【英语财经】重建金融业道德底线 The crisis shows moral capital is in secular decline

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2014-6-18 06:24

小艾摘要: And still the revelations come. Leading banks pay yet more record fines for egregious behaviour ranging from sanctions-busting to facilitating tax evasion. Their involvement in rigging markets now ext ...
The crisis shows moral capital is in secular decline
And still the revelations come. Leading banks pay yet more record fines for egregious behaviour ranging from sanctions-busting to facilitating tax evasion. Their involvement in rigging markets now extends beyond Libor, the rate at which banks lend to each other, to foreign exchange and the gold market. It appears to be a pervasive rather than occasional phenomenon. Even when they have been shopped, they do not give up. UK banks, we discover, have been underpaying compensation for mis-sold payment protection insurance.

All this corporate wrongdoing is combined with immense personal enrichment and a paucity of prosecutions of people at the top. How are we to make sense of this bizarre concatenation of events, in which the financial system appears to have become an ethics-free zone?

One fruitful way to look at it is to think of the financial system as having, at any given moment, a stock of moral capital. This complements an insight of economist John Kenneth Galbraith. In his book on the 1929 crash he argued that there is always an inventory of undiscovered embezzlement, which he called the “bezzle” – in other words, negative moral capital. When markets ride high the bezzle increases. Come the recession people become more suspicious, audits become more penetrating and the bezzle shrinks.

Galbraith described a cyclical phenomenon. Yet events since the latest financial crisis suggest that there is also a structural component to changes in the moral capital stock. In the corporate sector, and especially in banking, there has been an adverse step change in ethical values. One reason is the ineptly named “shareholder value revolution”, whereby a paternalistic corporate capitalism was replaced by a capital market pressure cooker in which senior executives were required to deliver progressive rises in short-term earnings. A second change was the move to performance-related pay and incentives tied to equity values.

In banking this bred a more transactional culture in which profits and personal rewards came increasingly from gaming the system. The globalisation of capital flows in the absence of an international regulator provided banks with ample opportunity for regulatory arbitrage, whereby questionable business could always be diverted to weaker jurisdictions.

At domestic level banks have shaped their business to minimise regulatory capital requirements. The great boom in securitised mortgages – the focal point of systemic risk and fraud in the crisis – reflected the lower capital requirements on mortgage-backed securities relative to those on conventional mortgage lending. At a personal level bonuses took precedence over virtually everything, including the customer.

As long as incentives are at odds with ethical requirements, common decency will be a minority pursuit. Scandals are inevitable. And as the gap between bankers’ pay and that of executives outside the financial system grows ever wider, business leaders lose moral authority, and the case for enlightened capitalism is devalued. There are honest people in banking. But it has become a less comfortable place for those with a strong moral conscience.

If this notion of a secular depletion in the moral capital stock in finance is right, attempts to instil ethics by refining incentives – however necessary and well meaning – will not be enough. In a mature industry in which the return on assets has been stagnant for years and higher equity returns have been achieved only through leverage and excessive risk-taking, heavy reliance on bonuses and equity-related rewards is an absurdity. Any significant rebuilding of the moral capital stock will have to come largely as the byproduct of structural change to make banking more like a utility.

Equally necessary is a retreat from the obsession with punishing corporations rather than senior executives. The supposed justification is that companies can be made to transform their culture and prevent future crimes. Much window-dressing results. Slapping huge fines on banks is potentially a more dangerous game. If the fines are big enough to do material damage, the resulting hit to bank capital may be a systemic trigger. Many innocent shareholders and employees will be the victims. If the fines are immaterial, they are pointless.

Jed Rakoff, the US district judge, argues that going after the company is technically suspect because you should not indict a company unless you can prove that some managerial agent of the company committed the alleged crime; and if you can prove that, why not indict the manager? He also sees it as morally suspect because punishing innocent employees and shareholders for crimes committed by unprosecuted individuals seems contrary to elementary notions of moral responsibility.

Modestly refining the carrots and using the wrong sticks is a poor formula for rebuilding the moral capital stock. There has to be a more radical way.

