An old wisecrack states that bankers are different from you and me: they are better-paid. But are bankers also different, in the way they earn their money, from film stars, pop musicians and footballers?
Until last year, people at the top of the banking industry were in the same position as their counterparts in popular entertainment and professional sport. Their pay was not subject to official regulation of any kind. If you were a star in finance and your activities brought in revenues of millions of pounds, you could negotiate with your employers an income which reflected your productivity. In some types of banking - notably securities trading (where an individual might make millions by selling securities for higher prices than were paid for them) and corporate finance (where one senior executive with a long client list could bring in fees of several millions) - the link between income and output was clear, and might even be stated in a contract.
But in 2008 the free market in bankers' payment practices came to an end. Various misdeeds by bank executives were revealed in the subprime crisis and an international campaign emerged to restrict their annual bonuses, which in the City of London had sometimes exceeded £10m. On 21 May, the main story on the front page of the Financial Times, which had led the campaign in the UK, carried a story on "Watchdog to focus on bank bonuses".