Bankers at Davos: whingers of the world unite – which politicians are brave enough to bite back?
There’s something sick-making about the richest people in the world complaining that they’re unloved and hard done by. But that’s what we’re getting on a regular basis from fat cat bankers. From Bob Diamond of Barclays’ appeal to the Finance Select Committee to ‘let it go’ with the demands for contrition from the finance sector for bringing the world to its knees just a year or two ago, to JP Morgan boss Jamie Dimon’s tirade against banker bashing in Davos, and Friday’s meeting between the world’s top bankers and various Finance Ministers at Davos, financiers barely have enough time to count their bonus payments what with all the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. As Howard Davies, once head of the CBI and now head of the London School of Economics put it on his FT blog, “Bankers and creatures of that ilk rather go for austerity, as long as it’s not theirs.” Not all Finance Ministers were cowed by this naked demand for self-interest. France’s Christine Lagarde responded to thanks for the bank bailout by saying “good financing and sensible compensation” would be better forms of thanks. Compare and contrast this with UK Chancellor George Osborne’s feeble response, “we do need to move on”. It’s not as if Lagarde is a socialist – she’s a former corporate lawyer in a right-wing government. But at least she has a spine. Liam Halligan in the Telegraph noted that banker chutzpah in Davos was ominous because it forestalled still-needed reforms:
The structural banking reforms we so desperately require are still a very long way from being agreed. The chances now are, given the Davos mood music, that they never will be.
It isn’t as if the bankers actually have to face any austerity, as this year’s bonus figures (often on top of increased salaries designed to beat Labour’s bonus windfall tax last year) are beginning to show, and as the overall tax position of the banks (increased taxes are being more than cancelled out by new loopholes, offsets and lower corporation tax) gets richer and richer. No, this whingeing is preventive in intent: a defence against any future attacks and a demand for further opportunities to plunge their snouts in the trough, or perhaps to forestall being asked for tax-payers’ bailout money back. Perhaps they just can’t kick the habit and need bigger and bigger doses of cash, or they sense some sort of Tunisian/Egyptian moment brewing and are filling their boots in case they need to make a fast getaway.