not covered itself in glory. It has made mistakes.”