Saturday, February 14, 2009
Christopher Caldwell says the bankers were not malevolent but mediocre. Unfortunately, he doesn't say what he means by 'mediocre'. I don't think he means what I mean, which is that, before the Treasury Select Committee, Andy Hornby and Fred Goodwin in particular looked and sounded like decent middle management material but emphatically not somebody you'd want to run a bank. Also Caldwell goes along with the Goodwin-Hornby line that they bore the same losses as their shareholders. I presume this refers to shares they owned as a result of bonus schemes - in which case, they have born no real losses at all. Overall I think what we have here is a sophisticated version of The Nuremberg Defence - everybody was at it, I had no choice, it was the system that was at fault, not me. This would be a mildly mitigating circumstance in the case of a car maker or engineering company, but banks are different. They exist and we give them our money because they are assumed to be repositories of a certain special kind wisdom. One essential function of that wisdom is to detect dangers or wickedness in the system and withdraw. If they can't do that, then they are not qualified to be bankers and, if they don't do it, then they should be excoriated and exiled from the City.
(This reminds me that in the course of my first job as a financial reporter, my editor assured me that the City would have nothing to do with wrongdoers, they would never work in the Square Mile again. 'Jim Slater?" I said. He harrumphed and said no more.)
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 6:13 am