Here's the scene.
You go into a bathroom on a plane. It smells really really bad but you're desperate to go. You finish, wash your hands but the smell is still there when you leave. The person outside wanting to get in after you, enters, looks back at you as if you were the one who had made the smell, and clearly thinks you need to see a doctor to check on whatever is wrong with you - and you feel guilty, despite the fact you were not the originator.
The parallel? The investment banking community in particular, but together with commercial banks, regulators, rating agencies, politicians et al create a bad smell - especially over matters like bonuses and pay - right minded and some sensible commentators and practitioners go in to try and bring some semblance of order, perspective and reality to such payments, but the original greedy culprits are still out there shovelling in the bonuses, totally oblivious it seems to public opinion.
This is going to end in tears, eventually.
I have just travelled from Canada (some semblance of order, I thought) through London. I had an early evening business meeting to attend with a colleague I had not previously met, and with the West End of London being mutually reachable territory we agreed to a lobby lounge in a location that neither of us knew much about. The lounge was full and we had not booked, so we went to find a seat in the bar. Mistake. You couldn't move comfortably because of the crowd - none of whom were going to allow you any space - and all you could hear amongst the popping of champagne corks were Hooray Henrys (and Henriettas) braying about their latest financial triumph.
It is clearly not enough that some European Governments (isn't it interesting that they all seem to be in the "sunshine belt" - except Ireland which at least looks as if it is making some good progress) are in dire straits because they are spending more than they "earn". And that their attempts to rein in the excesses are leading to riots.
You know what? There is going to come a time when the disadvantaged (in their eyes), are going to take seriously the fact that they are no better off than they were 10 years ago. Fact! New jobs are still hard to come by, there is rising inflation and a lack of income on their deposits, if they have any. But by contract there are still members of the community out there who are not affected. And they are getting richer. The gap widens. And as it widens, I suspect patience will narrow.
If patience narrows, intolerance grows. The nice cars on the streets - whoever they belong to, will indiscriminately be targeted for damage. The nice second homes that are left empty might gather unwanted occupants, who have the force of the law with them - not with the absentee owner. The places where "smart" people go will become targets for protests. Not a pretty scene, is it?
I must reiterate my views on bonuses and pay. I am not against them, as long as they relate to genuine value added and a job well done, using money that has been entrusted to you by investors or indeed using your own money. But not if you have been bailed out by Government and are now sticking your thumb to your nose because it hasn't affected you. You are then "playing" with other peoples money - and even if you lose, you still seem to get paid, or you move elsewhere equally lucrative.
People working in financial markets particularly have, over recent years, been receiving payments that the majority of people can only stare at and maybe dream about 10% of the amounts paid. It reached levels beyond anything linked to inflation and general increases in living standards - and if it is just left to continue unchecked - then don't be surprised if the world turns on you. Adapt to your surroundings and take notice of what public opinion is saying.
If you don't, then you might just end up with the contents of the bathroom being tipped over your own head - and instead of wondering what the smell is, you'll be sitting in it!