Arguing the toss, spiked style

This week: should something be done about footballers' wages and bankers' bonuses?

You know what the driving force in the world today is? Greed. Bloody greed. A few greedy people at the top suck up all the wealth and the rest of us exist in poverty.

Big month, was it?

What?

You’re feeling a bit skint and you’re looking for someone to moan about.

No, I’m just sick of the rich getting richer while the rest of us struggle.

Such as?

Well, take Wayne Rooney.

I think most football fans would happily take Wayne Rooney for their teams.

Not at £15million per year. He earns £300,000 a week.

It’s a lot of money. But I don’t think he’s being greedy, just smart. He knows he’s worth that to Manchester United.

They’re only sixth in the league.

I know. Even in the darkest moments of my life, knowing United have absolutely no chance of winning the league can put a silver lining on any cloud. But getting back to Wayne, he’s famous, he comes from a very ordinary background, and he’s English. For England’s most famous club, that’s worth a lot.

But £300,000 per week? That makes no sense. There are people doing life-saving work who earn a tenth of that in an entire year. You know, nurses and people like that.

You’re judging it the wrong way. You’re judging it on the basis that the most important people or professions should attract the most money.

Yes, that would be much fairer.

Well, water is absolutely vital. Should that be the most expensive thing in the world?

No. It would be impossible to survive if it were.

Thankfully, there’s a lot of it about, which is great news, unless you live Somerset. And we’ve done amazing things in terms of building huge infrastructure to make sure it gets from rivers and underground springs to our homes.

On the other hand, Wayne Rooney is a rarity. A very good footballer who also suits United’s brand. He’s a one-off, pretty much. He’s a Van Gogh on legs. That’s the way you’ve got to judge his wages. It sounds mad to pay that much money for a guy to kick a ball about, but there are millions and millions of fans of United and the English Premier League, all of whom are prepared to pay a fairly small amount to watch football. That all adds up. And Wayne has just negotiated himself a decent cut of that. If anything, the wages for the top players in basketball and baseball are even higher.

It’s not just Wayne Rooney. Look at the bankers. The EU finally did something about bankers’ bonuses – by capping them at a pretty damn generous 200 per cent of their salaries – and HSBC has just come along and flicked the EU the finger by getting round the cap.

Well, a cap on bonuses was a pretty stupid idea in the first place. The banks were always just going to call bonuses something else to get round it.

Oh my God, don’t tell me you think bankers are worth it, too!

Again, just as in sport, there’s a lot of money sloshing around in the world of finance. I mean, an astonishing amount. HSBC racked up pre-tax profits of £13 billion in 2013. And that was regarded as disappointing! And since their business is essentially moving money around, rather than producing anything new, they pay a lot of money to people who are good at creaming off just a little bit more of the money that passes through their hands. HSBC has fixed investments of $850 billion, and there’s all the trading of currencies, financial instruments and everything else. The bonuses that arise from that are actually quite a small percentage of all that.

It’s disgraceful. Bankers are too greedy and too powerful.

There is a lot wrong with the banking system at the moment. And it’s worrying for the UK that shuffling money around is so much more important than making things or supplying other kinds of services. I don’t think the financial system is as good at shifting society’s resources into producing new wealth as it should be. But that’s not really HSBC’s problem. HSBC sells services to clients and charges a fee for that, from which they make a profit. It should be up to the investors in HSBC, the shareholders, to decide how much money the staff makes and sack the board if they think that is too much. Out of tens of thousands of staff, a few hundred make more than a million quid a year, and you can bet they have to rake in a hell of a lot more than that to earn those bonuses.

But it’s not fair.

Well, if it’s such great money and the job is so easy, why don’t you become a banker?

It’s not a fulfilling job.

Well, there you go. You do your thing based on fulfillment or something, and let the people motivated by money do theirs.

I honestly couldn’t care less about bankers’ bonuses or Wayne Rooney’s wages. I do care that Western economies are not productive enough, that they are not producing enough wealth to supply all the things that we need, from housing to good jobs. That’s a much bigger and thornier question than the pay of a few ‘fat cats’.

In fact, blaming bankers is a dangerous idea. It gives the political class – and, indeed, political campaigners – an easy target without touching any of the bigger problems.

Rob Lyons is associate editor at spiked.

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