The HSBC Swiss bank is not an isolated episode. It is part of a general pattern exposing the underlying ideology which has been globally dominant over the last three decades. That ideology has been about consolidating the power and wealth of the world’s richest class, particularly in the West. It is based around the idea that the most efficient and successful way to run the world is through untrammeled markets freed to the highest possible degree of any external constraints. The message for governments is: get out of the way and leave it all to markets to steer capital, employment and growth in the most profitable direction, and it will be best for everyone. It hasn’t been, as the historical record shows. The average annual GDP income growth in the UK in the 30 years before 1980 was 2.4%; in the 30 years after 1980 it was 1.7%. But that has not prevented this ideology from gaining pernicious dominance in the Western consciousness reinforced by politicians of all parties paying lip service to it.
However multiple cracks are steadily becoming apparent in this ideology of which the HSBC Swiss bank scandal is only the latest example. Most notably it led directly to the biggest financial crash for a century in 2008-9 which was triggered by an international recession severely aggravated by the recklessness and arrogance of over-powerful banks seeking profit maximization through sub-prime mortgages and exotic financial derivatives, abetted by supine politicians offering across-the-board deregulation of all financial constraints. This was by far the worst crash, but internationally there were 6 others in the last 30 year period; in the previous 30 year period there were none.
At the political level neoliberal capitalism demanded freedom for a fundamentalist market regime. The most essential ingredient for Western economic dominance was oil. The Middle East contained 60% of global oil resources, and this was secured for Western interests partly by the perverse US-Saudi relationship, but more directly by the invasion and conquest of Iraq, justified by Bush as a consequence of 9/11 though Saddam, for all his wickedness, had nothing to do with 9/11. That led to the successful Iraqi insurgency and triggered indirectly the continuing conflagration in the Middle East and the rise of Islamic State.
The increasing control by the wealthy elite in Western societies is shown by the growing revelations of the unchecked power of the financial sector, manifested not only by these latest HSBC depredations (reproducing very similar illegalities committed by HSBC banks in Mexico a few years ago), but more particularly by the massive illegality of rigging the Libor, Euribor and forex markets in the City of London and the further widespread market manipulation by PPI and the rigging of interest rate derivatives particularly targeted at small businesses.