There has been an outcry amongst the public about the fairness of otherwise of the proposed bonus for Stephen Hester head of largely state owned Royal Bank of Scotland. This is been joined by politicians of all parties.
Multi-millionaire Nick Clegg has missed out on life. Born into a wealthy family, Nick went to fee paying Westminster School and then Cambridge and Minnesota universities. This was followed by a series of non-productive jobs such as fact checking for Christopher Hitchens, Brussels sinecures with the European Commission and working for a firm which lobbied for Libya in the early 90’s. Finally young Nick made the ultimate escape from reality and became a full-time Lib Dem politician.
Likewise Nick’s counterpart as leader of the Labour Party, Ed Milliband, has had a privileged upbringing avoiding the rough edges of reality most of us have to negotiate. In this they are no different from most members of either front bench, practically all are wealthy or come from privileged backgrounds.
When politicians jump on the ‘fairness’ bandwagon I am tempted to ask just how ‘fair’ have their privileged lives been. To avoid hypocrisy ‘fairness’ has to apply to the practice of politics just as much as the practice of banking.
It may appear that they and those like them have lived a life of luxury and ease with their path smoothed ahead of them, and they have. However, they have also missed out on some of the formative experiences shared by we plebs, and they are lesser men and women for it.
Young Nick and Ed never stood shivering in the wintery blast in a primary school playground whilst teams were picked. The two best footballers, there was no other game, took turns picking. They went through the assembled boys selecting players in turn. Eventually the discard pile was reached, those there to make up the numbers and who were picked with reluctance. Somebody had to have them, it was just a pity it had to be your team.
If they had, as was my fate, stood with the relentlessly shrinking group of incompetents no-one really wanted they would be much better politicians today.
On what basis did the captains choose the teams? Only one, ability to play football. They didn’t care about looks, wealth or lack of it, status or scholastic ability. They didn’t care about the feelings of those picked last. They cared about one thing only, footballing ability. Any other suggestion would have been greeted with scowls of incomprehension.
And you know what, they may have operated with that ruthlessness found only in primary school playgrounds and the Hell’s Angels, but they were fair. They did not discriminate positively or negatively, they did not truckle to fashion. They chose those whom they thought best for their teams.
Given the context that was fair. Is the fact that some children are larger, faster, more experienced, and perhaps more talented somehow unfair? This is what Nick and Ed have forgotten or never learned, fairness depends upon context.
“Fair” is one of those warm, fuzzy words that allows the listener to define it to his own personal taste — and the definition changes from one specific case to another. Which is why grown ups, and that excludes populist politicians, do not talk about fairness but about justice. Anytime I hear the word fairness I expect it to be followed by “Teacher, make him give my ball back.”
This playing of the “fairness” card is evidence that they’ve never played playground football. They recognize an unfair situation immediately, but can’t accept the fact that there are differences in life outcomes that are not the result of discrimination, patronage, or some other “unfair” factor.
They cannot accept that all men are not created equal when it comes to ability and effort, and early personal choices often determine the opportunities for reward later in life.
The equality of men is not a description of ability or skill, talent, intelligence or level of determination. There is only one area in which all are equal, and that is in the eyes of God. And God made us marvellously mixed and gloriously unequal.
There is no way that I would be able to beat Viswanathan Anand at chess. This is not just because the current world champion has bags of innate chess playing ability whilst I am to chess what a giraffe is to ice skating. Anand practices hour on end, day after day, week in week out, no matter what. He shows a level of determination separating himself from those who may have the same level of ability, but who are not as determined, or obsessed.
Fairness has to do with the opportunities presented to us, not to the outcomes. Is it fair that Stephen Hester should earn more in a day than a corporal fighting in Afghanistan earns in a year. Probably not. But I and most able bodied people could do what the corporal does, and conscription and several wars prove that true. I could not, however, and I doubt any of my readers could either, run the Royal Bank of Scotland.
The greed culture infecting much of the financial industry is an horrific example of a people operating without a moral compass. That is not going to be altered by vote-greedy politicians using ‘fairness’ as a momentarily useful political tool.
Incidentally Stephen Hester may have been forced by the public outcry backed by vote-seeking politicians to give back his bonus. A grand victory for Clegg etc., but a victory which has cost the British public £329,000,000 as Royal Bank of Scotland shares dropped 2.5% this morning on the suspicion in the market that this heralded greater state interference in the running of the bank.