Can culture be blamed for bankers behaving badly? | Law

Can culture be blamed for bankers behaving badly?

Dr Justine Rogers comments in The Australian (23 January 2016) on whether bankers who face discipline or criticism for their moral failings can blame the culture in which they work. 

Dr Rogers said that part of the problem was that human beings have a tendency to underestimate their own moral failings and exaggerate those of others.

“All of us have an instinct to point to culture or things outside ourselves when we’ve done something wrong or we face some sort of challenge about our morality. Unhelpfully, we also have a tendency to overstate the moral guilt of others.

“We all have a deep attachment to our own moral innocence, perhaps beyond any other part of our identity, so for a person (not just a professional) to admit that they did something immoral and maybe more than once is very difficult and even impossible for some people.”

Rogers struggles with the notion of culture supplanting personal responsibility in finance, especially given that it’s the same corporate culture that allowed the individual to profit in the first place.

“It is hard to be sympathetic to the argument that bankers and other high-status workers are victims of their culture. When something unethical comes to light, it’s usually that this practice has been both repeated by the individual who has also benefited hugely from it — with such staggering amounts of money and other perks.”

Dr Justine Rogers is a lecturer in ethics at UNSW Law and did a PhD at Oxford University on the culture of barristers in London.