Saturday, February 07, 2009

Is it the greedy bankers?

Dave Osler recently said that "CALLING on bankers not to pocket giddying emoluments on the slightest pretext is somewhat akin to counselling sexual continence and observation of government drink unit guidelines to a bunch of teenagers about to jet off on a Club 18-30 package tour." Yet it currently seems to be all the fashion to blame "greedy bankers" for our current woes.

Now, obviously this is the politics of malicious class envy, which is why I like it, but I wonder if this rather personalised approach might allow our economic method itself off the hook. This possibility really came home to me the other night when listening to Question Time as Anne Widdecombe denounced fat cat bonuses.

How is it even possible that this could happen? I think it's because it isn't bankers that she's claiming are responsible for the crisis - but bad bankers. Ones that have not earned their bonuses, ones that were irresponsible, rather than the no doubt majority of the charming and beneficent banker class who do nothing but guard your money night and day like loyal, dutiful dogs.

Attacking the bad apples in the capitalist barrel is entirely consistent with Cameron's call for a "moral capitalism". You know, good luck with that - really - I've got my fingers crossed that he's successful. After all John Major called for a classless society, but sadly he only had seven years in power so his dreams of the dictatorship of the proletariat advancing through the stages to full Communism were never realised, but it's the thought that counts after all.

Whilst as a rhetorical turn I've no objection to denouncing bankers who think taking massive bonuses whilst staff are laid off or the policies of their bank create economic problems in difficult times. It is an obscenity to watch immorality rewarded. But perhaps a little care should be exhibited on our side, because the problems we face today are not rooted in this or that individual being irresponsible - but rather the economic system itself has flaws built into it.

The government is probing bank management for bad practice, and examining the level of bonuses, but it steadfastly ignores the idea that we could have more democratic control of the financial system. We could nationalise the banks rather than simply tut tut at them. We should investigate white collar crime, which no government has ever taken seriously, and send those who've broken the law to jail. But at the end of the day it's not bad bankers that are the key to the problem but the role all bankers and capital has in our society.

Yes, the mega bonuses make no sense if people should be rewarded for contributing to the sum of human happiness - but that's not what our economy is about. Perhaps it should be, but to reassess our priorities we'd need to ensure we don't turn individuals into the culprits for the crimes of a system that we need to change.

1 comment:

Matthew Cain said...

I'm taking my fair share of the blame for the financial downturn.

Now it's your turn, Gordon and David