As the impact of the financial crisis and global economic downturn continues to spread, people are increasingly looking for someone to blame. Riots across Europe have made the news in the last couple of months and governments have fallen in Iceland, Latvia and Hungary as a direct result of the crisis. Elsewhere, corporate bosses are being targeted: in France, there have been several recent cases of disgruntled employees holding their managers hostage while demanding improved redundancy packages.
Meanwhile, public sentiment has turned vehemently against bankers, particularly those who have received bonuses after their institutions have been bailed out with public funds. The bonuses paid to AIG staff after the insurer received $170 billion of taxpayer support have sparked international outrage. In the UK, Sir Fred Goodwin, former chief executive of RBS, has become a target for antipathy and his house has been vandalised since details of his £16m pension fund came to light. The prospect of violence continues: city workers in London were warned to dress casually in order to avoid being singled out as bankers during the G20 summit on 1st April in light of planned action by anti-capitalist protesters.
No one should be surprised that the mood has turned to anger. Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross listed the five stages of grief as denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. This model has been applied by some to the financial crisis. Even as Lehman Brothers collapsed in September 2008, many were still in denial about the extent of the crisis, but the intervening months have made the consequences impossible to ignore. For many, anger is the inevitable next step.
However, this is not the end of the story. While few would disagree that certain aspects of the banking industry can and should be held accountable for the crisis, the fact remains that we still need banks. Acceptance may seem a distant prospect at this stage, but financial institutions are still required by corporates and individuals to take deposits, provide loans and make payments. Demanding retribution indiscriminately from the system itself, rather than working to improve the specific areas that have been found lacking, is a course of action that cannot benefit anyone.