A few days ago, London Mayor Boris Johnson made a comment about a potential European Union cap on bankers’ bonuses arguing that it is not a good idea as “Brussels cannot control the global market for banking talent, Brussels cannot set pay for bankers around the world.”
Now. I won’t commment on whether it is correct for Brussels to try to impose such measures or not. It is a big issue but not for here. What I do want to highlight is the absurdity of the term ‘banking talent’. Talent is something very special. What may have confused Boris is that bankers get paid a lot of money and in some cases, some people with talent also get paid a lot as they bring a lot to the businesses they work for. Classically trained musicians, who, with a lot of practice, use their exceptional talent of a very rare ability to perform masterpieces with such precision and range are examples; the Barbican or the Royal Opera House (for example) can charge a lot of money for tickets to enjoy the performance of such artists. Determining the terms and conditions and selling the tickets then brings money to these organisations. Bringing money to the Royal Opera House isn’t the bit that requires talent! (This is!) Owning property brings money and that doesn’t require any talent. There is no banking talent, all banking is is relating to money. People relate to food, some well, some not so well, but only an idiot would speak of ‘eating talent’. (For those under the impression that a better analogy would be that banking ‘creates’ money see: financial crisis) Paganini had talent and composed the 24 Caprices with it. Banking does not require any talent more than bank-robbing or killing does. These last two are of course illegal but they prove another point, namely that being better than others at anything isn’t necessarily a talent either and ‘good’ doesn’t always come out of it. Furthermore banking does not require any more talent than finding legal ways to avoid paying any moneys to the state in tax or any other manner and nobody speaks of accounting talent. What banking requires is methodical thinking, identifying which ways of abusing the financial mess the society is in are not illegal yet and exploiting them for as long and as much as possible through transactions that take place much quicker than regulators can police them – and the regulators are very very slow. Drafting a document that says ‘we will exchange/buy/sell this financial product for that’ does not require anything special. The issue with Payment Protection Insurance (PPI) and fiddling the LIBOR, recently in the news in the UK, are only two of thousands of examples, toxic mortgages and relevant derivatives another one from the other side of the Atlantic etc. This does not require any talent. It only requires a badly regulated environment and political leaders unwilling and/or unable to do much about it to be on the other side. All it requires on the side of what mainly rich idiots call ‘banking talent’ is greed, some assets to begin with and a lot of lawyers.