A lot of people, not only bankers, are vastly over-rewarded. At the same time at least five million in the UK are unemployed or underemployed, and receive no pay, only perhaps “work experience”. So we waste about £100 billion and have a grossly distorted work economy of people paid too much and nothing and a precarious welfare system.
The Christian Gospel is for all the earth, God’s good news for humankind. Its truths are not local, limited to church buildings, but tell us who we truly are and how we are to live, work and be paid.
Christians know that all are called to work. It is the human condition, and working with God in stewardship means overall blessing and sufficiency. Christians do not idolize work or view it in terms of individual merit. “Not by works, lest anyone should boast” informs the whole of life before God and others. We stand before God only in grace, not through works of any kind, and we are called to service. Paul is quite clear. “For by the grace given to me, do not think of yourselves more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment,” (Romans 12:3). Grace should give us a sobering-down valuation of all our work and pay. In Philippians he says, “Do nothing out of ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” In case we are in any doubt what these passages mean, and no one really is, Christ in the parable of the workers in the vineyard shows that God generously pays everyone the same, and the workers who trusted in their own labours were to get no special treatment. The last in pay shall be first. We are to be godly people and practice near equal pay. This is what the Bible says and it is good for all the earth.
However, capitalists and “free marketers” assert that special people “create” wealth and some people are worth far more in pay than other people. This is bad economics and lousy thinking. “Wealth creation” is actually “wealth transfer”. You exploit workers with low pay and take the unearned profits; it was so in Marx’s day and it is now with Chinese and Indian workers (for a while). Or capitalists exploit the expertise, technology, products, raw materials, energy sources of others and make the profits their own. Or capitalists rig markets with monopolies and monopsonies to guarantee profits. Or they find ways of getting money for jam out of the public sector, as when BAe Systems received £3.8 billion for the Nimrod MRA4 – scrapped unused. Often capitalists just grab windfalls, as the bankers have engineered a £1 trillion transfer to themselves through unearned credit seigniorage. Capitalism is merely clever greed and does harm. It is different from good business, which serves others and is fair in all its dealings. Capitalists are merely grabbing people who have learned to think too highly of themselves without any intellectual warrant. They self-validate with an irrational mantra of self-praise and surprisingly many people are taken in.
Similarly, most “free markets” are set up by the powerful. Human beings always construct markets – fairly or unfairly. They are not an automatic mechanism, and if someone wins, someone else loses. The powerful engineer high and low pay by creating scarcity. One person has £5,000 spent on their education and training while another has £500,000. Guess who is paid more, but do they deserve it? No. They are merely privileged. Many professions and companies run a kind of closed shop, where the people at the top vote themselves big incomes. The so-called “anti-unionists” run highly successful unions. Much high pay is irrational and arbitrary, a collective illusion. You “deserve” it, because you have fought to get it and are close to the trough.
But, of course, as Paul teaches us, the humble parts, and the humble jobs, are as important as the braggers. Either people do a good job or they do not, and each contributes to the whole. The idea that one person’s work, isolated from everyone else, is worth ten, a hundred or even a thousand times more than someone else’s is moonshine. A factor of five in normal good work would be extravagant, and the highly paid jobs should be the ones people don’t want.
It is time for Christians in the name of the Gospel to say that pay should be more or less equal. No one is worth ten times the wage of another. Wealth creation does not exist, merely good businesses. The capitalist free market emperor has no clothes and greed is destroying our economy. Highly-paid Christians try to pretend this is not true and sell the Gospel cheap to the establishment. We all are called to live in the Gospel in our work lives and pay. That is good news for all and gives an efficient economy where all can be paid.