Historical lessons in disincentivizing bankers

By Felix Salmon
September 4, 2009
crack down on bankers' pay directly, but that's unlikely to work. You can try to fiddle with capital-adequacy standards, so that big banks become less profitable, but that's unlikely to have much in the way of immediate effect. Or, you could follow the lead of Holland, circa 1581, as explicated by Simon Schama:

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There are too many bankers, and they make too much money. How to deal with this? You can try to crack down on bankers’ pay directly, but that’s unlikely to work. You can try to fiddle with capital-adequacy standards, so that big banks become less profitable, but that’s unlikely to have much in the way of immediate effect. Or, you could follow the lead of Holland, circa 1581, as explicated by Simon Schama:

Bankers were excluded from communion by an ordinance of 1581, joining a list of other shady occupations—pawnbrokers, actors, jugglers, acrobats, quacks, and brothel keepers—that were disqualified from receiving God’s grace. Their wives were permitted to join the Lord’s Supper, but only on condition that they publicly declared their repugnance for their husband’s profession! Their families shared the taint and were only permitted to join communion after a public profession of distaste for dealing in money.

Given that Mammon has long since triumphed over God, I reckon most bankers these days would happily give up communion in order to be able to continue to make their seven-figure bonuses. Maybe we should try banning their children from attending expensive private schools instead.

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