With global financial markets in turmoil, and each new day throwing up the name of another fiscal institution going bankrupt or engaging in a distress sale, it is only to be expected that the so-called financial ''wizards'' responsible for this mess be held accountable.
Instead of being subjected to punitive measures, however, several of them are still raking in the huge bonuses of old - shareholder considerations be damned. Now, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has lashed out at this practice and said he is considering a crackdown on such "irresponsible" payouts.
Brown said, "I think there's an element of the bonus system that is unacceptable ... When you have got a bonus on your salary based on short-term deals that has no relationship to long-term profits, you have got to look again at what that system is doing."
There were suggestions yesterday that the government was seeking a senior City figure to review executive pay deals. Lord Turner, who is beginning his first week as chairman of the London City regulator, the Financial Services Authority (FSA), echoed Brown's comments. The FSA has made it clear that it intends to look more closely at the pay structures of leading financial firms when it conducts risk assessments of their operations.
It is often suggested that because of the way bonuses are structured, traders may be taking risks that could store up problems for the future - by which time the bonuses will have been paid out. Brown's aides say the government is not planning to legislate to curb bonuses, but that he was relying on the FSA to take any necessary action.
Turner said yesterday that it was appropriate "to ask searching questions about the nature of people's remuneration and to ask questions of institutions as to whether they are paying out bonuses before they are sure whether the profits are really there or whether ... a toxic problem ... has been created for the future."
The British initiative came against the background of an international outcry against excess in banking. Christine Lagarde, France's economy minister, attacked "perverse" pay structures that led to "greedy and blind behaviour".
The size of bonuses at financial institutions has long been criticised as promoting wealth inequalities in society, but the attacks have acquired a new dimension now that pay structures are seen as contributing to a global financial crisis. Many critics have focused on the "asymmetry" of bonus structures that offer financiers big returns when risky investments succeed but little or no penalty when they fail.
Most of the 350,000 workers in London's financial services industry get some kind of annual bonus, with thousands getting more than £1 million and a handful reportedly being awarded as much as £10 million. Labour's left wing has long called for curbs on the payments but until the past few weeks ministers have resisted them on the grounds that they were the product of market forces.