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GUEST COMMENT: Bankers should have a Hippocratic oath

Greed is an emotion as old as time. It’s asking too much of human beings to expect those on Wall Street to take as detached a view of the commodity they see pass through their hands as would a manager of a power-generating station takes of kilowatt-hours.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the spiritual leader of millions of members of the Anglican Communion, suggested that investment banking bonuses should be capped, and called on their recipients to repent, arguing that “people are somehow getting away with a culture in which the connection between the worth of what you do and the reward you get [is] obscure.”

But turning bankers into individuals who look down on money may be not only impossible but undesirable-after all, the money grid’s job revolves around how to make the flow of capital more profitable and efficient for [all] concerned. The key word is [all]-while bankers can’t corner those profits, they shouldn’t be totally disinterested.

Perhaps the appropriate strategy is to bring financial services professionals to think of their jobs in the same way that lawyers view the law, or doctors the profession of medicine.

Those groups certainly hope to earn large sums as a reward for years of education and training, but they recognize and acknowledge that their self-interest goes hand in hand with a higher public and social interest, one that is explicitly acknowledged in medicine’s Hippocratic Oath and its cornerstone, the pledge to, “do no harm.”

Excerpted from Chasing Goldman Sachs by Suzanne McGee (c) 2010 Suzanne McGee. Reprinted by permission of Crown Business, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group.

Comments (7)

  1. I suggest to the Archbishop of Canterbury that the amount of sky-fairy bullsh!t you are allowed to peddle be capped also…deal? Perhaps people who are still grappling with whether women or homosexuals are equals are perhaps not the best moral arbiters we have?

  2. Having spent two decades as a lowly paid IT contractor prior to becoming a high flying quant in the hedge fund world, I can see both sides to the coin. I admit I was often jealous of high earnings before joining the esteemed rank of 40% taxpayer myself. But now that I have reached my nirvana I still sleep well at night knowing that the 40-50K I pay in taxes each year is helping those let fortunate than myself.

  3. 40%? You mean 50% surely?

  4. @ Jol-Boring as ever

  5. The purpose of an oath is to ensure loyalty in the absence of properly structured incentives. The Hippocratic oath ensured the alignment of doctors’ interests with patients prior to the emergence of a market system. The best guarantee that doctors will do no harm is a functioning market in which incompetent doctors lose business.

    Similarly, bankers only do harm when their interests are separated from those of shareholders or clients. Align these, and you eliminate the need for oaths. Of course, the reality is that bankers that behaved ‘irresponsibily’ were in fact doing what was demanded of them by shareholders in an ultra-bull market awash with cheap credit and plentiful returns… perhaps the ‘do no harm’ oath should be sworn by politicians, economists and central bankers, who have done more to wreck the economy than any investment banker.

  6. Will the Archbishop scream for all high earners to have their pay capped? What about; tennis players, rock stars, sportsmen, former MPs and senior civil servants???

    To quote this dithering fool in any article is to immediately destroy any credibility the arguement may have.

    This from a man whose own appalling moral leadership is seeing the institution he heads fail over the issue of sexual indulgence.

    The same as lawyers? – do you mean seeing clients purely in terms of how much we can charge them? Ever worked in a large law firm and have to charge out every 5 minutes of every day to clients?

    This article is a FAIL – re submit when the arguement has been thought through.

  7. Jol – the 40-50k you pay is taxes each year is being spent on David Laws’ mortgage or helicopter fuel for VIPs to tour in Afghanistan ……… the needy get nothing.

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