It’s no surprise that in the midst of a global financial meltdown we are bombarded with articles, reports and opinions on finance. The little church I’m part of met up last week to have a chat and share views on all this stuff and I was gutted not to be able to make it.
On Thursday night I got in from work late and switched on Question Time. Someone in the audience asked “Have executive salaries got out of control?” The panel each got a chance to speak starting with the CEO of Sainsburys who was put on the spot and asked his salary. He very honestly replied, accepting this was easily google-able information. Some people in the audience suggested his salary was “immoral” or asked if he “thought he was worth 40 times the average person”. He handled himself well and explained how his salary was set and agreed by the shareholders and was also directly related to the performance of the business each year.
What bothered most me wasn’t the question, or even the comments that followed (although they bothered me). What bothered me most was that when faced with a man who is leading a successful company, paying into the UK tax system and creating jobs, the instinctive reaction seemed to be to suggest he was somehow the bad guy.
A few weeks back my dad got stopped as he walked to work by a protestor who, with little information or knowledge of my dad or what he did for a living, told him he was “raping the UK economy”. My dad doesn’t live in a tax haven, he pays his taxes into this economy and both he and my mum live generous lives.
So what’s my point?….well I’m not sure I know to be honest. I’m no economist but I read, keep up to date on current affairs and I know a little about how things work.
I understand that the poverty gap is too big both here and in the developing world.
I know that there are back doors and loopholes that I think should be closed…but they need to be closed by lawmakers and leaders. And we also need to understand that once they’re closed we might lose even more into our economy as people make legitimate choices to go elsewhere.
I know that I will never spend £12million on my daughter’s wedding or £1million on a car. I’ll never even spend £8,000 on a toilet or £1,000 on a watch (although they’re both amazing!!)
But I also know that I value ambition, I want to live in a world and bring kids into a world where our opportunities are limitless. I want that for everyone and that’s why work needs to be done to ensure equality of opportunity is afforded to everyone whether you’re born in a stately home in Berkshire, a remote village in Zambia or one of the too many UK postcodes that seem to predestine low expectations.
I want to make sure that generosity is central to my life, and in doing so to those around me as I learn from them and they learn from me. I want to live in a world where the generosity of a few inspires the masses. Where alongside protest and lobbying the simple acts of kindness and the way we live inspires the richest rather than just shouting at them…although some of the richest have way more to teach me about generosity than I them.
And I guess this is part of it. Because if you just look up the pay-scales and imagine everyone who earns more than you is somehow a fair target then I’m worried about where we end up. What happens when you get a pay-rise? Is it okay for you to earn the ammount you used to think was “immoral”? Is your new car somehow different because it’s worth a bit less or not as flashy a brand? Is it okay to spend that £1,000 on a holiday, a new computer or every month on the mortgage when it wasn’t on the watch? Is it different to spend £8,000 doing up the living when it was “ludicrous” to spend it on a toilet? And if it is then who gets to decide what’s what?
Some are suggesting that salaries should be capped. But who decides on the cap? Do I get a say? I earn more than a nurse or a teacher and all I do is help make TV programmes…is that immoral? I’ve worked for and with people who earn far more than me…should I be accosting them on their way to work? Should I start each day by rounding up every colleague who’s further up the pay chain and remind them of their immorality?…This road seems to lead quickly to a dozen dark alleyways each littered with its own potholes.
Something is very obviously wrong with the way we do money but that ‘we’ is all of us. So we keep trying, we keep pushing ourselves to the next step and we influence through protest, vote or relationship those around us in the hope they’ll take one more step too.
And anything else…well it’s surely just arrogance?
To assume that everyone who earns as much as the CEO of Sainsburys is immoral is arrogant. To stop a man on his way to work and accuse him of destroying the economy is arrogant. To carry on living as if we don’t have a responsibility for our neighbours whether they live next door, in the next estate or so far away we’ll never meet them is arrogant.
We humans are a bundle of compromises. Perhaps the sooner we all admit it the better…I’ll go first
Hi, I’m Matt and despite my hopes and efforts I’m pretty sure that a lot of the time I don’t do enough to close the poverty gap.