Kerviel and Dreyfus

Jerome Kerviel’s sentencing may be just, but it is also reveals a cruel unfairness in how the leaders of the financial system are protected. Kerviel evidently shouldn’t have done what he did. But what’s absurd is that he alone is punished. I wrote about Kerviel in The Sunday Times of London a couple of years ago. I felt then, and now, that he did what he did because he was allowed to by a trading culture which encouraged high risks and was willing to ignore excesses. This label “rogue trader” would only make sense if what he was doing was actually “rogue”, rather than the norm. The idea that he is jailed for ignoring the risk limits imposed by SocGen while so many banks, and so many eminent bankers, set risk limits which exposed the entire financial system to collapse and put at risk the lives and livelihoods and millions is evidently wrong. One set of bankers bring their banks to the edge of collapse and receive a taxpayer bailout and continued compensation. Another, younger, more disposable banker does so and goes to jail. The Dreyfus affair exposed institutional anti-Semitism in France at the turn of the 20th century. The Kerviel case proves yet again that there is one set of rules for those who run the financial system, and another for everyone else. If Kerviel was a folk hero before this sentencing, he will be even more of one now.

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