I listend to Radio 4's Any Questions? last Saturday and a question about bankers' bonuses reared its lovely head. And then the pundits fell down, one after another.
I can't answer the conundrum about the sound of one hand clapping, but I sure heard the sound of punches being pulled. Perhaps some of the speakers have banker friends; perhaps some are hoping not to alienate the Masters of the Universe in the weary stagger up to a General Election. But here's what I'd like to have said, and it proceeds from a simple question:
Did the bankers know the likely consequences of their actions?
If they didn't, they are incompetent and instead of dithering about the threat of the RBS' board to resign, the government should sack them and all like them. Doctors who are that bad at their jobs would be sued and/or worse.
If they did, they should be jailed. In my view, Max Keiser is not exaggerating when he calls them terrorists. They have wrought destruction on our economies and though the human cost may be hard to assess accurately, it is and will continue to be terrible.
So, why isn't it happening? A number of reasons occur to me:
1. It is convenient for politicians to have a few people earn (sorry, be given, legally steal) vast sums of money. The lucky recipients of this largesse can be taxed at 40% (or even 50% as under today's draft Budget proposals) and still have more than they can possibly eat, drink, wear or stick up their noses. "Tax doesn't have to be taxing", as that wretched radio advert chirrups.
2. Clapped-out politicians may one day be looking for a well-overpaid sinecure, like T--- B----. Best not to be too hard on your potential future employer.
3. Embarrassingly, the roots of the credit crunch are not (not merely) in socialist profligacy, but date back to the early 1980s. It was a so-called Conservative government, supposedly a convert to monetarism, that opened the floodgates of credit and tsunamied the economic "boom". Not a genuine boom, and now a very real bust. Criticising the present hapless bunch too sharply would beg a loud, sustained argument of "tu quoque" ("thou also didst so").
4. Just as an addict is partly responsible for the sins of the dealer, the consumer is implicated in the phoney house price rises and the spending spree. But I say that the Devil has the lowest place in Hell, because his knowledge was greater.
5. Nevertheless, if push came to shove, the bankers could point out that effectively, they were acting as the agents of a government determined to win re-election.
Very well, then. Let us have our punishment - we shall, anyway, and the next generation after us. But they must have theirs - the bankers, the politicians and the Fourth Estate that got too close and too cosy for too long.
Go for it.