Saturday, 15 December 2007

Interesting ...

Reading The Roaring Nineties by Joseph Stiglitz, I was struck by the following comment, about executive pay in different cultures:

In Japan ... executive pay is typically 10 times that of the average worker; in Great Britain, executive pay is typically 25 times that of the average worker; by 2000 in America, CEOs were getting paid more than 500 times the wages of the average employee ... (1)
This is interesting for two reasons. First of all, the obscenity of the amounts involved in the American figures - though Stiglitz may be guilty of manipulating statistics (appropriately, as the chapter the quote occurs in is titled 'Creative Accounting') as he doesn't specify if the American figure is typical or extreme. In the Japanese and British figures, it is specified that they are typical (whatever that may mean) but it isn't clear that the same applies to the American figures.

More interesting was the memory this jolted. It reminded me of something I'd read in, of all places, an essay by Orwell. I grabbed my well thumbed copy of his collected essay's and leafed through it, eventually locating the half remembered comment. It occurred in The Lion and the Unicorn (2), a long essay Orwell wrote during the war. At one point he laid out a program for converting Britain's capitalist economy into a socialist one, as he saw little point in resisting Hitler just for things to carry on as before (3). One of his suggestions was

limitation of incomes, on such a scale that the highest tax-free income in Britain does not exceed the lowest by more than ten to one. (4)
So there we have it. The society that most closely matches Orwell's vision of socialist future is ... Japan.

1 - The Roaring Nineties: Seeds of Destruction, by Joseph Stiglitz. Can't provide an internet source, but the quoatation comes from chapter 5, page 124 of my copy.
2 - The whole can be read here: The quotation comes from the third chapter of the essay, 'The English Revolution,' ( section two. I find it very od that the top site on google for this essay is Russian.
3 - Orwell had no time for silly statements about one set of masters being as bad as another. He recognised that Hitler was genuinely evil, where as British capitalists were just fusty, stupid or cruel.
4 - Orwell, op. cit.

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