目前仍不断有消息曝出。大银行因各种恶劣行为而支付的罚金不断创下新纪录,这些行为从违反制裁到帮助避税,不一而足。它们的市场操纵行为不局限在伦敦银行间同业拆借利率(Libor),更是延伸到了外汇和黄金市场。这似乎是一种普遍而非偶然现象。即便银行受到了告发后,它们仍不肯收手。我们发现,英国的银行因不当销售支付保护险(payment protection insurance)而支付的赔偿款一直过低。

在企业作出所有这些不当行为的同时,公司高层收获了巨大的个人财富,但受到起诉的情况非常少。我们如何能理解这一诡异的反常现象?它让金融体系看上去变成了一个毫无道德的领域。

考察这个问题的一个有效思路,是认为金融体系在任意给定时刻都具有一定的道德资本存量。这补充了经济学家约翰?肯尼思?加尔布雷斯(John Kenneth Galbraith)的一个观点。他在一本以1929年崩盘为主题的书里主张,金融体系中始终存在一定量的未被发现的资金侵吞,他称之为“侵吞额”(bezzle),也就是负道德资本。当市场高涨时,侵吞额也会增加。衰退到来时,人们怀疑心态更重,审计变得更深入,侵吞额有所降低。

加尔布雷斯描述了一个周期性现象。但最近这场金融危机以来的事态变化表明,道德资本存量变化的背后也存在一个结构性因素。在企业界、尤其是银行业,道德价值发生了反向巨变。一个原因在于提法不当的“股东价值革命”——家长式企业资本主义已让位于资本市场“高压锅”,后者要求企业高管实现短期盈利的不断增加。另一个变化是企业转向了以业绩为基础决定薪酬,并将激励机制与股票价格挂钩。

这在银行业滋长了一种更重的交易文化,利润与个人报酬越来越产生于拿整个体系赌博。在国际监管机构缺席的情况下,资本的全球流动为银行提供了充足的监管套利机会,有问题的业务总是可以转移至监管薄弱的司法管辖区内。

在国内层面,银行已对业务进行改造,使监管资本要求降到最低。证券化抵押贷款(此次危机中系统性风险和欺诈行为的焦点所在)的大繁荣反映出,抵押贷款支持证券的监管资本要求低于常规抵押贷款。就个人来说,奖金几乎凌驾于包括客户在内的一切之上。

只要激励与道德要求相冲突,普通人的正直就将成为只有少数人追求的东西。这必然要产生丑闻。同时,随着银行家与非金融行业高管的薪酬差距越拉越大,商业领袖们失去道德权威,开明资本主义的意义由此降低了。银行业存在正直的人,但该行业变得让那些道德心强的人感到越来越不舒服。

如果说金融界道德资本存量一直在降低的观点是正确的,仅仅通过改变激励——无论多么有必要且用意良好——来培养道德都是不够的。在一个资产回报率多年停滞不前、只能借助杠杆和过度冒险来提高股本回报率的成熟行业里,严重依赖奖金和与股价挂钩的奖励方式,是很荒谬的。只有实施结构改革,使银行业更像公用事业,才能带来道德资本存量大幅提高这一副产品。

同样必要的是不要再沉迷于惩罚公司而不惩罚高管。人们提出的惩罚公司的理由是,这样可以迫使公司转型自己的文化,防止未来发生犯罪行为。这带来的多是表面效果。对银行处以巨额罚款可能是一种更危险的做法。如果罚金高到造成实质性伤害,银行资本金由此受到的冲击,或许会成为一个系统性的触发器。许多无辜的股东和员工将成为受害者。而如果罚金数额不大,则毫无意义。

美国地区法官杰德?雷科夫(Jed Rakoff)认为,惩罚公司在法律上存疑。这是因为,除非你能证明公司的某位经理人犯下了涉嫌的罪行,你不应起诉该公司;但如果你能证明这一点,为何不起诉那名经理人呢?他还认为惩罚公司在道德上存疑,这是因为不起诉犯下罪行的个人,反而惩罚无辜的员工和股东,这似乎与道义责任的基本概念背道而驰。

有限调整“胡萝卜”,使用错误的“大棒”,不是重建道德资本存量的有效途径。必须采取更为激进的办法。

译者/邢嵬

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