They say that patriotism is the last refuge
To which a scoundrel clings
Steal a little and they throw you in jail
Steal a lot and they make you king
Bob Dylan, “Sweetheart Like You” (1983)
The record-breaking fine of £290m to which Barclays was subjected this week for financial crimes committed from 2005 onwards sounds significant, until you realise that Barclays chief executive Bob Diamond was paid £17m for last year alone (and that the bank also paid £5.7m to cover his tax bill), that he has been paid almost £100m since 2006, and that the amount of the fine (£60m in the UK and £230m in the US) is basically peanuts — just 10 days’ worth of profit for Barclays, as Paul Lewis of Radio 4′s Money Box programme explained to the BBC.
The first thing that occurred to me was that, however much bankers are caught committing financial crimes, they always seem to get away with it, as Bob Dylan explained back in 1983. Moreover, Bob’s recognition of the disparity between the rich and the poor when it comes to crimes involving money also rings horribly true still, as is clear from the punishment for Barclays — a slipped wrist — and the punishment for those involved, however peripherally, in last August’s “riots” in the UK, when judges decided to “make an example” of the mostly unfortunate young people who came up before them. The most shocking example I came across was described in the Guardian as follows: