Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The bitter after taste of the Kerviel affair

Behind the ferocity with which the French population treated the women who had slept with Germans after the war, one could see the frustration of men who wished had done something but instead cowardly stayed on the side.

I cannot but see something similar in the sad affair of Jerome Kerviel. First of all the punishment. What does it mean to make him pay the entire sum he lost, reducing him to a life of bankruptcy? It really looks like the shortsighted thinking of the housewife "he lost (stole) all this money and he has to pay it back". It does not work like that. If one accepts a certain system (and the French broadly speaking they do) one accepts that Jerome Kerviel was not playing with his own money and yes, even if he lost it, he has not to pay it back from his own pocket. A reckless container ship captain will be punished but will never be made to pay for the replacement of the container ship he lost.

I hate what the Italians call "dietrologia" (more or a less a penchant for conspiracy theories) but I wholly agree that someone else must have know and kept quiet when things were going well. It is unbelievable that he was made to bear the brunt of the punishment all by himself. Where is the officer spirit? A superior should always be punished and it is this responsibility that should justify a superior's role, authority and rewards. Nowhere this is better expressed than in the support the troops offer to their major in the Bridge over the River Kwai. There was only finger pointing where there should have been hand wringing. The pointing was done in only one direction.

And finally something else which is only a feeling, but I feel it strongly. BNP and SocGen are outstanding institutions and world class players. Having said that they are no Goldman or Morgan Stanley, when the going was good they played second fiddle to the American giants which means that rewards and compensation were dished out accordingly. Was everyone balancing this with the supposedly warmer working environment (of which I am not even sure) of a European bank? I doubt, there must have been some resentment. It seems to me that the punishment of Jerome Kerviel is a way of venting this frustration. Shaving a woman's head is easier than shooting a German.

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