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Squids in as Britain joins the global Goldman Sachs empire

The appointment of Mark Carney as the next governor of the Bank of England has been greeted with a rare kind of acclaim.

Everyone who is anyone is pleased. At Westminster, not a whisper of dissent is heard.

George Osborne, the Chancellor, talks as though he can't believe his luck in landing "the outstanding central banker of his generation". Ed Balls, for Labour, is full of praise for the whizz from the Bank of Canada. Sir Meryvn King, heading for retirement in July of 2013, can't speak highly enough of the 47-year-old who will become the first non-Briton to run Threadneedle Street.

Having recovered from the shock – Mr Carney had denied any interest in the job – the financial sector is also chuffed. Call me hopelessly prejudiced, but I don't count that as a propitious omen. Unlike Mr King, the next governor will be responsible for the reform and regulation of Britain's banks. So they celebrate his appointment?

The jubilation is reminiscent, in any case, of the cheers that greeted the arrival of certain hotshot foreign managers among Britain's national football teams. All those sterling careers and "proven track records" – "unparalleled expertise", as Mr Osborne would have it – ended in hard lessons on the difference between hope and experience. In Mr Carney's case, a simple question arises. If he can't alter Coalition policy, what difference can he make?

But let's be fair. He and Canada have had a good financial crisis. It can be argued, in fact, that under Mr Carney's direction the country has prospered while others have floundered. He was quick to pump liquidity into banking, quicker still to cut interest rates and promise to keep them down. Hence the Westminster fan club: everyone loves a winner.

The fact remains, however, that Canada has proved durable since 2008 for reasons that have little to do with Mr Carney. After a crisis of their own in the 1990s the Canadians, like the Swedes, performed the finance industry's version of rocket science and decided that the best thing to do with banks is to regulate them, and regulate them tightly. Canada's banking sector was spared punishment for insane risk-taking because risk was discouraged.

Mr Carney is nevertheless presented – Mr Osborne again – as an expert in financial regulation. That's one way to put it. The Chancellor could as well have said that in order to control the cowboys of investment banking he has chosen for his sheriff a distinguished, um, investment banker. At this point Mr Carney's CV becomes truly interesting. At this point, indeed, the celebrations over his appointment become just a little troubling.

He was not just any investment banker. At the pinnacle of his career, Mr Carney was managing director of investment banking for Goldman, Sachs & Company, "the great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity" itself. If a single entity could be described as squatting at the heart of the casino that broke the global economy, Goldmans would be prime candidate. Now Mr Osborne hires one of the firm's alumni to sort out the mess the firm helped to create.

In taking over the Bank of England the Canadian joins a long list of colleagues, past and present, who have gravitated towards centres of power in the Western world. When he created the image of the vampire squid in 2010, Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone also wrote, accurately enough, that "the history of the recent financial crisis, which doubles as a history of the rapid decline and fall of the suddenly swindled dry American empire, reads like a Who's Who of Goldman Sachs graduates".

In America, the now-ancient joke runs that there is a revolving door between Goldmans and the White House. The firm's nickname, these days, is Government Sachs. Robert Rubin, once Bill Clinton's Treasury Secretary, is the firm's co-chairman. Hank Paulson, who did the Treasury job for George Bush Jnr and managed the first attempt at a US bail-out, was a former Goldman Sachs chairman and CEO. Stephen Friedman managed to chair the Federal Reserve Bank of New York during the crisis while drawing a salary from the Squid.

This is not simply a North American phenomenon, nor does it seem accidental. Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank? Goldmans. Otmar Issing, formerly of the Bundesbank board and the ECB's chief economist? Ditto. Peter Sutherland, formerly Ireland's attorney general, RBS board member, EU trade commissioner and director general of the World Trade Organisation? He chairs Goldman Sachs International.

Then there was Lucas Papademos, Prime Minister of Greece until May of this year, who worked with Goldmans while running the country's central bank in an effort to disguise the Greek deficit. Most startling of all is the figure of Mario Monti, Italy's unelected "technocrat" Prime Minister, who was an "international adviser" to the investment bank before assuming office. He and the Squid also engaged in manoeuvres to "minimise" Italian debt.

Mr Carney might be one of those repentant poachers who turn to keeping game. It could be that he has dissented at last from "the Goldman Sachs Project", its revolving doors, and its palpable conflicts of interest. Perhaps Mr Osborne is right to be so delighted by his catch.

It is worth remembering, though, that Mr Carney was once an adviser to Russia's Government on his firm's behalf while that country borrowed madly in the mid-1990s. The policies then pursued led to a financial crisis and economic collapse. Goldman Sachs emerged, though, with what the firm described as "minimal" losses. A more serious charge is that the bank, while punting a $1.25 billion bail-out for the Russians, "protected" itself by betting against the success of the operation.

It's not the background, you might think, of a born reformer. It is certainly not a career history liable to cause the freebooters of the City to quake. Mr Carney has already professed himself a fan of quantitative easing, as practised by Mr King. Thus far, that exercise has seen £37bn created with no discernible effect on the real economy. It has been a treat for the banks, however.

So Britain now joins the informal global Goldman Sachs empire. The Squid is embraced. We can contain our applause for a while longer, I think.

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