Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Moral Culture of Banking: Selling Ethics by the Pound

A young man I know was interviewed for a City job earlier this year. He was turned down for it not because he wasn't able, but because he 'wasn't sufficiently motivated by money.'

We've got used to thinking of everything in terms of economics: earlier this week Ed Balls spoke of preschools and nurseries as part of our 'economic infrastructure', and betting companies like BrokeLads are classed as 'financial services'. But isn't there something wrong with an economic sector, no matter how much it contributes to the economy, fuelled principally by greed?

The latest warnings of bankers fleeing overseas as a result of a bonus cap are pathetic. Who would you rather have working for you: someone who'll work hard and do their best because of pride in the job and personal integrity, or someone who'll only do it if you throw enough cash and share options at them? Do we want people who need an 'incentive to behave prudently and responsibly' running our biggest companies? Since when did ethics become an optional extra, sold by the pound?

It shouldn't therefore be a surprise to find the same people dodging taxes. After all, greed means there's no such thing as 'enough', and whether its the badly paid cleaner in your office or the taxpayer who pays the price, who cares? Why should financiers change their behaviour when it comes to HMRC? Bonus culture and tax avoidance are two sides of the same coin.

George Osborne talks of rebalancing the economy. That's not the only thing that needs rebalancing. If we continue to celebrate being a 'leading financial services sector', driven by companies who hold greed and avarice as key values and motivational factors, then we will not only breed a class of rich but very selfish people, but we'll attract more than our fair share of similar people from other countries. Shouldn't we have an economy where the brightest minds are attracted, not to the jobs which reward greed, but jobs which do most good and are most worthwhile? There are higher values than economics, but we're struggling to give them a look in. There's a reason why Dragons Den, which celebrates inventiveness and enterprise, is on BBC2, whilst the Apprentice, which rewards ruthlessness, cheating and moral short-cutting, is a flagship BBC1 programme.

If our education system and our society is merely producing brilliant minds who have no moral issue with working this way, then we have a problem. History is littered with the victims of people who were brilliant scientists, engineers, educationalists, politicians, even religious leaders, who had lost their souls along the way.

Even if the bonus cap is flawed in other ways, if it means less of a culture of greed in the UK, then the Treasury should be looking for a way to work with it, not oppose it. No, wait, Treasury, the clue's in the name isn't it?


  1. I agree with almost everything you say, apart from your use of The Apprentice as an example of all things bad. Lord Sugar is often ( surprisingly?) moral, and the cheats don't prosper. Nice guys/gals can and do win (eg Tom Pellereau, an inventor)

  2. I recall one guy winning it after admitting forging part of his CV. I just can't get my head around wanting to employ someone who's a confessed liar. But you've probably watched more of it than I have!

    1. So someone who had told a lie in the past had better look out if they wanted to become curate in your parish? Or would you forgive them?

  3. You're right - he did forge part of his CV. And it got noticed, and he ended up looking stupid and wrong for doing it. He wasn't commended for it. He won despite the forgery, not because of it.

    Alan Sugar doesn't employ saints (in the popular sense). But he generally seems to expect and demand a certain level of decency. (And Jesus didn't have a great track record for choosing reliable people...). ((And still doesn't, thank goodness!))