Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Hamartia, hubris and nemesis but no catharsis

Many intelligent and erudite Scots will see in the story of Sir Fred Goodwin, the disgraced and dismissed head of the Royal Bank of Scotland, the elements of Greek tragedy. Hamartia, his tragic flaw, caused by hubris and arrogance; the peripeteia of his bank's downfall from an institution that sought to rival Barclays to a provincial branch, and the nemesis of his sacking when the full extent of his vainglorious and foolish behaviour was exposed. However, two elements are lacking that would make Goodwin a Scots hero, and he is left as dirty villain. There is no indication of anagnorisis, or self-knowledge, on Goodwin's part; just a fraction of the realisation of the human cost of his stupidity would have led him to surrender his knighthood in ignimony, cover his head in ash and exchange his Savile Row suit for sackcloth. And there is no catharsis, no pity, no sympathy, no cleansing in the public mind for this noxious little fart.

Nor is there any sign that Goodwin will voluntarily give up any part of the £4.2m he paid himself in 2007, or of his £8.4m pension fund.

The Americans have a simple view of the relation between the extent of privileges accorded to its wealthiest citizens and their responsibilities. They would consider Goodwin had a duty of care, that he breached that duty, and as a consequence has caused great human misery and suffering, and therefore that he should be punished. I suspect in the US, Goodwin would already be languishing in a Federal prison.

On this occasion, I'd encourage the US government to put a case together and apply for Goodwin's fast-track extradition. His negligence extends across the Atlantic. A sentence of twenty to fifty in a Federal penitentiary may at last bring to the people of this country the catharsis we're lacking.


TheFatBigot said...

For so long in this country those whose negligence or, as in this case, recklessness has spread misery and cost have been quietly retired. If in government service they are given an honorary position such as Buttercup Counter (West Sussex) as an excuse for their continued payment until the day they draw their index-linked pension.

Our friends across the pond have a far more sensible regime. Being at the head of a large company brings great wealth regardless of your ability or results. The USA has meritocracy running through its veins. Do well and they will applaud the wealth that results, cause others to lose and there is a price to pay.

We've needed it here for many years, with any luck recent events and the necessary change of government will allow it to happen.

Nick Drew said...

Don't know enough about Goodwin's case in detail (I had thought the ABNAmro thing was just light-plane syndrome - & hubris not yet a criminal offence ?)

but certainly there should be gaol for several high-profile villains, pour encourager: most middle-class businessmen really, really don't want to see the inside of a cell

if Enron's Jeff Skilling (24 years + $45 million fine) was guilty, then on the same grounds so must be many more

Elby the Beserk said...

Are. or was RBS trading insolvently? Or indeed, any of the other bailed out banks? And if so, why have their CEOs not been arrested?

Anonymous said...

It's rare for people to use classical references correctly nowadays and perfectly refreshing when it's done properly. Kudos to you, R.

As far as prosecutions go, I'd happily let all the bankers off on condition that we can prosecute(*) Broon and Bliar for what they've done to this country.

* = where the verb "to prosecute" means "to hang from the nearest lamppost and then beat their dangling corpses to a pulp like some gruesome pinata".

Umbongo said...

It's more than possible that the last cash dividend paid by RBS (in May this year) was illegal since, as it turns out, there were neither profits nor reserves out of which to pay them. If so, then all the then directors are guilty of contravening the Companies Acts as well as liable to compensate the company for the dividend illegally paid.