With one banking scandal or controversy hitting the
papers almost daily, how amusing it is to reflect on the various words and
phrases derived from the word ‘bank’, with the meaning of absolute safety.
In the lingo of turf accountants, a ‘banker’ has
always been a racing certainty. “As solid
as the Bank of England” was a phrase I recall hearing often in my younger years. “You can bank on it” is still uttered – along
with “You can take that to the bank” – both by people making a commitment that purports
to be supposedly copper-bottomed. “I’m
banking on it” we trot out to denote a degree of dependency, admittedly often
more in hope than expectation.
How old-fashioned and ironic most of these phrases
sound today, when bankers have taken up more or less permanent residence in the
doghouse. Deservedly so, I hear you
mutter, for there seems nothing dependable, let alone copper-bottomed, about
modern banks. So, what happened to them,
these respected bastions of society?
Well, nothing. Disparagement of bankers is nothing
new. The quotation books cite examples
going back to the sages of Ancient Greece, and opprobrium has been heaped on
them at various stages of history ever since.
Thomas Jefferson took a dim view of the breed. “I sincerely believe that banking
establishments are more dangerous than standing armies, and that the principle
of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but
swindling futurity on a large scale.”
Napoleon, who relied on them to finance his armies, is
said to have complained, “When a government is dependent on bankers for money,
they and not the leaders of government control the situation, since the hand that
gives is above the hand that takes”. True,
that is probably a bit outdated, since at present it is often the bankers who
are dependent on governments, but his added comments still hold true: “Money
has no motherland; financiers are without patriotism and without decency; their
sole object is gain”.
No less a capitalist icon than Henry Ford took a dim
view of banking. “It is as well that the
people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if
they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning.”
More recently, economist and author John Kenneth
Galbraith expressed a similar view: “The
process by which banks create money is so simple that the mind is repelled”.
If today’s bankers are unpatriotic, indecent, incomprehensible
and repulsive, what is clear is that they, and our opinions of them, haven’t
changed one bit since time immemorial.