Pay Bankers Much Less

Andrew Ross Sorkin is worried about what happens if you don’t pay bankers enough money:

The trick, of course, is to dole out enough rewards to keep executives working, and working hard, but not to dole out too much…

Citigroup and other firms need to find ways to keep and attract talented people who can make smart decisions, without lavishing pay on them or rewarding them for shoddy performance…

Mr. Pandit and others — to the extent you believe they are the right leaders of Citigroup — or whoever takes their roles are unlikely to hang around if they’re not amply paid.

The risk, Mr. Johnson said, is that if we taxpayers don’t offer the possibility of a payday, we won’t get the performance. “If you were in senior management and you knew you’d never get paid, you’re not going to work as hard or you’ll leave,” he said. “It’s actually worse if they stay. If you have a bunch of demoralized people hanging around, it will kill you.”

I say, let’s take the risk, and see what happens. I’ve now reached the point at which I simply don’t believe people when they say that lower pay for bankers will result in worse performance — especially since it looks very much as though it was higher pay for bankers which was at least partly responsible for much of the present crisis. Let’s bring down pay, a lot, and see whether performance really falls.

The financial system went for decades, quite happily, without monster paydays: why can’t we go back to those days? No one thinks we need to pay the Treasury secretary lots of money to make sure he’s "working hard"; why are bank CEOs any different? And insofar as lower bank salaries would drive America’s best and brightest into other sectors of the economy, that would surely be a good thing.

A massive, across-the-board pay cut in the banking system — to levels which would still be incredibly generous by normal-America standards — might result in a mass exodus of employees and a radical downsizing of the banking sector. But that’s going to happen anyway, this would just achieve it without layoffs. And the outcome can’t really be worse than what we’ve seen to date.

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