Busy doing nothing – can MPs please take note?

Bureaucrats and politicians should take a leaf out of a retiring German civil servant’s book and try doing nothing – for all our sakes

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As George arrives, Canary Wharf shudders...
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Simon Miller
On 13 April 2012 10:21

This week a German civil servant sent an email to his colleagues saying that because he’d been paid for doing nothing the last 14 years, he was prepared for his retirement.

Now aside from the fact I suspect that this is German humour at its finest, the point should be taken seriously.

If we are going to pay for the vast hoards of public officials anyway, couldn’t we at least make sure that they do nothing?

I mean, if our so-called leaders are prepared to bankrupt us, at least stop officials and, indeed, MPs from meddling.

Like an itch, most officials just cannot leave well alone. In Europe, Commissioner Michel Barnier is encouraging MEPs to put in proposals to limit bank bonuses.

The vehicle he wants to impose this on is Basel III, the latest version of global regulation to the marketplace being brought in to various signatory territories.

However, most banks are private entities, overseen by a board of directors who have a legal responsibility to the shareholders. In effect this is none of Europe’s damn business.

Sure in this climate it sounds attractive but unless something is actually illegal then it is of no business of any government or pseudo-state – aside from tax laws – how someone is paid.

Indeed, I find it an absolute disgrace that the EU can impose a 25 percent limit on the proportion of a bonus in upfront cash on nation states – even more so that the UK agreed to it - whatever happened to tax sovereignty?

Now, before anyone says that bankers are evil, they nearly destroyed us all, won’t someone think of the children? I happen to think the bonus system is crazy, too short-termist and not tied in implicitly to the health of a bank.

In fact, I think that bonuses should be share-based and tied-in for a certain amount of time so that the interests of senior executives and the health of the bank (read customers) coincide.

But that is my opinion and if it is not shared by the board and shareholders then tough; I can always move my account to the co-op or a credit union if I was that unhappy.

And yes, perhaps the culture of back scratching and “everyone does it” should be examined but any attempt to impose a law, especially from a supra-national organisation, is a fundamental breach in the principle of private markets, business and contract law no matter what our emperors across the water say.

You see the problem is that public officials and politicians alike sit there wondering how to justify their existence and begin to fiddle. Be it the utterly useless long-term refinancing operation in the Eurozone, or the mess that was the budget over here, they just have to itch that scratch.

Whether you agree with European Union or not, the fallout of the mess that is the eurozone is going to be considerable.

Over here, that itch takes the form of illiberal snooping laws and ill-thought out philanthropy taxation proposals amongst oh so many things.

The problem with scratching an itch is that eventually it will break and become infected, making it worse than it was. But you can see they cannot stop scratching. They cannot stop fiddling. They cannot help but make things worse.

So, for the sake of Europe and the UK, please could bureaucrats and politicians just take a leaf out of that fine German’s book and sit quietly, do nothing, maybe read?

Simon Miller is a Contributing Editor to The Commentator and the Editor of Financial Risks Today. He tweets @simontm71

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