Bankers were “the Praetorian guard of capitalism”, Michael Noonan, Ireland’s finance minister, said last week. Given the scarring defeat suffered by the free market’s crack troops in the financial crisis, and the curbs now applied to their pay and rations, you might expect enthusiasm to replace them in the front line to be muted.
Shortly before Mario Draghi started his press conference at the European Central Bank’s meeting in Barcelona on Thursday, his predecessor Jean-Claude Trichet was addressing a more sympathetic audience at the St Gallen Symposium in Switzerland. If anything, Mr Trichet was probably the cagier of the two.
In spite of some robust questioning from the BBC’s Stephen Sackur, the former ECB president came across as unrepentant about the ECB’s role during the eurozone crisis. He argued, for example, that 14 years ago, 99 per cent of observers would have dismissed as impossible that the euro would keep its value amid low inflation – a performance that he said bettered that achieved by the national central banks in the 15 years before the single currency’s birth. “Had I added that this [performance] would be observed after five years of the worst crisis ever, [the sceptics] would have been 100 per cent,” Mr Trichet said. The nearest he came to admitting to flaws in the eurozone project was when he said the financial crisis had been “like an X-ray or scanner that reveals the problem you might have”. Read more