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The long game

With the human population now seven billion and counting, my mind is awash with dark thoughts of Armageddon and, by extension, Stewart Cowley. As I wrote here a few months back, it was Old Mutual Asset Managers’ head of fixed income who detailed to a conference I was chairing precisely how he ruined the world.

In it, he used the progression of his own life from his beginnings in the North-east of England to bond fund manager, via a job in a steel-works, a PhD from Oxford and a one-night-only gig at the Albert Hall, to illustrate how changes in global health and wealth are profoundly affecting competition for the world’s resources.

To put it another way, while the developed economies have been spending, the rest of the world has been saving and now they want the lifestyle the west takes for granted, they are very well placed to get it. This has ramifications for a whole host of things, including inflation, the availability of food, fuel and other commodities and, frankly, us.

Cowley’s words depressed me so much I wanted to head down the pub a not wholly unusual reaction to conference speeches, if I am honest but then something odd happened. I had an epiphany. It was not a very big epiphany but with epiphanies, as in so many other things, I prefer to believe size does not matter.

It suddenly struck me that if there was going to be less of everything in the world and less money to buy it with, I needed to be living in a country that would fight mean and dirty for its resources, its citizens and its vested interests.

Obviously that ruled out the UK but, equally obviously, it seemed to point towards the land that brought us the militant lorry driver, yogurt-oriented protectionism and the Gallic shrug. If I had to bet on the last developed nation left standing against the irresistible march of the Bric economies and the rest, where else could it be but France? This was great news. I have always fancied living in France but now Cowley had given me a bona fide reason to try and do so.

Imagine my disappointment, therefore, when I discovered President Sarkozy had been cosying up to President Hu for a slice of China’s multi-trillion-dollar reserves to bolster the European rescue fund. Good grief, I thought I was playing the long game but the Chinese measure investments in centuries not decades.

Bad Sarko non. By all means drive the planet to the brink of economic meltdown with your less than fully thought-out plans for a single currency but don’t you dare mess with my retirement dream. Might I also remind you, monsieur le president, the absolute prime motivation for a united Europe (aside from your mob, who just could not face the thought of Germany as a world power by itself) was so you could deal with major global players such as China as equals not because they own you.

At this point, I reckon I can just about use China as a link to written evidence recently submitted to the joint committee on the draft Financial Services Bill by the FSA and, no, don’t be unkind, it has nothing to do with authoritarian regimes and human rights abuses.

Mind you, when you see it fretting its successor regulator’s ability to ensure “consumers receive redress is constrained by the general law, in particular by questions of causation” and sniffing around for “a clear mandate and powers” to provide the “greater levels of redress” it reckons “society expects” …

But I digress. I really wanted to touch on the regulator’s terrific take on accountability: “It needs to be recognised that in a judgement-based approach to regulation, which requires regulators to base their assessments of risk on their view of the future, there will inevitably be occasions where the supervisor’s judgement turns out in the light of events not to be the best option chosen.

“It is important, however, that the accountability process does not prevent such judgements being made …” This is the otherworldly line I shall be taking when I tell my family we are no longer moving to Avignon but Reykjavik.

Julian Marr is editorial director of and Thought


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