What are you worth?

The new year coaxes us to reflect.  We look back at what’s gone, we ponder (or in 2019, fear) what the future holds in its fist. We sometimes wonder what it’s all about, or why  things are the way they are.

So try pondering this. In 1995 Queen Elizabeth wrote a letter. Of course she didn’t write it personally, any more than Prince Charles squeezes his own toothpaste: she had a man do it for her. This was the year the royal yacht Britannia was deemed clapped out, and Queen Elizabeth made it clear  – but not publicly – that she wanted a new one. Sir Kenneth Scott, her deputy private secretary, wrote the letter and said the queen didn’t want a headline “Queen Wants New Yacht”.  At the same time,  “..the Queen would naturally very much welcome it if a way could be found of making available for the nation in the 21st Century the kind of service which Britannia has provided for the last 43 years”

Now you might think that someone as wealthy as Queen Elizabeth should buy her own yachts, but that’s not how these things works. Her assets may be well over £500 million, but she still would have preferred that the public provide her with a spanking new yacht than that she dig into the royal coffers.

Which raises a wider question:  why does the Queen of England get  paid so much more than the rest of us? Because she gets £82.2 million from the public – annually. The average pay for people in the UK is £489 per week before tax. And to save you do the sums, it means that Queen Elizabeth gets over 2,000 times the salary of the average worker.

NoYou may be wondering how on earth it’s fair for one person, even a royal person, to get a salary more than 2,000 times that of another person. Does Queen Elizabeth work 2,000 times harder than the average worker? Is she 2,000 times more talented?  Maybe she could explain that in her next Christmas message.

Let’s leave the royal presence for a moment and look at some figures that came out earlier this month. It seems that the top executives in the UK  take home after just three working days what it takes the average salary  earner in the UK a full year to earn. In other words, the top execs make 133 times the money the average employee makes.

Can this be right? Well I suppose it depends on who you ask.  A top executive would probably stress how gifted they are and how hard they work. But  133 times as hard-working and gifted as the average person? It seems unlikely.

In fact it’s more – it’s impossible. What calculation do you do   in order to decide that the person who cleans the hospital floors or washes the bed linen is so much less important than the brain surgeon who operates on patients? The floor cleaners and the linen washers are just as vital to the health of the patient as is the surgeon.

In recent years there’s been much talk of going from a minimum wage to a living wage for all.  There’s even talk of a universal wage: people getting paid a basic amount, even if they’re not working.

George Bernard Shaw (as usual) had an answer. It is impossible to say that you believe in political equality (one person one vote) and equality before the law, without taking the next step and saying you believe in economic equality. There is no scale on which we can rate the worth of the professional footballer alongside the professional plumber or professional postman or professional lawyer or doctor or singer. So it follows that if we believe in equality for all, we should include economic equality for all.

Consider the advantages. If we didn’t have to spend time thinking about how much money we were earning or not earning, we’d be better able to turn our thoughts to other things, like nuclear weapons, global warming, racism, sexism, the DUP and any of the many challenges that life confronts us with. Money really is the root of all evil because it so easily stops us from thinking about anything else.

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