Saturday, May 11, 2013

is positional struggle our fate?

guardian | 'I never did anything for money. I never set money as a goal. It was a result." So says Bob Diamond, formerly the chief executive of Barclays. In doing so Diamond lays waste to the justification that his bank and others (and their innumerable apologists in government and the media) have advanced for surreal levels of remuneration – to incentivise hard work and talent. Prestige, power, a sense of purpose: for them, these are incentives enough.

Others of his class – Bernie Ecclestone and Jeroen van der Veer (the former chief executive of Shell), for example – say the same. The capture by the executive class of so much wealth performs no useful function. What the very rich appear to value is relative income. If executives were all paid 5% of current levels, the competition between them (a questionable virtue anyway) would be no less fierce. As the immensely rich HL Hunt commented several decades ago: "Money is just a way of keeping score."

The desire for advancement along this scale appears to be insatiable. In March Forbes magazine published an article about Prince Alwaleed, who, like other Saudi princes, doubtless owes his fortune to nothing more than hard work and enterprise. According to one of the prince's former employees, the Forbes magazine global rich list "is how he wants the world to judge his success or his stature".

The result is "a quarter-century of intermittent lobbying, cajoling and threatening when it comes to his net worth listing". In 2006, the researcher responsible for calculating his wealth writes, "when Forbes estimated that the prince was actually worth $7 billion less than he said he was, he called me at home the day after the list was released, sounding nearly in tears. 'What do you want?' he pleaded, offering up his private banker in Switzerland. 'Tell me what you need.'"

Never mind that he has his own 747, in which he sits on a throne during flights. Never mind that his "main palace" has 420 rooms. Never mind that he possesses his own private amusement park and zoo – and, he claims, $700m worth of jewels. Never mind that he's the richest man in the Arab world, valued by Forbes at $20bn, and has watched his wealth increase by $2bn in the past year. None of this is enough. There is no place of arrival, no happy landing, even in a private jumbo jet. The politics of envy are never keener than among the very rich.


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