Are litterers worse than bankers ?

Would it ever have occurred to you to compare litterers with bankers ? Perhaps not – and perhaps you might think that would be a bit of an insult to litterers…….

Anyway, Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, did make just such a comparison. Her point was that bankers need greater social consciousness in the way that people have, in her view, developed an increased environmental consciousness over the past few years resulting in littering becoming less commonplace.

Those of us who expend our efforts in the litter arena might disagree with Mrs Lagarde that people’s attitudes to littering have changed significantly over recent years, but there has certainly been progress in some areas, especially that of dog poo.

Michael Skapinker, who has written about litter before, made some interesting observations about Christine Lagarde’s views in the Financial Times. Skapinker points out that, of the 3 main types of litterer (those who drop food wrappers and cigarette ends in the street, those who don’t clean up after their dogs and those who throw rubbish out of car windows) the first two have reduced their littering because their chances of being spotted or even being caught and fined are high.

Skapinker thinks that bankers are most like litterers from vehicles as this type of littering occurs in relative privacy. Honest bankers find it difficult to object to colleagues’ misbehaviour, not least because whistle-blowers are not treated kindly. Bankers can retreat to their offices and trading floors and their financial rewards provide comfort. The only way to deal with errant bankers, like those who litter from vehicles, is to catch and punish them.

Skapinker’s conclusion is that in finance, just as for littering, punishment and public shaming are more likely to be effective deterrents and more effective than simply hoping for an increase in social consciousness.

I reckon that Michael Skapinker is right in most of what he says but I do think he feels that catching and punishing litterers is easier than it really is. I would guess that effective industry regulation and effective compliance by banks could make a huge difference to bankers’ behaviour as it would make bankers’ transgressions easier to detect. Compare that to the world of litter where we already have effective laws (regulation) but where it is enforcement (compliance) that is so challenging because you have to catch the litterer actually in the process of littering to be able to impose a fine. In an ideal world, that would necessitate the employment of huge numbers of enforcement officers to witness litterers in action. At least most banking transactions leave some kind of audit trail. Perhaps the conclusion that we might come to is that cleaning up the banking sector ought to be a whole lot easier than cleaning up our verges. Or do you have an imaginative and creative idea to prove me wrong ? If you do, please share it with us in the comments section below.

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