Monday, November 07, 2011

Some rambling thoughts about incomes

In a tweet sent out yesterday, Steven Croft, self-described as the Bishop of Sheffield and a writer, said the following:

Every person is of equal value before God. So there is something wrong in a world where a boss is paid 300x more than some employees.

Now to me there's a bit of a concern here as to what Bishop Croft is saying.   Certainly we are all equal before God when it comes to being created humans, responsible for what we do with our lives and all equally responsible for our sins.  But I don't think God regards our situation in life to be necessarily equal.  Some of us are given power, some are not.  Some are given fame, some are not.  Some are given obscurity, some skills, some gifts, some a seeming lack of gifts.   God may have set out things that each and every human being should have had the ability to make an enormous difference in the world, but it doesn't appear to have been the case in the actual world we live in.   That may be a result of the Fall (not the Autumn, US readers, but the theological Fall), and if it is, it's something we have to live with.  (Things may be altogether different in that regard in the New World to come.)

That's the first point about this tweet.  The second is 'there is something wrong in a world' etc.  Steven, we know there is something wrong, but it hardly just consists of somebody being paid an enormous amount of money compared to other people.    There are innumerable inequalities in this area: in the last century film stars have invariably been paid extraordinary amounts by comparison with the extras in the same movies.  This is because their talent is highly regarded.   We may think they're overpaid, but I haven't yet seen anyone setting up tents and protesting about the money film stars receive. 

In other areas of the arts, we find top musicians highly paid for the talents and for the gifts they offer to the public.   The man who moves the piano on the night of the concert is important, but he doesn't get paid an equivalent amount, and wouldn't expect to.

Some top painters, sculpters and others are well paid.  Those who supply their materials are not.   I think Steven Croft seems to be promoting a kind of evening out of income with an issue that's only partly related to it.

And then there are footballers, rugby players who get extraordinary amounts of money, often, it seems, for a small amount of actual work.  But are we to decide that the linesmen, the referees should also be paid in the same way?  Unlikely. 

I don't disagree that we're all appalled at the arrogance of bankers and those in the high-flying money-transacting fields.   But it began because somebody felt it was right to pay these people for their expertise.   It's got well and truly out of hand, and I don't disagree that from my perspective they're exceedingly overpaid.   (But then I think many film stars are exceedingly overpaid, too.)

But even that isn't the issue.  The issue is that having begun by rewarding good work in the financial field it has become a race to see who can be paid most.  In the interim, those being paid these fantastic amounts have done what many people who come into a great deal of money do: expect more money, and thumb their noses at those who have no means to expect more money - those who are paid '300x' times less than the one at the top.   And in thumbing their noses they also begin to do illegal things, wrongful things, sinful things - and not just under the cover, but out in the open where everyone can see.   This is their arrogance, and this is as much what people hate about them as the fact that they get a great deal more money than the average worker.

This hate has turned to protest.   But the protest is more about the kind of 'Old Boys' Network' that seems to encourage the greed and arrogance, and helps out those who have got themselves into financial straits with other people's money, never their own, rather than about the fact that some people get far more money for what they do than others. 

One of the difficulties at the other end of the scale is that if you have no talents, no experience, no skills, you have nothing in particular to offer to an employer except your body and what it might do for that employer.   Consequently your employer is entitled to pay the 'minimum wage' because he or she is not getting any great value for money when they employ such people.   For me, this is perhaps a bigger issue than trying to rationalise why talented people get large amounts of money.   How can the employing world help those who start off with nothing in the way of employable skills gain them?   We used to have a strong apprentice system; before that there were guilds that took on young people and trained them.  (Now, too often, we train the young people separately from the employment situation and then expect them to find a niche for themselves in the world.)   But apprenticeships are few and far between; many employers can't fund them and the Government, in this country at least, seems to think the apprenticeship system isn't worth putting money into. 

I could go on and on.  Essentially what I'm trying to say is that Bishop Croft is being too simplistic (perhaps Twitter encourages that).  Even the protesters out in their tents are being simplistic (they're focusing mostly on one aspect of the problem).   I suspect finding ways of lifting those at the bottom of the employment pile up and out of their catch 22 situation is more important than getting angry at those at the top.   Their day of reckoning will come - and has been seen to, more than once.

Photo by Images of Money from

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