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Friday, November 21, 2008

Moral hazard and white-collar crime

I've said several times that I think a benchmark punishment for those financiers who have very nearly destroyed us with, if not criminal intent, then culpable ignorance, should be the repayment of their last 5 years' bonuses.

Harsh, one may think; unreasonable. Surely this would bankrupt many and leave them homeless.

Well, what is happening now to thousands of the victims of their greedy schemes across America and Britain? Men seeing the disappointment and cooling affection in their women's eyes, feeling the ardour of embraces replaced by demoralising reassurance, knowing that after the comfort comes recrimination; women worrying about their men's fidelity and sobriety, about their own security and the safety of their children; education disrupted, futures blighted.

A long-running motif in public affairs here and presumably across the Atlantic has been "getting away with it". You will all have your own list of those who have been rewarded for misbehaviour. Without fitting retribution, society will continue to crumble. This is not about vengeance, but about making whole.


Anonymous said...

I don't see that bankers have done anything wrong. They have merely done what there shareholders at any point of time have wanted - they have maximised profits in the short term. Eventually their strategies have led to ruin. This year a lot of their shareholders got their fingers burnt. But they have made a lot of shareholders happy over the previous ten years.

If you don't like the nasty truth of this then argue for long-termism. Maybe time to say that when you buy a share you are obliged to keep it for ten years? Shareholders would then take much more interest in the long-term prospects of the companies they own. Having a market trading by the second in shares is ludicrous, and whilst it has made UK PLC a lot of money from those instant trades it has undermined the UK economy everywhere else with its short-term view.

But the question you must ask yourself is this - if the bankers are to blame how is it that they have all gone south in the same instant? Don't be misdirected by the Labour-led media. There is a "common-factor" here and it lies within the government.

Sackerson said...

Anon, you raise interesting and relevant issues. In my view, the governments are also culpable, since they (a) have regulatory oversight and (b) permitted - perhaps strongly encouraged - the disastrous thinning of reserves.

But I say "also", because bankers and traders knew, or ought to have known, where this would lead. Perhaps not the bright, greedy and lamentably ignorant twentysomethings buying their first fast car with their first bonus, but what about their team managers and corporate stragegists? Knowledge of financial history and potential economic consequences must surely be deemed core competencies for such people - a plea of ignorance cannot be acceptable.

As to shareholders, it is a moot question whether ordinary shareowners have any real power over their directors, let alone sufficient knowledge and expertise to see what they're up to. Perhaps big institutional holders, yes - with their own agendas, too. The democratic deficit plaguing our countries has its equivalent in corporate governance.

Thank you for your visit and comments.

Paddington said...

Personally, I favour sending them all to Guantanamo Bay, after stripping their assets.

There is a bigger problem here in the States, and also in the UK and Europe: the short-term profit-driven strategy, which had the premise that we could make money by moving paper around, and led to a massive decline in funding for science, by both government and industry. The technology that we need now would have come from the science of 20-30 years ago, but our brightest brains went into banking and law, and there was no investment in the work of those who stayed. My deepest fear is that the current economic meltdown, combined with energy and strategic metals shortages, will lead to the population collapse predicted by Malthus.

James Higham said...

You will all have your own list of those who have been rewarded for misbehaviour.

Oh yes indeed and was vilified for it two Saturday's ago but back to the topic in hand, the repayment of bonuses - how would it be enforced?

Sackerson said...

not-so-OP: Gitmo - great idea. Population collapse: no. At least, not in the USA.

JH: at the point of a Treasury automatic weapon, if necessary.

Anonymous said...

Gitmo if you must, Prof, but at least let Toni Blair be executed in public.