So four Google executives are paying themselves $15m in bonuses, despite the company's bad behaviour...

But we should all calm down. This isn't as bad as it seems.

Arguably, the two business metrics that capture most public attention in the post-2008 media climate are the value of fines levied for bad behaviour, and the bonuses paid to top executives.

The cathartic element in seeing a big company charged for wrongdoing, and the commensurate outrage of sums on a similar scale being offered to individuals as a reward for business conducted during the same period, are always bound to resonate in a climate where people feel they have been impoverished by greed on an epic scale.

So how has the world reacted to fine and bonus figures released by Google, as the web giant reported $15 million in bonuses paid to four executives, and $7m in fines to 38 US states over invasion of privacy through Google Street View?

Understandably, commentators have been quick to jump on the latter. A $7m fine is hilariously small for a company with a market cap of $274bn and latest annual profits of $2.89bn: a typo in the first draft of this article had the fine set at $7, which it might as well have been, for all the difference it makes.

The fine is far more interesting in terms of reputation than financial impact, especially when associated clauses are considered. As well as binning the contested Street View data, Google has been required to run a ten year employee training program on privacy, and launch a public service advertising campaign on securing wireless networks.

If Microsoft had been considering canning its “Scroogled” smear campaign on Google’s privacy attitudes, as some speculated earlier this month, it is likely to have reconsidered in light of the Street View fines.

But even though Google’s bonuses more than double what it has been fined, I am yet to find any censure online for the $15m payout offered to bosses. After all, even though the smallest bonus – chief business officer Nikesh Arora’s $2.8m – is dream money for most of us disgruntled mortals, it hardly seems berserk against the backdrop of such gargantuan revenues and profits.

This is certainly not news when compared with RBS, a company with a market cap of $33bn compared to Google’s $274, handing over more than $600m in payouts to executives at the same time as being fined $400m over the LIBOR scandal - in itself arguably a drop in the ocean.

If anything, the fact that Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin are not to receive bonuses at all seems positively saintly, and goes some way to negating any reputational damage over the Street View incident.

The reason for this, however, is that both men are already worth over $20bn, making even RBS executives look like the rest of us by comparison.  With figures like that floating around, I’m surprised anyone reported on Google’s bonus payments and snooping fines at all.

Photograph: Getty Images

By day, Fred Crawley is editor of Credit Today and Insolvency Today. By night, he reviews graphic novels for the New Statesman.

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BHS is Theresa May’s big chance to reform capitalism – she’d better take it

Almost everyone is disgusted by the tale of BHS. 

Back in 2013, Theresa May gave a speech that might yet prove significant. In it, she declared: “Believing in free markets doesn’t mean we believe that anything goes.”

Capitalism wasn’t perfect, she continued: 

“Where it’s manifestly failing, where it’s losing public support, where it’s not helping to provide opportunity for all, we have to reform it.”

Three years on and just days into her premiership, May has the chance to be a reformist, thanks to one hell of an example of failing capitalism – BHS. 

The report from the Work and Pensions select committee was damning. Philip Green, the business tycoon, bought BHS and took more out than he put in. In a difficult environment, and without new investment, it began to bleed money. Green’s prize became a liability, and by 2014 he was desperate to get rid of it. He found a willing buyer, Paul Sutton, but the buyer had previously been convicted of fraud. So he sold it to Sutton’s former driver instead, for a quid. Yes, you read that right. He sold it to a crook’s driver for a quid.

This might all sound like a ludicrous but entertaining deal, if it wasn’t for the thousands of hapless BHS workers involved. One year later, the business collapsed, along with their job prospects. Not only that, but Green’s lack of attention to the pension fund meant their dreams of a comfortable retirement were now in jeopardy. 

The report called BHS “the unacceptable face of capitalism”. It concluded: 

"The truth is that a large proportion of those who have got rich or richer off the back of BHS are to blame. Sir Philip Green, Dominic Chappell and their respective directors, advisers and hangers-on are all culpable. 

“The tragedy is that those who have lost out are the ordinary employees and pensioners.”

May appears to agree. Her spokeswoman told journalists the PM would “look carefully” at policies to tackle “corporate irresponsibility”. 

She should take the opportunity.

Attempts to reshape capitalism are almost always blunted in practice. Corporations can make threats of their own. Think of Google’s sweetheart tax deals, banks’ excessive pay. Each time politicians tried to clamp down, there were threats of moving overseas. If the economy weakens in response to Brexit, the power to call the shots should tip more towards these companies. 

But this time, there will be few defenders of the BHS approach.

Firstly, the report's revelations about corporate governance damage many well-known brands, which are tarnished by association. Financial services firms will be just as keen as the public to avoid another BHS. Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors, said that the circumstances of the collapse of BHS were “a blight on the reputation of British business”.

Secondly, the pensions issue will not go away. Neglected by Green until it was too late, the £571m hole in the BHS pension finances is extreme. But Tom McPhail from pensions firm Hargreaves Lansdown has warned there are thousands of other defined benefit schemes struggling with deficits. In the light of BHS, May has an opportunity to take an otherwise dusty issue – protections for workplace pensions - and place it top of the agenda. 

Thirdly, the BHS scandal is wreathed in the kind of opaque company structures loathed by voters on the left and right alike. The report found the Green family used private, offshore companies to direct the flow of money away from BHS, which made it in turn hard to investigate. The report stated: “These arrangements were designed to reduce tax bills. They have also had the effect of reducing levels of corporate transparency.”

BHS may have failed as a company, but its demise has succeeded in uniting the left and right. Trade unionists want more protection for workers; City boys are worried about their reputation; patriots mourn the death of a proud British company. May has a mandate to clean up capitalism - she should seize it.