The roots of the bonus problem

I still have one account with Barclays.  Yes, I am ashamed of myself.  I’ve moved all the others.

I did a small calculation, as one of the bank’s 48m customers worldwide, and found that I have contributed £50 towards their £2.4bn annual bonus bill.  I know I haven’t actually contributed that much, though others have – it is an average figure, but rather a scary one.

I resent this not just because of the money, but because the damage those bonus payments make to my life goes some way beyond the £50 I have paid.

It is a reward mainly to their investment bankers for further unbalancing the global economy.  The proportion of it that stays in London is recycled mainly into raising house prices, to the extent that my own children will not be able to afford to rent or buy in London without joining financial services themselves.

All of that might be forgivable if Barclays was supporting enterprise in the UK, but it quite patently is not doing so.

More on the peculiar way that this, and other policy decisions of the past 30 years, is undermining middle class life and values in my book Broke: How to Survive the Middle Class Crisis.

But I read with interest the comments of the Institute of Directors – “for whom is this institution being run?” – and it strikes me that, when the Institute of Directors and the green economists, the small business lobby groups and the left-wing intellectuals, are all on the same side, then political action will almost certainly follow.

I also agree with Labour’s Cathy Jamieson that we need a bonus tax, though I am equally aware that a bonus tax will tend to be avoided.  In any case, the real issue goes beyond taxation.

When the rewards of dealing in money are out of all proportion to the rewards of genuine enterprise, then there is something more fundamental wrong.  I don’t know what the solution is, but I can say two things about it.

First, any solution is going to have to move towards global action, and second, it will need to restructure banking so fundamentally that its potential rewards no longer unbalance the world.

That is, of course, easier said than done.  So I’ve been wondering whether there might be any benefits at all to the nations which move first.

They will lose the banking profits to tax, of course – which appear to be used as a justification for almost any abuse and tyranny at the moment.  But they would gain something else: an effective, useful banking system would mean a hugely more entrepreneurial culture, much more widely spread through the national economy.

Which would you chose for the future of the nation?  Keeping the money to allow the dinosaurs to carry on unbalancing the economy or losing that, but gaining entrepreneurial local economies that are less dependent in the future?

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