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Jail for the doctors – and yet bankers get off scot-free!

prisonThe government has decided in the wake of the Mid Staffs Hospital scandal that doctors, nurses and NHS managers should face up to 5 year in jail if they are found to have been willfully negligent of their patients. So why are bankers who are willfully negligent of their duties and responsibilities to businesses, individuals of the State not subject to similar penalties?

It may of course be argued that medical personnel work in a unique context in that matters of human life and death are involved. But bankers also have a uniquely dominant role within the current financialised capitalism in being responsible for the economic health or otherwise of whole communities and indeed of the state itself. Certainly doctors who have been extremely negligent in their duties or in mistreatment of patients deserve severe punishment, being struck off the medical register and in the worst cases given a custodial sentence. But bankers whose self-interest, greed or indifference to their wider community responsibilities have wrecked human lives, destroyed businesses and endangered the integrity of the State should be subject to no less severe penalties. They should be disqualified from ever working again in the finance sector and in the worst cases jailed for 5 or more years.

But this is not, so far, being suggested. Why not? Partly because the Tories have confined their vituperative hostility exclusively against the public sector – teachers, social workers, police, probation officers, local government officials, as well doctors, nurses, and health managers. This is all part of their overall plan to privatise all public services wherever feasible or at least to subject all remaining services to market disciplines and to remove all traces of a professional ethic of morality and altruism.

But partly also because this matter goes to the heart of the power structure governing the nation: essentially the capitalist State is run on the basis of the finance-political nexus. The banks control the most powerful political lobby of all, and the politicians are far more susceptible to the power of that lobby than to any other. As a result the banks have been treated with kid gloves and the bankers might be excused for thinking (wrongly) that they are invulnerable and can act with impunity – even when they have crashed the global economy and have wrecked millions of businesses and lives.

That explains why, five years after they torpedoed the British economy, triggered a long-lasting recession, increased unemployment by 1.5 million, and since the crash have selfishly always put their own interests first rather than those of the nation, not one of them has yet gone to prison. After a litany of colossal misdemeanours including Libor and probably also Forex rigging, money-laundering on behalf of pariah States and drug cartels, and repeated mis-sellings on an industrial scale, still none has been struck off, disqualified or jailed.

Where a penalty is exacted, it is always the institutions – the banks’ shareholders – who pay the price, never the bankers who perpetrated the villainy in the first place. There are only three ways to bring the bankers to heel, either striking off combined with very large fines for the individual bankers or traders responsible, or removing the privileged status of limited liability which they have been granted by the State, or restoring them to public ownership. We should be prepared to use all three where necessary.

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