Jim Armitage: 'Sorry' is still the hardest word for our blinkered, rapacious bankers to say

  • @ArmitageJim

Outlook JPMorgan's suave Jamie Dimon wishes this whole tedious contrition business would just go away. Wall Street's top brass thought they'd got past this "saying sorry" phase way back, when the last of the Tarp bailout funds were paid off.

Lehman was five goddam' years ago. Let's get back to business: lending money, making money, spending money.

Mr Dimon, stung by the backlash against his description of the London Whale crisis as a "tempest in a teapot", has learned to button it when his mouth wants to say what his brain clearly really thinks. But others inhabiting Wall Street's corner offices are still learning.

Take the chief executive of bailed-out insurance giant AIG. In case you've forgotten it among the morass of scandals, AIG's London operations insured hundreds of billions of dollars of toxic debt owned by the likes of Goldman Sachs. In order, conspiracists say, to save Goldman and others' skin, it was bailed out with more than $180bn (£112m) of US taxpayer's money (although that didn't stop it paying $165m in staff bonuses).

This week its chief executive Robert Benmosche let slip what he really felt about the whole outrage-at-bankers thing, saying it "was intended to stir public anger, to get everybody out there with their pitchforks and their hangman nooses, and all that – sort of like what we did in the Deep South. And I think it was just as bad and just as wrong."

"Just as bad and just as wrong" as the Ku Klux Klan murdering thousands of black people? Mr Benmosche rather hurriedly apologised yesterday for his "poor use of words", but not the sentiment.

His lack of penitence for the crisis – he went on to say that the villains of the financial crisis were "everybody" and therefore nobody should be punished – is typical of what most investment banking leaders really think.

Settlements like the one being agreed by Mr Dimon last night are just financial transactions – deals to be negotiated and haggled down. He and his fellow CEOs are good at them. But acknowledging their, and their organisations', immoral behaviour, appreciating the injustice of the tens of millions of dollars they have made in bonuses over the past decade, understanding the damage their industry's excesses have wrought on social cohesion in the Western world?

That's above their pay grade.