George Packer of the New Yorker notes that, unlike American bankers, the Swiss managers of UBS are eating humble pie, having agreed to forgo $27 million in bonuses and compensation:
The moral code of these Wall Street executives corresponds to stage one of Lawrence Kohlberg’s famous stages of morality: “The concern is with what authorities permit and punish.” Morally, they are very young children. The Swiss bankers are closer to stage four, most common among late teens, where a concern for maintaining the good functioning of society takes hold. Stage six, an elaboration of universal moral principles based on an idea of the good society, is a distant dream for the titans of global finance.
The Atlantic's Megan McArdle offers an alternative view, which might be termed the Murder On The Orient Express Theory: we're all to blame.
In general, I think that we're approaching this crisis the wrong way
when we look for a villain... So while yes, part of this story has been simple greed, a willingness
to believe that we could and should massively increase consumption no
matter what, I tend to take this desire as a given. The question is
how you design an institution that channels those given desires into
What I do not think is a major part of the story is that any simple change, or any handful of people or groups, somehow brought this on the rest of us. Societies, and economies, cannot be brought down by a few people or a few bad decisions--elsewise we'd all still be living in hunter-gatherer tribes eating roast locusts for breakfast. A failure this massive can only occur if massive numbers of people had their hands in it somehow. If you want to find a villain, there's probably one handy at the nearest reflective surface.
Myself, I tend to the latter view. I'm instinctively uneasy with the blame-the-bankers approach. Apart from anything it underestimates the problem. If it's just a case of disciplining a few naughty boys and girls then we can do that and carry on as we were. But that's obviously not going to work. For every irresponsible lender there was an irresponsible borrower, and anyway this really is about the institutions in which our transactions are embedded rather than the morality of certain individuals. We're all responsible for those. Pointing the finger at one particular group is cheap and lazy and a waste of time, albeit satisfying for a short while.