RBS will be paid a bonus of almost £800,000 just weeks after his bank was fined £391 million for rate-rigging. Douglas Wilson on the psychology of banking, greed and quantitative easing
It was Sigmund Freud who posited the connection between excrement and money, which is to say, that people with an unhealthy obsession with money are, according to Freud’s theory, stuck in the anal stage of development, in which the infant child is overly anxious about its own faeces, which it also experiences as pleasure.
You can take Freud or leave him as you please; certainly, I find it unlikely that we all want to sleep with our mothers and murder our fathers – though nothing would surprise me about the Conservative Party. But the Freudian theory about money and excrement came to mind when I saw Stephen Hester on Channel 4 News the other night, defending himself and the Royal Bank of Scotland over the LIBOR rigging scandal.
Here, to me, was a man who looked severely constipated as he tried to explain away the events of the scandal which was taking place under his nose long after the British tax-payer bailed out the bank in 2008 and Hester was appointed to the job.
Here, too, was a man who picked up a two million pound bonus in 2010 when LIBOR rigging was a going-concern for doing his job ever so well and who has no intention of giving it back apparently. The same public servant who, in an unintended burst of self-satire, described the LIBOR rigging scandal as “an extreme example of a selfish and self-serving culture”.
By Hester’s body-language, you might have thought the tax-payer, Jimmy Bloggs, had broken into the RBS chief’s family home, ransacked the place, and stolen the family silver – of which there must be a lot.
Likewise, RBS chairman, Sir Philip Hampton, who without the slightest trace of irony, described the events of last Wednesday – the day RBS was fined £390 million for widespread misconduct – as “a sad day for banking”.
A sad day for banking? I didn’t know there was such a thing. A sad day for the rest of us more like, who have been fleeced by the bankers, and fleeced again, with much more in store, as numerous lawsuits are filed against the RBS connected to the LIBOR rigging scandal and also to the share issue made under Fred Goodwin, allegedly under false pretences.
To be fair to Hester, he did try to resign on Wednesday, but the board wouldn’t accept his resignation; though to be fair to common sense and normal parlance, I don’t quite know what that means. Most people I know who resign don’t turn up for work the next day.
Which is the point about the banks and the bankers. Not only have they devastated the economy, they have also devastated the English language, undermining the meaning of perfectly respectable words which had done no harm to anybody in the past and creating an obscure jargon which the most abstruse theoretical Hegelian Marxist would be proud of; a language designed to obfuscate and to occlude; in the case of our bankers – fast becoming television celebrities so often are they in the news – depraved, unlimited, insatiable greed.
Take the word “bonus” for example; the only time most people I know have ever seen that word is on the puggy machine in the pub, certainly never on a pay-slip. At the best, a car salesman might use it after selling a Rolls-Royce; say, to a banker.
But when a man collects two million pounds in the same year he presided over the biggest felony in world history – such is how it has been described by some – you know the word has lost its meaning, that the bottom has fallen out of it, much like it has the economy.
Personally, I would much prefer to see two million pounds of tax-payers money handed out in ten pound notes on Sauchiehall Street on a Saturday afternoon than see Hester or anybody in RBS pocket it. It would certainly do more for the British economy.
The ineffable George Osborne, he of that esteemed Conservative think-tank known as the Bullingdon Club – a hothouse of ideas as we are seeing – has promised us that the tax-payer won’t foot the bill for the 390 million pound fine imposed on RBS, that the money will be recuperated from bonuses paid out to RBS executives; as if that were a concession of some sort.
For the 390 million pound fine is the least of it. The bank bailout, masterminded by the leader of Better Together, Alistair Darling, has been the biggest fiasco visited on the British tax payer ever. Thanks to Darling, Labour and Brown, we are now 87% stakeholders of a bank about to be sued for billions by pension funds, investors and private companies. What is Alistair Darling saying about the RBS fiasco? I, for one, would like to know.
Freud developed his theory about the symbolic relation between excrement and money after noting: “I read one day that the gold the devil gives his victims regularly turns into excrement”. Which, whether you want to take his theory seriously or not, offers a pretty neat parable of the case of the RBS, a once proud institution which enriched the nation when it was dedicated to that old-fashioned notion of regular high-street banking – before Thatcher, Brown and Blair turned it into a casino – and whose riches turned excrement have been passed on to the unwitting tax-payer thanks to Alistair Darling.
That parable also offers an alternative, contemporary reading of those once illustrious initials, and what the last of these now stands for, at least as far as the tax-payer is concerned. RBS? C’est la merde!!!
As for the 2014 referendum, the idea that the wavering voters out there in Scotland who need to be persuaded to vote for independence might not be convinced even after the RBS fiasco – that we might end up remaining part of UK PLC – causes me, at least, a sudden, distressing, bowel movement deep inside…or in the scatological language of the bankers, an urgent need for quantitative easing.