Friday 3 July 2009

Bankers weren't worth it: the proof

BBC economics brainbox Robert Peston sets out pretty clearly and conclusively why the enormous change in banker's rewards from 1986 to 2006 were not earned or merited - and what could be done about it.

If Peston says so, who dares to differ?

It is worth reading in full. He draws on the figures presented by Andrew Haldane who heads financial stability - a good idea, for sure - at the Bank of England. After the crash it can be seen that bank returns in this era of super returns have provided returns broadly similar to those of the overall non super-reward economy and to the history of bank returns before everybody thought they would do well to promote the idea that the rules on returns and rewards had fundamentally changed.

It was a leveraged gamble - which did well for a while before the roulette wheel landed on black. These were "casino profits" not management skill, says Peston, But the system of super-rewards provided an incentive not to spot the danger, but rather to ramp up the gamble.

The problem is this:

The evidence is clearly for change.

But many in the City feel that the speeches about lessons learned and restoring trust may have done their bit, especially as the media heat off since the focus moved on to Parliamentary perks. (A vox-pop on Newsnight said something like the public understand plasma screen TVs rather more tangibly than telephone number bonuses which are right off the scale of ordinary experience).

Alastair Darling is talking tougher in telling the bankers to get real in his interview in The Independent this morning.

Adair Turner is proposing a range of sensible reforms.

Is the culture really going to change - and how? Or does business as usual still looks like the most likely outcome.

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