Breaking the social silence of finance: Ewald Engelen

Sanne van Oosten

Ewald Engelen, an often invited guest at Dutch talk shows and professor in geographical finance of the University of Amsterdam presents a new course titled: Who caused the economic crisis? This course could not have been more topical. In the midst of the unfolding of a crisis that seems to exceed our most pessimistic expectations, weekly in-depth lectures are held in the Amsterdam Business School. As an interested auditor I attended a number of the lectures.

So, who did cause the economic crisis? Engelen: “The responsibility is widespread. We were all accomplices of greediness. However, the question is simple to answer: The bankers are guilty.” The bankers created an industry of useless products that were of great financial danger for the people who bought those products. In the meantime, these same bankers acquired unprecedented social status, earning exorbitant amounts of money and letting everyone believe they were the experts. Engelen: “They blinded us with science.” Throughout the classes a recurring theme was the actual simplicity of the financial world. Economics and finance are actually not that complicated, the bankers only wanted to collectively make us believe that they were in a very complicated occupation so the public would see that as a justification of excessive salaries and bonuses.

Nevertheless, these bankers have failed. “The nutrition industry has the responsibility to guarantee that their products are not toxic. Why doesn’t this same guarantee apply for the world of finance? Wouldn’t it be strange if the producer of sausages would not be able to guarantee that there aren’t any shards of glass in the sausage? Wouldn’t it be even stranger if this turned out to be the case, that the producer of sausages would not even be held responsible?” Nevertheless, this same dynamic took place in the financial world. Banks failed and were not held accountable. Why have so many governments pored billions in failed banks without anyone being sued?

For a long time financial topics have been surrounded by social silence. The public wasn’t interested in these subjects. People completely trusted that their money was in good hands. Even in politics, the representatives of the Dutch parliament had hardly any attention for financial issues. Newspapers didn’t appoint any journalists with financial knowledge. “Everyone was more interested in discussions about headscarves.” This social silence proves that the responsibility for the economic crisis is widespread. However, once again, the bankers are guilty. Up to this day, it seems that this social silence has not been broken down completely as laying complete responsibility in the bankers is still a controversial statement. Therefore, it might be necessary to offer this course in the second semester of the 2011/2012 academic year again. Are you up for it, Ewald Engelen?

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