Posts Tagged ‘MITI’

The British Financial Sector’s Role in the Promotion of Foreign Industry

March 3, 2014

Bank pic

In a previous blog post I mentioned the statement by the authors of Socialist Enterprise: Reclaiming the Economy (Nottingham: Spokesman 1986) Diana Gilhespy, Ken Jones, Tony Manwaring, Henry Neuberger and Adam Sharples, that one of the causes for the decline of British manufacturing industry was a lack of investment and the concentration on short term returns by British banks. Later in the book, the authors expand on this statement by showing how the lack of investment in British manufacturing by the British financial sector is actually a legacy from the days of the Empire. According to the book, most British financial institutions, in contrast to their German and Japanese counterparts, were geared to investing in and developing the former British colonies, at the expense of the ‘mother country’. They write

The City’s International Role

The British financial system has failed to meet the needs of domestic industry because historically it has been geared to financing trade, in particular within the British Empire. When capital was raised in London it was more often than not for foreign investment, such as the US railroads. The City is now an international centre for managing foreign currencies – ‘Eurocurrencies’. Banks operating in the UK lend vast amounts of money overseas, many of them foreign banks.

This international role has had far-reaching results. British investors divert more of the national income to overseas investment than any major nation. For example, the two largest insurance companies, the Commercial Union and the Royal, do 70 per cent of their insurance business overseas. Since the removal of exchange controls, 60 per cent of unit trust investment has gone abroad.

In Germany and Japan, by contrast, industrial reorganisation has been closely linked with the provision of long-term finance tailored to the needs of domestic industry. Financial institutions have accepted responsibility for industrial performance, and so developed a detailed understanding of the problems facing industry, both technical and managerial. This tradition of industrial banking laid the basis for special credit institutions. In West Germany, the Kreditanstalt fur Weideraufbau – owned by the federal and regional governments – concentrated on regional policies, with the banks focusing on industrial financing. The Japanese economy is dominated by large holding companies, which include both industrial and financial companies: these have worked closely with MITI, the main government department responsible for industrial policy.

This bears out the Austrian Marxists, Karl Kautsky’s observations about the role of British capitalists in developing and promoting overseas rivals to Britain itself from about the time of the First World War. If these policies have continued – and I really don’t expect they’ve changed much in the nearly thirty years since the book was written – there needs to be a complete revolution in the priorities of the British financial sector. One of the solutions the book proposes is the establishment of a state-owned national investment bank for domestic industry, as recommended by the Labour party and the TUC. I like the idea, but it would face strenuous opposition from the established, vested financial interests, who fear any criticism and encroachment on their domination of the financial sector and British industry.