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French Trader Gets Jail, Bank Fined Peanuts

October 5, 2010

He was the toast of Paris last spring, his lawyers and media men spinning furiously a story of faceless suits and scapegoating. Yesterday Jérôme Kerviel, formerly a hedge trader for the huge bank Société Générale, was convicted of fraud and fined more than $6 billion.

On the one hand, vive La France. At least someone there is going to jail.

On the other hand, Kerviel’s defenders have a point. If the bank is blameless (fined $4 million) and the 33-year-old trader is a monster, that means the system is fine. Nobody employed (or unemployed) outside that system believes that.

So here’s a third hand to consider: Compulsive gambling, whether considered a disease or a moral failing, just might be at the root of our trouble. When people engage this vice at the slot machines or the card tables, most of us see it for what it is. But when they do so on Wall Street, they are rewarded with perks and pay beyond the imagination.

Small time compulsive gamblers bring financial ruin on themselves and their families. The Wall Street types bring it on the rest of us.

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