Bonus bankers still have not repented, Dr Williams says

by
17 September 2009

by Ed Beavan

Still live: the timeline on Lehman Brothers heaquarters in New York, on the day of the collapse a year ago AP

Still live: the timeline on Lehman Brothers heaquarters in New York, on the day of the collapse a year ago ...

THE SURVIVAL of the bonus culture in the financial sector is causing “muted anger”, the Archbishop of Canterbury said on Tuesday. Unless this was challenged, society could be­come “more and more dysfunctional”.

Dr Williams was speaking on an edition of Newsnight on BBC 2 to mark the anniversary of the collapse of the Lehman Brothers bank. Dr Williams said that there had not been “closure” or “repentance” after the banking crisis.

He said that the situation had left people “with a quite strong sense of dif­fused resentment”. There hadn’t been “what I would, as a Christian, call repentance. We haven’t heard people saying, ‘Well, actually we got it wrong, and the whole fundamental principle on which we worked was unreal, was empty.’”

Dr Williams felt that there was a “sense of bafflement, a muted anger that the bonus culture isn’t chal­lenged”. Society would be damaged “if the levels of inequality that we’ve seen in the last couple of decades are not challenged”.

When asked whether he felt that the Church should have spoken out more about the excesses of the bank­ing system, Dr Williams said: “I guess I do; but I suppose, like most people, we felt intimidated by expertise, and that’s a very dangerous place for the Church to be.” In hindsight, it be­came clear that experts “didn’t know particularly what they were talking about. There was an enormous con­fidence trick going on.”

Dr Williams said that bankers, poli­ticians, and even the Church had “colluded” with the system and been “hypnotised into unreality”, allowing “a big gulf to open up between how finance appeared to be operating and what it was really generating in terms of wealth as well-being for a com­munity”.

The crisis had taught him that “economics is too important to be left to economists,” and that “even the odd theologian” could have something to say on the issue of wealth and wealth creation.

He cautioned that the apparent return to “business as usual” in the financial sector highlighted the “lack of closure coming home to roost, the failure to name what was wrong, to name what I called last year ‘idolatry’, that projecting reality and substance on to things that don’t have them”.

The Archbishop said he would have liked to have seen the Government cap bonuses in the City, as this is “one of the things that feeds what I call the diffused resentment 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 again becomes more obscure”.

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