Two reports released by Incomes Data Services tell dramatically contrasting stories about pay in the UK. One report focuses on average pay in the public and private sectors, which are both likely to fall in real terms in 2011. Most public-sector workers will see a freeze in their wages and, whilst private-sector workers’ pay could rise by an average of 3%, this will still be below the rate of inflation. The press release Pay awards may rise but will trail inflation (6/1/11) to the report stated that:
Private sector pay settlements in 2011 could well be higher than in 2010, as long as the economic recovery remains on track. But following the latest increase in VAT, they are likely to trail inflation, meaning that the cost of living may be set to rise faster than average pay settlements for the second year running.
However, the press release to an earlier report, FTSE-100 bosses see earnings rise 55% (29/10/10), stated that:
FTSE-100 directors saw their total earnings boosted by an average of 55% while across the FTSE 350 as a whole total board pay went up by an average 45%, according to the latest Directors Pay Report, published by Incomes Data Services. (Year to June 2010)
On the back of these increases FTSE 100 chief executives took home £4.9 million on average in total earnings during the year.
Meanwhile, there is continuing public outcry over the levels of bank pay and bonuses. Despite billions of pounds of public money having been poured into banks to prevent their collapse, bank bosses are set to receive huge remuneration packages worth several million pounds in some cases. And, despite being condemned by the government, it seems there is little it can do to curb them.
So what are the causes of the growing income divide between those at the top and everyone else? And what are the economic consequences? The following articles explore the issues.
Articles: IDS reports
Year of pain predicted for workers.. while bosses’ salaries continue to grow Daily Record, Magnus Gardham (7/1/11)
Another 12 months of pay freeze misery for workers… but bosses enjoy a huge 55% salary increase Daily Mail, Becky Barrow (6/1/11)
Private-sector pay set to trail behind inflation People Management, Michelle Stevens (6/1/11)
Private pay deals to lag behind inflation Financial Times, Brian Groom (6/1/11)
UK boardroom pay rises 55% in an age of austerity Guardian, Simon Goodley and Graeme Wearden (29/10/10)
Private sector pay ‘to trail inflation’ in 2011 BBC News (6/1/11)
Staff morale warning over bosses’ pay rises Independent, Jon Smith (6/1/11)
‘Dose of reality’ call over top pay BBC Today Programme, Robert Peston, Brendan Barber and Garry Wilson (6/1/11)
‘Severe squeeze’ on average pay BBC Today Programme, Ken Mulkearn (Editor of the Incomes Data Services pay review) (6/1/11)
UK inflation rate rises to 3.7% BBC News , Ian Pollock (18/1/11)
Articles: bankers’ bonuses
Bank bonuses ‘to run to billions in 2011’ BBC News, (7/1/11)
Cameron says banks ‘should pay smaller bonuses’ BBC News, (9/1/11)
David Cameron warns RBS over bonuses Guardian, (9/1/11)
Banks say ‘no’ to bonus backdown Management Today, Andrew Saunders (7/1/11)
Banks to pay out billions in bonuses BBC News blogs: Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (6/1/11)
Why government can’t stop big bonus payments BBC News blogs: Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (7/1/11)
Diamond: ‘I am compelled to pay big bonuses’ BBC News blogs: Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (11/1/11)
Average Weekly Earnings Incomes Data Services
- Why are average earnings likely to be less than the rate of inflation in 2011?
- Why were the directors of the FTSE 100 companies paid an average 55% pay increase for the year to October 2010?
- To what extent can marginal productivity theory explain the huge increases of bosses of top companies?
- If remuneration committees base executive pay increases on the average of the top 25% of increases of equivalent people in other companies (to stop ‘poaching’), what will be the implications for executive pay rises over time?
- What market failures are there in determining executive pay?
- What will be the implications for staff morale if their earnings are falling in real terms while their bosses are receiving huge pay increases? Should these implications be taken into account when deciding executive remuneration packages?
- Are shareholders in FTSE 100 companies likely to welcome the pay increases of their top executives? If so, why? If not, why not?
With government cuts and pay freezes, many people are worried about their future. Against this background it’s little wonder that people are growing increasingly resentful about the soaring pay of bankers and other leaders of major companies – especially when they reflect on the behaviour of top bankers who were largely responsible for the recession in the West and the debt problems that resulted. And the gap between those at the top and workers on average pay just goes on widening. As the final article below states:
The boss who sells Cillit Bang got paid a hefty £92.6m last year, while his counterpart who builds executive homes pocketed £38.4m and a top miner took home £27m. These are not figures from some international football league, but the bosses of Britain’s biggest companies, who received an average 55% pay rise in the year to June. A top FTSE 100 boss now earns £4.9m – 88 times the average worker’s pay.
On 9 November 2010, a high pay commission was launched to investigate the yawning pay gap between top executives and those on average incomes.
As the high pay commission, set up by the thinktank Compass and backed by the Joseph Rowntree charitable trust, begins its year-long analysis into the widening gap between the lowest and highest paid, a Compass poll shows that 99% of people believe that top executives are overpaid.
