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commentary

Chinese Puzzle

Google’s ingenious move to say it will offer an uncensored search engine in China if it can, or withdraw altogether if it can’t, is to be applauded.

It also reveals the spirit of the previous agreement: ‘define the rules and let me operate freely within them’. And suggests that the Chinese government was behind the attempts to access GMail accounts.

If all that is so it means that Chinese national sovereignty may be maintained at the expense of trust. That is going to be costly for everyone. It is not a long term solution.

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commentary

He may be ahead, but what about a heart?

David Cameron seems to be ahead in the polls. But how far does he have the interests of all at heart? Regulation is the acid test: how far do you let markets decide – and how far do you decide for the markets?

Cameron has spoken about the need for regulation. But until the mantra of ‘the market knows best’ is dropped, the market will continue to be treated best. Does he agree with George Osborne’s view that ‘laissez-faire is dead’?

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announcements

Co-moderator of Nanotechnology Regulation Conference

I shall be running sessions at the 5th Nanoregulation Conference at Rapperswil, Switzerland on 25th and 26th November 2009.

What is it about? In the light of the European Parliament calling for adaptations of the regulatory framework regarding manufactured nanomaterials, what will be the strategy of the European Commission? Which nano-specific information is indispensable for authorities and consumers? Which instruments for communication and transfer of nano-specific information along the value chain are available?

Nanotechnology is an emerging technology that as yet, society does not know quite how to handle. This is not surprising, as perfectly ordinary substances when ground down to a nanometer scale acquire properties that can be terrifying – for good or ill.

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commentary

The FSA and regulation

Adair Turner’s speech is about as exciting as you could expect the FSA Chairman to be at the Mansion House. It apparently caused someone to be ‘appalled, disgusted and ashamed’ – and generally upset breakfasts.

What was causing the upset was his remarks that there should be more restraint on innovation and that it was not his job to be the cheerleader for the City, pursuing growth at all costs. While this should be obvious to most people, it is a shock to those engaged in the City.

What is happening here is that the scale of the fianncial crisis has revealed the dependence of the rest of the economy on the City – and therefore laid bare the real purpose of a regulator: to protect society from the economy, not the other way round. Adair Turner is getting to grips with the same  conflict of interest that is at the heart of many regulators. They are sometimes not quite sure whether they are regulating the public or the industry in their care.

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commentary

Small is beautiful

What to do with financial insituitions that are too big to fail? Simply make them smaller!

Some suggestions from the US include having an upper size limit for comapnies or establishing insurance to protect the innocent.

Another way is to encourage them to limit themselves: rather than forbidding companies above a certain size directly, just transfer the risk to those running them. A straightforward way to do this would be to remove limited liability from companies above a certain size. That should focus the minds of directors and shareholders rather more clearly on risk. And it would also remove a large market distortion.

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commentary

Radical Thought

Lord Myners has apparently ‘made the City think’. This is a good thing in any case – but particularly good in that he was concerned to distinguish between ‘investors’, who are good at buying and selling shares, and ‘owners’, who have an interest and care about the companies they own. He wanted more owning, floating ideas such as greater voting rights for those shareholders who stay with the company, as in France.

What is sad is that this common sense approach to a real problem was characterised as ‘radical’.