The grind of the 21st century throws up obstacles at every turn. Nikolaus Oliver is on hand with advice to guide you through. This week: put money on it - the bonus wars are here to stay Bankers, eh? They're rascals and no mistake. Only football players are better paid and worse behaved. First, they persuade us to borrow 150 per cent of the mortgage on our ramshackle dwelling units in the rundown districts of whatever city in which we happen to live, despite everyone wondering how this could conceivably make economic sense. Then, when it all collapses, they force us to pay, not only by being evicted, but also as taxpayers (well, some of us), as we hand over dollars to them by the cubic ton.
And now that, thanks to us bailing them out, they have a bit of cash in their pockets again (our money!) they want to be rewarded with vast bonuses for their stunning acumen and business genius. Honestly. As a profession, they make Bernard Madoff look like a loveable scallywag who stole sweeties from Woolworths. But now we're fighting back. World leaders, such as the UK's Gordon Brown, have ordered a tough stance, issued fierce warnings and levied a one-off tax on bonuses. Of course, finding ways to avoid the taxation will take the bankers about three minutes and is intended primarily to make us, the taxpayer (or milch cow, as we are known in fiscal circles), feel that we've flexed our muscles, taken a stinging revenge and brought those overpaid fops to heel.
European bankers have retaliated, saying they all plan to move to New York to avoid paying and then we'll be sorry. But the threat lost a little of its edge as New York's bankers have all threatened to move to Europe. An uneasy stand-off has ensued. A financial journalist has pointed out that bonuses are defined as "something paid in addition to what is usual or expected", but the modern bonus is entirely usual and impatiently expected. This is so much the case that when General Electric's CEO Jeff Immelt did the noble thing and declined to accept his bonus of US$12 million (Dh44 million), it was said that he had "waived his right" to it. Do we actually have a right to something that is unusual and unexpected? An interesting philosophical question.
The bonus wars are here to stay, a more or less unwinnable conflict (like others of our modern era), with us, the milch cows, complaining and they, the beneficiaries, assuring us they are cheap at twice the price. We need to look on the bright side and not let the bankers grind us down.