Risk assessment is the mantra of our time. You cannot organise a girls’ school hockey match without having to assess the risk that the combatants will bark their knuckles. The baskets of flowers that used to hang outside the Ring of Bells pub in Norton Fitzwarren have been assessed as a risk to passers-by who, if they were more than eight feet tall, might have to step into the road or bump their heads. Trustees of charities and pension funds must assess their risks or take the consequences. Much good all this did for us on the day when City and suburban life developed a new kind of hazard: the risk of being blown up on the way to work. The markets had to assess it and, in their own way, they did. They stumbled but picked themselves up, and by this week they were moving ahead. No doubt they were telling us that risks like these had been priced in. We learned in New York that financial markets were themselves in the line of fire, and then in Madrid that lines of transport were soft targets. Any assessment of risks would have pointed to London, and must have concluded that London could cope. I wish that I could find myself so sanguine.
Just in time
We have been reminded once more that the foundations of our prosperity are fragile. For decades now we have seen the world’s trade grow, as goods and services, money and people have been able to move freely and easily. Technology has made it possible for communication to span frontiers and to make distance irrelevant. The world has moved closer to a ‘just in time’ economy, efficient in itself but vulnerable to disruption. From all this, Britain has stood to gain more than most, as a nation open to trade and as the home of an international financial marketplace whose growth, in these years, has been prodigious.