In their most visible effort yet to rein in excessive attempts to rein in their excessive pay, highly paid bankers and traders demanded this week that the governments of the Group of 20 industrial and emerging nations set curbs on their demands that limits be set for compensation for top banking executives. 

In their most visible effort yet to rein in excessive attempts to rein in their excessive pay, highly paid bankers and traders demanded this week that the governments of the Group of 20 industrial and emerging nations set curbs on their demands that limits be set for compensation for top banking executives.

"These excessive efforts to rein in executive pay must stop. We have to end the political culture that has allowed these critiques to go on unchecked over the past year or so," said one executive at Morgan Stanley, where compensation last year was more than seven times as large as the bank’s profit. "There’s this assumption that everyone can go around like drunken sailors handing out criticism without regard for the consequences or without giving it any thought."

"For the life of me," he said in between bites of foie gras, "I don’t know where these ideas come from, and they have to stop."

In a statement, the banking executives called on the G-20 to ensure that criticisms of their pay "be set at an appropriate level and made independent of the performances of the bank, the business unit and individuals; taking due account of negative developments, so as to avoid undue suggestion or disfavor or disapproval."

The executives said they will take a range of steps to limit criticism, possibly including caps on the words "shameless," "unethical" and "risky."

"We need to bring about immediate and meaningful reform of this unregulated approach of blaming those charged with managing the world’s economy for any failure of it," said one executive from Citigroup. "We’re all in this for the common good. That’s why we are masters of the universe."

Banking executives have repeatedly criticized the criticism of their bonus system, arguing that condemning short-term risk taking will only help bring on another financial crisis like the one that began almost exactly a year ago with the collapse of the U.S. investment house Lehman Brothers.

What’s more, the executives are eager to rein in denunciations of their bonuses because many of these reproofs are only afloat because the payouts to the top bankers late last year and early this year were made public. After holding their own finance meeting in London last month, the banking executives declared that "critiques of these bonuses are quite outrageous, and we can’t let that continue."

"Pay for performance is our standard, and it’s a standard that we set, and I’d say it has worked quite well for us, otherwise how do you explain that we are still in business?" said a spokeswoman for Bank of America.

"If we don’t take the necessary steps to lose money attracting and retaining top talent, then someone else will. It’s a competitive marketplace out there and we’re all in it for ourselves," explained a banking executive.

With the financial crisis easing, bankers are becoming less shy about showing their outrage at the unfair criticism of their unfair pay. At a banking conference Tuesday, an executive at Credit Suisse noted that his bank has already introduced "claw-back" elements for criticism of cash bonuses that would require governments to return some of the bailout money to banks without any stipulations.

Bankers and investors want the same thing, he said, "to establish curbs on vilification of pay structures that are appropriate to the high demands and intense competition in the sector, and which don’t set perverse incentives to levy disparagement on these excessive pay packages."

But he and others warned against rules that would hamper the banking executives’ ability to hamper criticism of how they attract the best talent or would put them at a disadvantage against those who are attempting to rein in executive pay.

An executive of Deutsche Bank was quoted as saying, "The war for reining in criticism is in full swing."

He added, "The question of whether we have learned to rein in anything focuses too much on the question of bonuses and not enough on the criticism of the criticism of those bonuses."

In any case, implementing the kind of steps that the highest paid bankers and traders have advocated — including global and governmental caps on critiques of the financial sector’s bonus culture — are likely to work, bankers argue, because such critiques have become the focus of public fury among bankers.

Said one, "We’re mad as hell and ready to take more."

Philip Maddocks can be reached at pmaddock@cnc.com.