Anxiety keeps the super-rich safe from middle-class rage
Why isn't blood running, metaphorically at least, in the streets? Evidence of how the rich prosper while everyone else struggles with inflation, public spending cuts and static wages arrives almost daily. The Institute for Fiscal Studies reports that last year incomes among the top 1% grew at the fastest rate in a decade. According to the Sunday Times Rich List, the top 1,000 are £60.2bn better off this year than in 2010, bringing their collective wealth close to the record pre-recession levels.
Now comes a report this week from the High Pay Commission, set up by the Labour pressure group Compass. It reveals that FTSE 100 chief executives are on average paid £4.2m annually, or 145 times the median wage – and on current trends will be paid £8m, or 214 times the median, by 2020. In the financial sector, even the CEO can seem modestly rewarded: this year, the top-paid banker at Barclays will get £14m, nearly four times the chief executive's earnings and 1,128 times more than the lowest-paid employee receives....
The commission describes levels of top pay as an instance of "market failure" because most arguments used to defend it just don't stack up. For example, despite claims that pay levels are dictated by global competition, the majority of FTSE 100 CEOs are British, promoted from within their companies. Only one CEO has been poached in the past five years – by a British rival. But top pay also suggests political failure, particularly on the left. To put it crudely, why can't leftwing parties harness middle-class anger against the super-rich? Surveys show a substantial majority of the electorate agree that differences in income are too large and that ordinary people don't get a fair share. Only one in eight disagree. Why is this so difficult to translate into a political programme that could command mass support?