The finances of sport, the sport of finance: both have been in the news recently. While two England cricketers netted £1.55 million for six weeks' work in the Indian Premier League, the newest form of entertainment in town is watching the bloody spectacle of former banking bosses apologise to the nation. So it was thought-provoking that Royal Bank of Scotland's interrogation has coincided with the renewal of its sponsorship of the Six Nations' rugby tournament. Given that RBS is now 68 per cent state-owned, perhaps a more accurate title would be the Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs' Six Nations.
How timely, then, that Tim Congdon, in last month's Standpoint, should suggest that bankers shouldn't be denied their bonuses any more than elite sportsmen should give their salaries back. "Why should the Beckhams and Rooneys of corporate finance be penalised," he argued, "but not the Beckhams and Rooneys of football?" If star bankers weren't worth it, said Congdon, they couldn't command such huge salaries because "if an investment bank continuously gives unjustified and excessive bonuses to its staff, it will go bust in just the same way as any company in any industry".
Isn't that just the point? These investment banks would have gone bust - and hence the bankers wouldn't have been paid their bonuses - if the taxpayer hadn't bailed them out. This is not about envy. It's not high earning per se which people don't like, it's state-funded largesse as a reward for failure which causes resentment.