Saturday, 20 November 2010

The quality of mercy is not strained...

There is a fascinating article, "Because you're worth it", about people's pay and their attitudes to pay, in today's Guardian. Written by Oliver Burkeman we are told that 67% of Brits are uncomfortable talking about what they get paid (including Oliver) in contrast to 17% of Americans. Perhaps the recent witch-hunt on pay has made people more defensive? You think?

Regular readers of this blog will know that unlike most people I think MP's at around £65k are underpaid, a contributing factor, in my view, to the widespread misuse of their expense allowance. Being in the front line of democracy is a vital job and should be able to attract those at the top of their game who have solid life experience outside politics. At that stage in a persons life they will often have family responsibilities which will need to be met. However I share the commonly held view that city bankers, those that barter money not distribute it who tend to be paid less, like the woman featured in the article that take home over £500k plus, are over paid.

I have been talking to my eldest about The Merchant of Venice, which he is studying for his GCSE (first exam on Monday! ekk), and in many ways our attitude to usury hasn't changed. Making money from money, a process that produces nothing useful other than profit, has always struggled to inspire. By virtue of living in Richmond I know lots of bankers, and with one notable exception, all of them labour under the misapprehension that they work harder than most people, and are especially clever. This view lacks sensitivity to the struggles that others, less fortunate than themselves, face. I like to disabuse them of their seeming God given right to wealth. They work no harder than cleaners nor are, for the most part more able than cartographer's. Their retirement age of around 45 is comparable to the building trade, their employment vulnerability is no greater than for those who work in catering. They have to take exams and often have degrees but are no more qualified than university lecturers, they are just extremely fortunate because they operate closest to the well. They are the ones who draw from the source, they get to drink first and fully and absolutely slake their thirst. The further down the line you get the more spit there is in the cup until only dribbles remain for those at the end.  T'was ever thus, although at least the Medici of this world gave us inspiring and noble art. A great pile of Porsches and flat screen TV's isn't a legacy anyone can share in or get excited about. It isn't the money I have problem with, its what they did to get it, what they do with it and profoundly their lack of sympathy for those who do not have it. It is this 'out of touch' attitude that perhaps led Lord Young to gaff so badly this week. Had he know and cared a little more about how the other half lived he wouldn't have thought that people have never had it so good, let alone said it.

I enjoyed reading about people's different lives. I was particularly interested in the pub landlady who seems to keep the same hours as I do, which is not going to bed much before 2am and still getting up early. Chatting to Hubbie I ruminated that perhaps I should think about taking up the pub trade. He thought I'd be useless as I'd be cleaning all the time, driving people away as I'd wipe around them when they were drinking and getting cross when dirty walkers came in. He seemed to think this was very funny. I do like a clean and tidy ship and like Michelle our pub landlady in the piece, I struggle to find Morpheus. I'm not sure why this is but has been a great deal going on in the social enterprise world of late and my mind is a whirr, so in an attempt to get back some control I gave up drinking. This is in fact Day 14 of no alcohol and I have to say it hasn't helped much. Yes I've lost a few pounds which I wanted to, but I seem more wide awake at night than ever. Still at least my night time vigil means I'm on top of the emails and ironing. Maybe I should go and see the Alternative therapist, Jo Barnard? With an annual salary of £5k I think she could do with the support.

Finally, the article profiled a social entrepreneur, I think I recognise her business from the description but oddly she was one of the contributors who, like the banker, opted to change her name. Why I wonder? Social entrepreneurs have nothing to hide. Quite the reverse, at the end of Global Entrepreneurship Week featuring a stonking Social Enterprise Day, our record on using business to grow people and planet give us much to be proud of.  A quick word from Portia here, a very clever lady, and perhaps my favourite Shakespearian woman. Lord Young and all those closest to the well, take heed:

The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;


  1. Loved this article Alison and your portrayal of the proverbial uber deserving attitude of bankers is bang on, in my opinion anyway. I believe that people know the truth, always, full stop, end of. It's just whether it is convenient or to their benefit to acknowledge it. Therefore I believe they simply have no other choice but to convince others and themselves of their hard work. This reminds me of that old adage.......fake it till you make it, and clearly (deservedly not) they are making it!

  2. Elisicia, thanks for that and those that Retweeted this blog. I agree with you and continue to worry that the current prevailing culture that seems so uncritically in awe of great wealth is missing the point. Enterprise provides a tension which keeps a degree of balance within any given system, but unchecked and unguarded wealth creation has the opposite effect. Not only did the banking system pull up the ladder on all of us but somehow remained confident enough to justify, for instance, spending 40% of peoples pension contributions on themselves 'because they're worth it!???