The commision will seek answers to questions such as the following: Why has the gap widened so massively? What is the role of globalisation in the process? Why has competition not worked to compete top pay down? Why don’t company owners impose more restraint on executive pay? Is there a form of collusion to push executive pay ever higher? Are executives worth it?!
Let’s make CEOs justify their wages Guardian, Martin O’Neill (19/10/10)
FTSE 100 bosses criticised as boardroom pay leaps by 55% Guardian, Simon Goodley and Graeme Wearden (29/10/11)
Investigation launched into soaring executive pay Guardian, Jill Treanor (9/11/10)
Eighty-five per cent of people say top executives ‘should be paid less’ Telegraph, Ian Cowie (9/11/10)
Top executives paid ‘far too much’ Financial Times, Nicholas Timmins (9/11/10)
A mission to the outer limits of pay Financial Times, Andrew Hill and Esther Bintliff (9/11/10) (first part of article)
Sharing the spoils of business fairly Guardian, Deborah Hargreaves (13/11/10)
The High Pay Commission
The High Pay Commission, home page
- Desribe what has happened to executive pay of the top companies over recent years.
- How are executive pay packages determined?
- How relevant is marginal productivity theory in explaining executive pay?
- What are the incentive effects of having extremely high pay?
- What scope is there for collusion in determining executive pay?
- Why don’t company owners impose more restraint on executive pay?
- What are the social impacts of excessive executive pay?
- What could the government do to address the problem?
Most people, when asked, would like to earn more and many people are prepared to make sacrifices to do so. They may devote considerable time to obtaining qualifications; work much harder in order to gain promotion; work longer hours. What is more, when people do earn more, they take on extra commitments: a bigger house with a bigger mortgage; sending their kids to a private school; getting used to a more luxurious lifestyle. In fact, many people have to spend more on things such as home help, convenience foods and all sorts of labour-saving devices in order to cope with their longer hours.
Some people get so fed up with this pressurised lifestyle that they say ‘enough is enough; let me off this merry-go-round’. They may be happy to take a cut in income to live a simpler life and have more leisure time. Others, however, find that the merry-go-round just keeps going faster and faster and that they cannot get off; except, perhaps, if they make themselves ill, or worse still, die!
Now, if you are struggling as a student to make ends meet and find your debts are inexorably mounting, you may have little sympathy for people earning six-figure salaries! But are you in danger of trying to achieve this lifestyle for yourself? Do you see the main goal of your degree as getting you a better-paid job? What would count as ‘rational behaviour’ here and what would an economist advise you to do?
Then there is the question of whether the high paid are worth their high salaries. Are these salaries a reflection of the value of their output and the sacrifices they make? Or do they reflect economic power, custom and practice or asymmetry of information? And what do we mean by ‘worth’?
The following articles look at some of the highest paid people in the public sector. Some 38,000 public-sector employees earn more than £100,000. In the private sector the figures are much higher: some 545,000 people.
The perils of earning a £100,000 salary BBC News Magazine, Jon Kelly (22/9/10)
Ranking the pay packets of the public sector’s top dogs BBC Panorama programme, Vivian White (19/9/10)
Public Sector pay: The numbers BBC News (20/9/10)
Over 9,000 in public sector earn more than David Cameron, survey claims Guardian, Nicholas Watt (19/9/10)
On the inequality myth The Economist blogs (20/9/10)
Portal to Annual survey of hours and earnings (ASHE) Office for national Statistics
Family Spending – A report on the 2008 Living Costs and Food Survey (see Chapter 3) Office for national Statistics
Income inequality Office for national Statistics (10/6/10)
The effects of taxes and benefits on household income, 2008/09 Statistical Bulletin (ONS) (10/6/10)
Data: The effects of taxes and benefits on household income, 2008/09 Office for national Statistics
- Use Gini coefficients to examine what has happened to income distribution in the UK in recent years.
- Are high-paid earners ‘worth’ what they are paid? How would set about establishing what they are worth?
- Is it rational to seek a higher paid job if it involves longer hours and more stress? Why may it be difficult to make a ‘rational’ decision?
- Should the Prime Minister be the highest paid public-sector employee? Explain your answer.
- What factors will you take into account when deciding what jobs to apply for?
- To what extent can imperfect information explain people’s choices about work-life balance?
- To what extent can marginal productivity explain the huge salaries and bonuses paid to top executives in both the public and the private sectors?
The happiness literature has established that, in the developed countries, increasing affluence has not increased well-being in recent decades. We seek an explanation for this in terms of conspicuous consumption, a phenomenon originally identified by Veblen.
