How much money is too much money?
While the question is always going to be somewhat relative, i feel like sometimes it’s quite an easy one to answer.
When i saw this list of bank boss salaries yesterday it made me super sad and angry. While not all that surprised.
This representation along [that i discovered comes from this article on the BusinessTech website] could be this whole blog post. It says more than enough already.
And it makes me angry and sick even just thinking about it.
On the backs of others
We saw the same with supermarkets a while back, where you have cashiers struggling to make ends meet because they are being paid so badly, while the person on top is reaping almost all of the benefits.
i shared the list on Facebook which was met with a number of different responses. Typically people jump on and defend vociferously when i speak up against big money earners, but yesterday was a little surprising:
Sesh Bethinja: Very frustrating. And then people make it seem like it’s a completely natural system. But at the same time, a CEO in Canada, for an example, heading a company making the same amount as a company in RSA will make less than half of what the RSA CEO makes.
So, it certainly is more than the value the person brings. But, people do not account for these inequalities.
They aren’t explaining why these CEOs have had an immense increase in their earnings from the 80s, while regular employees have been getting the same. The outputs of both groups have remained the same.
This is really the crux of it for me. i don’t think it will ever be okay for one person in the world to have a jet or an ocean liner, while a family goes without food or clean water.
The words that are never spoken
What you are saying by your lifestyle is: “I deserve this before you deserve that.” Or maybe more truthfully, “It is okay for you to die while I dine in luxury.”
And of course no-one will ever say those words out loud. To get people to say the words, “That is obscene. That is not okay. That is not a just or fair situation.” is hard enough. But as much as people will vehemently defend the system and structure that allows a person to be a megalokajillionaire, they refuse to follow the crumbs to the inevitable consequences of death and destruction and poverty and less than humane lifestyles that result because of that system and structure. And if you start digging you are called a ‘Communist’ or ‘Socialist’ in dismissive terms as if capitalism is the only viable alternative.
We used to think cassette tapes were the best way for music to be played at one time.
Ryan Edwards: I agree with you and feel the same frustration.
When people say it’s just supply and demand or that all wealth is deserved because that’s what the market allocates I really get triggered. It’s that story / ideology that triggers me.
Just because the system is supposedly free and liberal and not state socialism / communism we must just accept it. People need the sticks and carrots or the market to work together. We are selfish, lazy and greedy by nature. This view of human nature and system dynamics are self fulfilling in hunger games like conditions where equality of opportunity is denied.
And if you challenge the system you are labeled a Marxist or a socialist who doesn’t understand economics and human nature.
We need to abandon these false dichotomies and start to work to develop solid critiques of our capitalistic societies and their myths and dream of a better system that is fair and more just.
Capitalism needs to be critiqued and reformed urgently. It was never fair.
All these obscene salaries indicate to me that they are privately appropriating commonwealth / public wealth / collective wealth. That’s the problem. Not seeing where true value comes from and who deserves the benefits.
Progress should’ve involved lifting the foundation for all as well as making those adding value rich.
Now i’m not sure that Ryan and i are exactly aligned on these things, but there is enough here that i agree with. Especially the bit about capitalism needing to be critiqued.
Babies and bathwater
i am not an economist, let’s start there. i am more about Justice for all people. And there is some kind of intersection there. So i do have some thoughts.
The one irritation i have in this area is how dismissive people are about communism and socialism [and tend to throw it as an insult!], while refusing to critique capitalism at all. It is as if the destructive examples we have of Communism and Socialism are so bad that we shouldn’t even consider there could be something wrong with the present system. As if there is no third or fourth way possible which may even involve aspects of both but lived out in more healthier ways?
Think of it like this. Remember Abbas ibn Firnas? No, of course you don’t! Let me refresh your memory:
The Andalusian scientist Abbas ibn Firnas (810–887 AD) reportedly made a jump in Cordoba, Spain, covering his body with vulture feathers and attaching two wings to his arms. The flight attempt was reported in the 9th century by Muhammad I of Córdoba’s court poet Mu’min ibn Said, and later in more detail by the 17th-century Algerian historian Ahmed Mohammed al-Maqqari based on sources no longer extant. They report that he flew some distance, before landing with some injuries. [Wikipedia]
Given the way people react to Communism and Socialism when it is brought up in economic conversations, we have to thank God that those same people were not around during the birth of flight. Flying would have been totally ridiculed because Abbas ibn Firnas did it badly and we all know how that turned out. Therefore it’s not a good thing.
Same with Christianity, to be honest. Based on the evidence of so many thousands, even millions of people getting it horribly wrong we conclude that Christianity is evil. Which is possible, of course. But any judgements made on the validity of Christianity should surely be made on the essence of what it actually is or is meant to be and not how human beings have cocked it up. Same with Socialism and Communism, even Marxism. What if there are some good principles in there that can work, if we do them better than was done before?
i’m not saying this is the answer, by any means. And i’m not even advocating for Communism or Socialism although you may feel like i am. i honestly don’t think i know enough about either to know how much i am for or against them [although there are definitely some aspects of Socialism which seem like they could be good]. But what annoys me in the conversations is that they are dismissed out of hand because of fear of the past when they were done badly.
Yet today we fly. Because people didn’t look at a guy who strapped vulture feathers to his arms and come to the conclusion that flying was bad. They just realised it could be done better. And eventually – after many other suck cock-ups – it was.
What if we held the same kind of scrutiny to our economic systems and do the work of finding something that works in such a way that everyone has food and clean water and no-one necessarily has a jet or three holiday homes?
What is the solution?
i don’t know. i honestly don’t. And i don’t think that excludes me from having this conversation.
i believe that a first and very necessary step is for us to look at this list of bank salaries, at the ludicrous size of sports and entertainment and musicians pay cheques, at the money politicians and CEOs and come to the conclusion that THIS IS NOT OKAY!
Can we just start there? Can we admit that it is messed up that some people have literally piles of money, some that they will never ever be able to spend, and that thousands of people will die today from malnutrition? If you can’t even agree to that, then i personally think you are psychotic. It feels like an easy starting place. How much we agree on what to do after that? Well, we will likely differ. But if we can agree that the context is deeply and heavily and evil’ly flawed, then maybe just maybe we will be moved to do something about it.
Graeme Codrington: The solution is simple: a global agreement to tax millionaires at much higher rates, and ensure that the taxes are returned to the countries of origin. No tax havens and aggressive pursuit of those who attempt to duck paying taxes.
i like the idea of a maximum wage. My friend Trevor Ruddick Black does a lot of work with Basic Universal Income. Valerie and i are part of a thing called Common Change where small groups of people pool money to meet the needs of people they care about.
Maybe the solution is a combination of ideas such as these, which operate at the same time as we bring scrutiny to the systems and structures which continue to give a small percentage of people the major percentage of money and resources.
We have to have these conversations. We must continue to make a noise about it not being okay that money like this is in the hands of a few people. But what we absolutely have to be doing is looking at how we use the money and resources we have and making sure we are making good decisions there.
What do you think about these things?