Our bankers can learn a lot from Team GB
Well done Team GB. You have not just chalked up wonderful results, but you have avoided tub-thumping triumphalism and shown the world that there is a facet of Great Britain that is most appealing: our ability to self-deprecate and laugh at ourselves. Would that we could say the same about some ‘gentlemen’ in finance.
As we all know, some disastrous things have been taking place there. It truly makes MPs grubbing around for small change in the expenses scandal look quite inconsequential. These guys can sink us all; they almost did, and might yet do so.
I believe the time has come for drastic action, starting with the criminalisation of excessive and irresponsible risk-taking. Had we done so at an earlier date, ‘Fred the Shred’, and others like him, would almost certainly have thought twice before doing what they did.
Nothing concentrates the mind like a good hanging – only, in this case, we’ll settle for a lengthy prison term. Yet for some reason the powers-that-be are strangely reluctant to come down on white collar crime in anything like the way they do on blue collar. Do I detect privilege looking after its own? Is there an ‘old boys’ network in operation? David Cameron says we should not encourage banker bashing. May it not be that what he is really saying is: “leave my friends alone”? The Americans are far more willing to send financial miscreants to prison than we are. Why is this?
The whole western world is suffering to an extraordinary extent because of the misdeeds of the financiers; likely to be protracted, and life destroying to many millions of people who have done nothing wrong, the Great Recession has already been dragging on for four years now and no end can be discerned. In truth, it is likely to get much worse. Not a pundit on the planet has a clue where it is all going and when it will end.
The people who have done this to us have not only got away with it scot-free, but seem unable to grasp the enormity of what they have done. Nothing better illustrates this than the continuance of the iniquitous bonus culture they have built around their activities. Where else do such incredible sums get thrown at people with such gay abandon? How did it all start? Its insidious effect has even moved over to the public sector, where managers also now look to extra awards for merely doing their job. Getting money from Joe Public has never been easier; plastic cards by the hundred thousand now help grease the wheels.
Almost uniquely, banking is in a position to bring the whole system crashing down. That is why the innocents have been successfully compelled into saving the guilty. Only the stiffest penalties we can devise will do to punish those who have set the financial crisis in train. We must never allow ourselves to be put in a position like this again.
What a scandal that people who saved up all their lives, forgoing foreign holidays and the like, must see their savings decimated to prop up the feckless, as well as profiteering, bankers who were lending – where they care to do so – at sometimes twenty times what they are charged.
It is unfortunate that no economic model other than capitalism has been shown to deliver growth and prosperity, and it will always be down to the cleverest and best educated in our midst to operate it. But that very fact is what makes it so reprehensible that they have done this thing to the trusting billions around the world. Apart from the wicked greed they have displayed, they have provided priceless ammunition to the misguided enemies of capitalism who, even now, would drag us back into discredited and dangerous other models such as communism. (Incidentally, these Occupy protesters are confusing capitalism with corporatism, but that is not the point.)
There are four measures I believe could save us from a re-run of this saga. The first, as I have already detailed, involves banging up bankers. The second is the protection of whistleblowers. Once again here, Uncle Sam leads the way; he does not put his trust so much in setting up expensive regulatory agencies and quangos, staffed, in so many cases, by second-raters who dance to the tune of the Bob Diamonds of this world. Instead, Uncle Sam goes for insider information which makes it all the easier to secure convictions. And he gets it by rewarding the whistleblower with a percentage of any fines levied on the corporation for its misdeeds.
Right across the board, the whistleblower performs a valuable and often courageous service – often without reward. He or she is frequently someone who has witnessed scandalous activities which affront their conscience. In this country, however, whistleblowers are treated like pariahs. The people exposed – be they in the health or civil service – close ranks and sack the whistleblower. Once again the good man or women is made to pay for doing the right thing.
The third suggestion concerns our regulators. Since there will always be a need for close scrutiny of important financial activities, these agencies must be staffed by the very best – people who are cleverer than the people they are scrutinising (and not, as at present, the other way round). To secure these clever clogs, we are going to have to pay them top rates; that way, the dullards will find it next to impossible to bamboozle the cleverer man.
My fourth and final suggestion is a proper clear out of the top echelons of the Civil Service when a new government takes office. Often these civil servants are appointees who, if they disagree with the new government’s policies, will foot-drag as only the Civil Service knows how – ‘Yes Minister’ style. The clear out should take the form of the various head of departments being obliged to offer their resignation; if the incoming government feels they are not ideologically opposed to their manifesto, are on top of their brief and unlikely to be obstructive, then it could choose to keep them in their post.