From the siren call of Christine Lagarde to Bob Diamond’s shock resignation and tax avoidance on a global scale, here are the 10 most-read stories from Guardian business in 2012
This may make painful reading after the excesses of Christmas but we are, on average, 3st heavier than we were in the 1960s – and not because we’re eating more or exercising less. The most-read story on the business site last year showed how the food industry has super-sized the global population and turned us into sugar addicts.
Public anger over tax avoidance was one of the key themes of 2012 and Observer business editor Heather Stewart’s story on the huge riches amassed by a global super-rich elite really struck a chord. Exploiting gaps in cross-border tax rules, they managed to hide an extraordinary £13 trillion ($21tn) of wealth offshore – as much as American and Japanese GDPs put together, according to research commissioned by the campaign group Tax Justice Network.
In May, IMF chief Christine Lagarde chose an interview with the Guardian’s Decca Aitkenhead to rachet up the pressure on crisis-hit Greece, declaring she had more sympathy for children deprived of decent schooling in sub-Saharan Africa than for many of those facing poverty in Athens. Using some of the bluntest language yet seen in the crisis, Lagarde insisted it was payback time for Greece. The story sparked a fierce debate among readers, generating more than 3,200 comments.
Dominic Rushe’s story on plunging profits at General Motors was our fourth most popular story last year. The 41% drop in the second quarter underlined the knock-on effect of the European crisis on the US economy, which at that point was still doing pretty well.
There are 12 noughts in a trillion and in May that was the truly scary estimate of the cost to the EU of Greece making a disorderly exit from the currency. The British government was said to be making urgent preparations to cope with the fallout of a possible Greek exit from the single currency, after the governor of the Bank of England, Sir Mervyn King, warned Europe was “tearing itself apart”. Reports from Athens, meanwhile, said massive sums of money were being spirited out of the country.
In an interview with Decca Aitkenhead, the American Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman outlined his strategy to end the financial crisis – ditch austerity, kickstart the economy with ambitious government spending, and bring down the deficit when we’re back above water again. Most important of all, do it now. That was in June. The undisputed Cassandra of academia, Krugman joked: “I’m kind of sick of being Cassandra. I’d like to actually win for once, instead of being vindicated by the disaster coming – as predicted.”
Shortly after 7.30am on Tuesday 3 July, Barclays chief executive Bob Diamond resigned. His abrupt departure, just six days after the bank was fined £59.5m for attempting to manipulate the Libor rate, send shockwaves through the City. Our eurocrisis expert Graeme Wearden leapt into action with a live blog rounding up all the political and City reaction, as well as the hastily arranged Barclays press conference. Diamond blamed the ‘external pressure’ that had build up on Barclays, as MPs called for his resignation and the government announced an inquiry into the affair. His departure was followed within hours by that of Jerry del Missier, one of Diamond’s key allies.
A second entry in the Top 10 for Heather Stewart and the $21tn in assets estimated to have been lost to global tax havens. This more detailed article based on research for the Tax Justice Network campaign group constructs an alarming picture of capital flooding out of countries across the world and disappearing into cracks in the financial system, with the world’s super-rich siphoning off at least $21tn, and possibly as much as $32tn, from their home countries to hide abroad.
Graeme Wearden tirelessly charted the twists and turns of the eurozone crisis in his daily blog – and 14 May was one of the darkest days of 2012, when Greece looked odds-on to quit the eurozone. Shares slid and the euro tumbled after a Greek general election which failed to deliver a clear winner. Amid the political paralysis, rumours swept the City that Greece was close to running out of money. A June default looked a real risk.
Preview pieces on whether the Bank of England will extend its quantitative easing programme don’t generally provide excitement, but perhaps it was the vision of Christine Lagarde as a siren that did the trick. Whatever the reason, Simon Goodley’s piece on the June MPC meeting was our 10th most-read story of the year. The IMF chief had earlier urged the UK to make further interest rate cuts and create more electronic money. “Surely the Bank’s nonet of middle-aged men wouldn’t consider frustrating the French temptress?” Goodley asked. They did.