February 7, 2012

Personal experience of income inequality

Filed under: Business — by xrematon @ 11:42 am
Tags: , ,

The UK media is having a field day kicking up a snowstorm of its own about excessive levels of pay – probably some are feeling relief that the spotlight is no longer so much on the press as it has been in the past couple of months with the Leveson inquiry.

There are strong views about the issue of high pay – revel in the vehemence of George Monbiot’s writing:

Obscene rewards for success are as socially corrosive as obscene rewards for failure. They reduce social mobility, enhance plutocratic power and allow the elite to inflict astonishing levels of damage on the environment. They create resentment and reduce the motivation of other workers, who see the greedy bosses as the personification of the company.

And then read about what it feels like on the other side – from the comments of one ex-trader:

It’s a hard thing for the other 99 percent to grasp, but for better or worse, that’s how they measure their value and self-worth: what their paycheck is. They’re being pilloried in the press and by the 99 percent. People in the industry are being treated like pariahs.

My contribution to the debate is based on personal experience. In 2004, I worked in India for a year in the local office of The Futures Company (then known as The Henley Centre). I wasn’t on a big salary, I didn’t have a juicy ex-pat deal and I was definitely carefully counting rupees in the face of surprisingly high rents in central Mumbai, but I was struck by how even what I was paid was a signficant multiple of what colleagues sitting around me were getting. These colleagues were freelancers working for IMRB (whose office space we shared). These individuals were paid on a daily basis and at the bottom of the professional pecking order. Based on rough calculations, I was probably getting ten times what they were, and I reckon the CEO  of the IMRB was getting at least ten times what I was.  To me, that seems like veritable income vertigo.

If I compare to what the situation would have been in the UK, I am pretty sure that none of my colleagues in London were ever paid ten times less than me and I would find  it hard to believe that our esteemed senior management earnt ten times my salary.

However, I have a final observation to offer: the situation in India was not quite as ‘ruthless’ as those calculations might seem. When there were times of celebration – for example birthdays or for some religious festival – it would be the senior staff who would pay out of their own pockets for treats, such as meals out, getting sweets in etc. It did feel like there was a recognition of some sort that noblesse oblige.


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