Eight billion years should do it

It's not the bankers' fault they're irresponsible--they need to be shown how to behave.

INSTEAD OF this pointless Vickers Report about how to sort out the banks, the investigation should have been carried out on the reality TV show Supernanny. She'd have sorted it.

Columnist: Mark Steel

Mark Steel Mark Steel is a comedian, a columnist for the Independent newspaper, and a socialist and activist in Britain. He's the author of two collections about contemporary Britain, It's Not a Runner Bean: Dispatches from a Slightly Successful Comedian and Reasons to Be Cheerful--as well as Vive la Revolution: A Stand-up History of the French Revolution.

Because the problem seems to be they've got no discipline. And governments have been like these soppy posh parents you get who watch their toddlers go berserk in public, and eventually say, "Polyglot, darling, I've warned you, haven't I, about drilling through a stranger's leg with a masonry bit. Now please put the tools down, or you won't get a canap├ę."

For example, British Prime Minister David Cameron said the banks would face a "day of reckoning" for destroying the economy--which is true in that he's told them, "I reckon you can carry on doing whatever you want."

Now the Vickers Report suggests the banks should have two sections--one that's "ring-fenced" and behaves reasonably, and a separate wild part where they can carry on gambling with the country's finances, because we all need a bit of fun and relaxation sometimes. And the government really means it because they've given the banks only eight years to put this in place or else.

The trouble is they're already squirming out of the report's suggestions by arguing that anything that could slightly lower their profits will be damaging to the economy. So that's why they've carried on drawing the same bonuses as before--it's an act of generosity to protect the economy.

When Bob Diamond of Barclays received $10.3 million on top of his salary this year, he must have thought, "Oh no, I've got nowhere to put this. But if I don't accept it, the economy might suffer so I suppose I should be community-minded and take it," and then I expect he spent it on setting up a hospital for sick mice.

The bankers often suggest it's in the country's interest they take this money. Because when they're asked why they should have it, none of them say, "So I can buy the South of France." Instead they make up something like, "If you look at the history of recessions, it's clear that if the banks' profitability is reduced, the nation tends to catch fire. So if we cut bonuses, everything will burn to the ground, and that could threaten consumer confidence, as no one will go shopping because everything will be too hot."

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ONE WAY to deal with this would be to make the rules consistent. So after an inquiry into the riots, the gangs would be given eight years to separate their regular mooches round shopping centers from their time-looting Dixons.

Or we could apply the same sentence to bankers as to looters for each pound's worth stolen. So as one looter was given four months for stealing two bottles of water, the average banker would be jailed for around eight billion years, though obviously they could be out in four billion for good behavior.

But such stern measures would be unfair. It's not their fault they're irresponsible. They've been allowed to get away with it, with no boundaries or guidance to give them a sense of discipline. This is where Supernanny would be so helpful. Instead of dithering with unclear proposals, her report would go: "In order to ensure a stable banking system that may enhance sustainable economic growth, you'll get no more salaries until you've worked off all those bonuses you swiped. So to start with Mr. Goodwin, you're going to clean up all the leaves in Scotland. I don't care what your prime ministers let you do, we've got new rules now."

For a while, we'd have to endure bankers banging on the door and shouting, "I hate you, give me my five million NOW!" and screaming, "HOW can I invest in a HEDGE FUND while I'm on this stupid naughty step?" But eventually they'd learn self-respect and control, and then we could reward them with treats, so if they didn't take a Christmas bonus for being a director of a bank that had lost $125 million, they'd get a day out at Alton Towers.

Because there's no such thing as a naughty banker, they just need to be shown how to behave.