This is from the abstract of an article in the Economic Journal, ‘Well-being and Affluence in the Presence of a Veblen Good’ by B. Curtis Eaton and Mukesh Eswaran. The authors argue that while increased affluence of the rich may bring a small amount of extra benefit to them, it actually reduces the well-being of others who crave after things that they cannot afford. As the first article below states:
[The authors] believe their work shows that as a nation becomes wealthier, consumption shifts increasingly to buying status symbols with no intrinsic value – such as lavish jewellery, designer clothes and luxury cars. But they warn: “These goods represent a ‘zero-sum game’ for society: they satisfy the owners, making them appear wealthy, but everyone else is left feeling worse off.”
… There is another downside. As people yearn for more status symbols they have less time or inclination for helping others. This, the authors argue, damages “community and trust”, which are vital to an economy because they ensure the smooth running of society.
But do the super wealthy generate more jobs and more prosperity? Do we need to pay vast salaries and bonuses as incentives for executives to take risks: to invest in new products and processes, and drive technological advance and productivity increases? According to the second article, ‘Too few of the world’s billionaires can claim to be honest-to-God productive entrepreneurs who have enlarged the economic pie by dint of hard work, imagination, risk taking and innovation – although thankfully a useful proportion do populate the list.’
So is the ever widening gap between rich and poor necessary if the economy is to grow? Or is it something of very little value to society, except, perhaps, for the super rich themselves?
More money makes society miserable, warns report The Observer, Jamie Doward (14/3/10)
Don’t celebrate these billionaires, be horrified by their existence The Observer, Will Hutton (14/3/10)
For the latest Guardian survey of executive pay, see: Executive pay survey, 2009
For data on UK incomes and income distribution, see: Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE) Office for National Statistics
For data on the distribution of wealth in the UK, see Distribution of Personal Wealth HM Revenue and Customs
- Explain what is meant by a ‘Veblen good’.
- What is meant by the diminishing marginal utility of income? What implications does this have for the effects of income distribution and redistribution on social well-being?
- Why may a rise in GDP make society worse off if it is accompanied by growing inequality?
- To what extent can marginal productivity theory explain the salaries and other rewards of the wealthy?
- Using the data below, examine the extent to which the gap between rich and poor is growing.
- Explain why increasing conspicuous consumption by the wealthy might be a zero-sum game for society or even a negative-sum game.
- What factors cause a rise in productivity?
- How might greater entrepreneurship be encouraged in the UK?
The New Economic Foundation (NEF) is “an independent think-and-do tank that inspires and demonstrates real economic well-being.” It aims “to improve quality of life by promoting innovative solutions that challenge mainstream thinking on economic, environmental and social issues. We work in partnership and put people and the planet first.” It has just published a study into pay, A Bit Rich: Calculating the real value to society of different professions (see link below). This argues that narrow notions of productivity, whilst having some relation to pay, are a poor way of judging the worth of particular jobs to society.
“In this report NEF … takes a new approach to looking at the value of work. We go beyond how much different professions are paid to look at what they contribute to society. We use some of the principles and valuation techniques of Social Return on Investment analysis to quantify the social, environmental and economic value that these roles produce – or in some cases undermine.
Our report tells the story of six different jobs. We have chosen jobs from across the private and public sectors and deliberately chosen ones that illustrate the problem. Three are low paid – a hospital cleaner, a recycling plant worker and a childcare worker. The others are highly paid – a City banker, an advertising executive and a tax accountant. We recognise that our incentives are created by the institutions and systems around us. It is not our intention therefore, to target the individuals that do these jobs but rather to examine the professions themselves.”
So, to what extent do rates of pay reflect the ‘true value’ of what is being created? How could we establish this ‘true value’? Does pay even reflect marginal productivity in the narrow private sense? The report and the articles look at these issues.
A Bit Rich New Economics Foundation (14/12/09), (see also)
Top bankers destroy value, study claims Financial Times, Chris Giles (14/12/09)
Hospital cleaners ‘worth more to society than bankers Telegraph, James Hall (14/12/09)
Cleaners ‘worth more to society’ than bankers – study BBC News, Martin Shankleman (14/12/09)
Cleaners worth more to society than bankers, says thinktank Guardian (14/12/09)
Hospital cleaners ‘of more value to society than bankers’ Scotsman, Alan Jones (14/12/09)
Bankers and accountants a drain on the state, says think-tank Management Today (14/12/09)
Are cleaners worth more than bankers? BBC World Service (14/12/09)
- What is meant by the marginal productivity theory of wage determination? Does the NEF study undermine this theory? Explain.
- Why are elite bankers, tax accountants and advertising executives paid so much more than hospital cleaners, waste recycling workers and childcare workers?
- “Until the prices of goods and services reflect the true costs of their production, incentives will be misaligned. This means damaging activities will be relatively cheap and profitable, while positive activities will be discouraged.” Explain this statement and whether you agree with it.
- To what extent can the misalignment of pay and social worth be explained by externalities?
- What is the basis for arguing that tax accountants and City bankers have negative social worth? Do you agree? Explain.
- What would happen if hospital cleaners were give a pay rise and bankers given a pay cut so that cleaners ended up with a higher pay than bankers?
- In the light of the NEF study, what policies should the government adopt toward pay inequality?