Sunday, 20 September 2009

Moral hazard 1 : Everyone else - 816,000

Moral hazard is one of those terms the media used so much its forgotten what it actually means. The phrase “privatisation of profit and socialisation of losses” captured a bit of what it’s all about i.e. when banks make money, the execs and the shareholders do mucho well, but when they lose they get bailed out by the taxpayers. What follows on from that is that banks have no incentive not to take potentially destructive risks (the moral hazard bit) because they know they'll get the goodies if it goes well (for a short time at least) whereas the taxpayers will step in to make sure they and their lenders (not shareholders interestingly enough who have lost big time), will be A-OK.

You can see this in the packages given to Chuck Prince, John Thain, Fred Goodwin etc. to fuck off – all of whom were multi-billion fuck ups and all of whom are still multi-millionaires.

And yet everyone else is having to pay for the risks these money grasping shitfers took, judging by the latest unemployment statistics. So having troughed at 785,000 in November 2007, the British unemployment benefit (oops jobseekers allowance) claimant count reached 1,602,000 last month, an increase of 816,000!

In amongst all the chunky early retirement packages a handful of execs were given for fucking up so as to smooth the way for the financial system and its PR bitches to claim changes have been made, lessons learned and the guilty punished, etc., etc., Johnny Cameron, the ex-Chief Exec of RBS’s corporate banking division, stood out as probably the only example of a high heid yin who’d actually paid some sort of price.

Not only was he got shot of, the pension he moved onto of £62,000 a year was almost vaguely normal. I mean there’s no way that would “guarantee you bragging rights in a Soho wine bar” (to quote his former chairman Sir George Mathewson)

Even better when he was about to get a job elsewhere earlier this year for presumably mucho money, the FSA appears to have stepped in and said no chance pal by not “pushing through the formal approval required for the appointment of individuals by regulated financial institutions approval”.

So for everyone who’d lost their jobs and their homes due to an economic catastrophe driven by essentially a few hundred people, there was at least one teeny, tiny, grain of schadenfreude. Well there was until a few days ago when it turned out Johnny was taken on as a consultant by an executive head hunter specialising in the financial sector. I wonder if he’s already trying to fix his former boss Fred Goodwin up with a job? If he could do that he really would be worth the money.

As a P.S. am probably being a bit paranoid here, but why does the FT focus on how Sir George Matthewson's reputation was saved by getting out before the ABN Amro acquisition, but not refer to John Varley at Barclays who also wanted to buy that particular pig in a poke, but lost out in the bidding war, like are advertising revenues and club-ability factors here?

P.P.S. against this backdrop the who can cut the most "back office" jobs and still leave front-line services unaffected political posturing going on is repugnant. I mean how motivated are civil servants supposed to feel after watching professional politicians toss each over off over whose the best at cuting public sector jobs?

P.P.P.S. The head hunters that took on Johnny were also contracted to find a new boss for United Kingdom Financial Investments (UKFI), which oversees our stake in the banks. Ater taking on Johnny they lost the contract, which in turn prompted him to resign and him on only £62k a year as well, poor lamb. But, why just pick on him I wonder, theres plenty others that could do with a (spit)roasting. (added Jan 2010)

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