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Restoring finance to the service of business

Trudging along through the Great Crisis, when we hear the word “finance”, we think greed. We think ruthlessness. Of this mysterious, inscrutable world. Mountains of paper that produce money, but no jobs, no useful goods or services. Speculation. We think Michael Douglas’ Gordon Gekko in Wall Street (a film that proved to be all too prophetic). Or the cutthroat businessmen of Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities (an insightful work read by many, but heeded by few). We think bankers, stock options and scandalously high bonuses. The worst side of capitalism. But there’s no place in the economy for such black and white judgements, and finance is certainly not the essence of evil. If we look with a critical eye at the various processes at work within the economy, what we can say is that finance should, as a response to the challenges of the Great Crisis, be returned to its roots as “business finance”, i.e. a set of theories, techniques, tools and decisions aimed at facilitating a better allocation of capital (both investments and earnings) in the direction of productivity. In other words, finance at the service of the real economy. This is an idea that can also be found in three good books that have just been published: Lezioni dalla crisi (Lessons from the crisis), by Giuliano Amato (both a politician and an academic of international importance) and Fabrizio Forquet, deputy editor-in-chief at Il Sole24Ore; The Price of Inequality, by Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz (the goal is “to shape the markets and take them towards greater equality in opportunities”); and, above all, L’ascesa della finanza internazionale (The rise of international finance), by Giuliano Berta, one of Italy’s greatest economic historians, who notes, “We need to change financial institutions. The key to reforming banks in the interests of social justice lies in democratizing them, in breaking through their elitist shells in order to better integrate them into society and into the real economy.” A serious, effective culture of enterprise means reflecting, right now, on how all of the mechanisms of production work and how best to coordinate them, and on the involvement of all of the various economic and social players. Banks and other financial organizations included, of course.