A Good Dose of Common Sense Heard on the Street

The Journal’s Simon Nixon has a nice Heard on the Street column today, noting that “Bankers Have Only Themselves to Blame” for a new backlash.

And how.

He notes that the banks were chugging along the return to normalcy track, but got derailed (again) by the sacks of money they collected along the way:

But that was before bankers started awarding themselves giant, boom-style multiyear guaranteed pay packages, doubling and trebling their basic salaries and accruing billions of dollars for this year’s bonus pool.

Bad timing. If these guys could have cooled their jets on the pay thing for just this year, the storm might have passed. Now the Big Three in Europe are talking very, very tough about cutting them down to size.

Although I disagree that bonuses didn’t help cause the disaster, Nixon’s recommendations here are smart:

The real issue is the structure and scale of the banking industry: Banks deemed too big to fail need to be cut down to size or more closely regulated and governments need to decide what financial activities should come within the scope of their implicit guarantees.

And this is dead on, if a little awkwardly put together:

A system where banks that have received massive support from governments and central banks think it is sensible to prioritize paying outlandish compensation packages to their employees ahead of repaying government capital, rebuilding their equity to support new lending or even rewarding their long-suffering shareholders is not a free market but a racket.


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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.