Thursday 2 February 2012

We don't want poor people finding out too much

"What is becoming increasingly worrying for those of us in the business world is how naked our work has become. In the past, we could go through decades of business life without people mentioning a word like 'capitalism'. For years people's attention was forever drawn towards benefit scroungers, builders working on the black, skivers who took time off work, trade union trouble-makers, strikers - the list goes on. Meanwhile, questions of how rich company bosses should be, or indeed, how did they get to be rich - were almost invisible. In short, we lived through many happy years where people who were poor were obviously poor because they were stupid. They hadn't learned how to get rich. Meanwhile, we at the top of the business tree managed to convey the idea that we were clever, canny, shrewd and above all, rather attractive.

But now this has all changed. And I'm not sure it's for the better.

Every day the newspapers are full of stories about fat cats, tax avoidance, inequality, bonuses, high-earners and the rest. Even the word 'capitalism' is being mentioned over and over again.

Look, those of us at the top of business just want to get on with our job. We don't want people prying into the exact nature of our earnings and bonuses. We want it to appear that we just happen to be rich. Or that we are being justly rewarded for doing a damned hard job, or that we are great leaders who know how to do things like 'turn a business round'. We particularly don't want the whole world and his brother trying to figure out how share-holding works. So when Stephen Hester was due to get his bonus, you'll remember it wasn't cash. It was a pretty hefty number of shares. If the whole world hadn't bloody started poking their nose in, that could have been Hester's pension. He could have spent the rest of his days, collecting the dividends.

You see, if you get people trying to figure out how a stack of shares can deliver a hefty pension to someone, they'll start asking where do these dividend share-outs come from? In the end, you go all the way back to the people doing the work for a company, the people we call the shit-shovellers. They're the ones who actually do the work that our companies need and so give the dividends to people like Steve Hester.

But if people concentrate on that sort of thing, they'll be much less likely to accept the cuts that we in business are calling for. We desperately need people to be earning less - which of course means pay cuts and unemployment. We need for that to happen so that people like me at the top of business can go on dishing out the dividends to all of us who own hundreds of thousands of shares.

Now I rather like the way Osborne and Cameron have made it seem as if the great financial crisis happened because people like my employees were greedily hanging on to their jobs, or taking pay hikes. I think far too much attention is being paid to the idea that a good deal of the crisis came from trillions of poundsworth of loans couldn't be paid back. They turned out to be worthless.

But you can't have your ordinary Joe going about saying that. Or where would we be then? Strikes? Occupations? Or worse? Do we really want ordinary Joes stopping work and then sitting right where they are, saying, 'this office or factory or store is ours. We've paid for it many times over in the dividends we've earned for you guys at the top.'?

What a nightmare."