People have learnt to drop litter in a bin rather than where they happen to be standing. In the same way, bankers can be taught to act decently and not plunge the world’s financial system into crisis again.
That was the message from Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, in a speech last week to a London conference on inclusive capitalism.
Ms Lagarde was clear that bankers still needed lessons in acting decently. “The behaviour of the financial sector has not changed fundamentally,” she said, adding: “The industry still prizes short-term profit over long-term prudence, today’s bonus over tomorrow’s relationship.”
Top banks had been “mired in scandals that violate the most basic ethical norms – Libor and foreign exchange rigging, money laundering, illegal foreclosure”. Banks, she said, needed “greater social consciousness” – and this is where litter came in.
“We can draw some parallels here with our expanding environmental consciousness. Not so long ago, we had much higher levels of pollution, and littering was commonplace. Today, we are more educated about these issues,” Ms Lagarde said.
Can we really apply litter lessons to financial services? It depends what sort of litter. There are three main groups who mess up their local environment: those who drop food wrappings and cigarette ends in streets and parks; those who do not clean up after dogs; and those who throw rubbish out of car windows.
You need different strategies for each. In 2001 and 2006, the Keep Britain Tidy campaign researched why people dropped litter.
One of the litter-droppers’ justifications was that “everyone does it”. If the streets are full of rubbish, what harm is there in adding a little more?
The answer, the campaign said, was to clean the streets and put more bins in litter “hotspots”. What was the outcome? Litter levels in England have fluctuated, but 15 per cent of areas were unacceptably littered in 2012-2013 compared with 21 per cent a decade earlier.
The greatest improvement was in those cleaning up after their dogs. When Keep Britain Tidy surveyed dog owners in 2001, they gave the “everyone does it” excuse for not cleaning up. By 2006, attitudes, and behaviour, were different. There was less dog waste around.
“People were saying they cleaned up after their dogs, it was socially unacceptable not to and if they didn’t other people would tell them to,” the campaign reported.
This matches my experience in London, where my walks are punctuated by dog owners gingerly carrying filled bags to the designated bins. (The clean-up-after-your-dog ethos had not spread to Ms Lagarde’s native Paris last time I was there; perhaps readers can let us know whether it has since.)
The worst litter louts are in their cars. In the UK, you don’t need data to confirm this. The roadsides are a disgrace. No one can see who you are when you toss rubbish out the window and the chances of being caught and punished are tiny.
Where, in this mixed picture, do bankers fit? Clearly in the throwing-rubbish-from-the-car category. The reason for the improvements in street litter and dog waste is that others can see you. Once enough people disapprove, it becomes more shameful to leave litter and dog waste behind.
Banking misdemeanours, like throwing rubbish out of a car, occur in relative privacy. Children may start protesting about parents destroying the environment, but it is harder for honest bankers to object to colleagues’ misbehaviour. Whistleblowers are not treated kindly.
Bankers do have to put up with some opprobrium from neighbours, the media and politicians, but they can retreat to their offices and trading floors – and their financial rewards provide comfort.
The only way to deal with errant bankers, and those who throw rubbish out of car windows, is to catch and punish them.
If camera operators can film and fine drivers who stop on criss-cross lines at junctions, they can do the same to motorised mess-makers.
And if regulators can impose fines on banks for Libor rigging, manipulating the London gold fix or tax evasion, they can prosecute many more individuals, particularly at the top.
In finance, as in littering from cars, punishment and shaming are likely to be bigger deterrents than hoping for social consciousness.
针对不同的人群，你需要使用不同的对策。在2001和2006年，“清洁不列颠”(Keep Britain Tidy)运动对人们乱丢垃圾的原因进行了调查。