The Great Debate UK
The row over bankers‘ pay and honours has presented the depressing spectacle of British public life at its nadir, with hypocrisy piled on humbug.
On the one hand, we hear bankers and their apologists arguing that their rewards are required to keep them from running off to sunnier climes, which prompts a number of questions. First, when bankers claim that they have to be paid a fortune in recognition of the size of the organizations they run, we may well ask: how many banks of this scale are there in the world today? How many are so hungry for skills like those of Britain’s bank bosses that they are willing and able to offer these sorts of rewards?
Three or four, maybe, at most – after all, several of the world’s largest banks are now owned by the Chinese Government, so they are unlikely to want a British boss any time soon, and the others do actually have a full management complement anyway. By definition, the number of vacancies at this level is extremely limited, so the danger of an exodus of top British bankers is much exaggerated.
In any case, does it really matter?
After all, even before the crash, there was quite a lot of sniping at high City payoffs and we were told at the time that the outrageous salaries and bonuses were needed to secure the services of people like (Sir) Fred Goodwin et al – and since then we have had ample opportunity to assess the true value of their high-price expertise.
Whenever I see photos of Chancellor Merkel these days, I’m reminded of the lugubrious features of the creature in the Restaurant at the End of the World, as it recommended to guests which part of its own anatomy they should eat. The details of the “Deal to Save the Euro” are still mysterious and have been given a misleading spin in the official releases, but one or two points seem clear.
First, the package is a compromise – a little bit of default (as required by a reality check) plus assistance to Greece which looks very generous but is still not enough to give it a realistic chance of paying its remaining debts. So the can has been kicked further down the same road yet again.
Ever since the financial crisis broke in 2008 some of the world’s major banks have their governments to thank for their survival. The fates of Royal Bank of Scotland or Citibank would have been much worse without large injections of capital from the UK and U.S. authorities. The UK government pumped more than £37 billion into its largest banks in the immediate aftermath of the Lehman Brothers crisis. Ireland took that a step further when it guaranteed all of its banks’ deposits and liabilities. This was affordable, the Irish government said at the time.
However, this policy failed spectacularly. Ireland’s bailout of its banking sector brought the country to the edge of bankruptcy and forced it to accept a 82 billion euro bailout loan from the IMF/ECB and the European Union. More than 30 billion euros of this loan is to re-capitalise the Irish banking sector and the rest is to shore up the state’s finances. The conditions of the loan mean that Ireland will have to implement harsh austerity measures for many years to come that will inevitably hurt growth.