CSR and the Financial Crisis

CSR and the Financial Crisis:

Taking Stock

Blog by Wayne Visser

The Scale of the Crisis

There is nothing small or trivial about this financial crisis. According to the Bank of England’s recent Financial Stability Report, governments worldwide have already pledged more than $7 trillion in loans, guarantees, capital injections, and other assistance in their coordinated effort to prop up the global financial system. And the ILO estimates the crisis will cost 20 million jobs by next year.

This is not the first financial crisis the world has seen over the past century. The worst, of course, resulted in the Great Depression in the 1930s. But there have been numerous others, all of which carried painful economic and human costs. For example, the crises inArgentina (1981-1990), South Korea (1997-1999) and Thailand (1997-2000) all cost more than 30% of those countries’ GDPs.

But even by historical standards, the 2008 crisis is BIG. In what’s been dubbed “Wall Street’s Red October”, the S&P 500 plunged 16.9%, or 198 points, for the month. That’s the worst-ever monthly point decline for the S&P 500. The Dow similarly dropped 14.1%, or 1,526 points. And the ILO estimates that the crisis will bring the total unemployed to more than 210 million for the first time in history.

The key difference is that, unlike the Asian and Latin American crises in the 1980s, this crisis is truly global. Some countries, like Iceland andPakistan, are threatened by bankruptcy. Others, like Japan, have been hit by huge volatility in the markets. And even the cash-rich, high-flyers like China are seeing their growth suffering as a result. But what does any of this have to do with corporate social responsibility (CSR)?

The Links to CSR

Irresponsible banking

I’d like to suggest a multi-level approach to this. At the first and most obvious level, we can say the financial crisis is a direct result of irresponsible banking. According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, the number of sub-prime loans offered to risky borrowers increased more than 15 times since 1998. Essentially, the banks got greedy and compromised good banking practices of credit risk assessment.

Irresponsible financial markets

At another level, the crisis is the predictable consequence of irresponsible financial markets. Since the deregulation of the 1980s, the derivatives market has grown to around $600 trillion dollars, almost 10 times the value of global GDP. This speculative trading (which some call the “casino economy”) is meant to hedge risk, but it also increases the volatility and systemic risk of financial markets.

We would do well to recall economist John Maynard Keynes’ warning: “Speculators may do no harm as bubbles on a steady stream of enterprise. But the position is serious when enterprise becomes the bubble on a whirlpool of speculation. When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done.”

Irresponsible corporations 

Others argue that the crisis is the inevitable consequence of irresponsible corporations. This is linked to the short-termism of shareholder value driven public companies …

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[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”download” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.waynevisser.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/blog_financial_crisis_wvisser.pdf”]Pdf[/button] CSR and the Financial Crisis (blog)

Related websites

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.csrinternational.org”]Link[/button] CSR International (website)

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.waynevisser.com/books/the-age-of-responsibility”]Link[/button] The Age of Responsibility (book)

Cite this blog

Visser, W. (2008) CSR and the Financial Crisis, Wayne Visser Blog Briefing, 4 November 2008.

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