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Do You Pay to be Called?

by The Rt Revd Dr Peter Selby

Posted: 04 Dec 2012

It is perhaps going to be thought unseemly, amid the general welcome for the appointment of Mark Carney as Governor of the Bank of England, to comment on his pay. The job was advertised at a salary of between £350k and £500k, though we learn that the new appointee is will receive a total pay package worth around £600k. He's rather more expensive than the outgoing Governor, but not by a huge amount. What might such a package tell us about the job, about our attitudes to pay, and about our different standards for private and public service? Does a person have to pay for the prestige associated with such a position by taking a salary a good deal lower than would be paid in the financial sector generally?

The answer seems to be something of a mixture of 'yes' and 'no'. It's certainly a salary beyond most people's imagining. On the other hand, comparison with the pay of those whom the new Governor will be regulating suggests that Mr Carney can't be taking the job for the money: if he's all he's supposed to be in terms of competence and track record he could certainly have got more money elsewhere. Given the difference he will make to the lives of all of us by the decisions he takes or over which he presides, the sum of money he will take home is not very much, even if a person on welfare will find themselves capped at around 4% of his headline pay. No doubt there will have been some negotiation about what the package should be: what might some elements of that discussion have been?

  • If Mr Carney's package is lower than it has been for his Canadian Central Bank post, it couldn't have been too much lower - or he might not have been willing to come. He's come, and so they must have got that about right.

  • The package would be bound to be publicly scrutinised, and so there will have been some assessment of the political turbulence there might be if the pay was too high. There's been no turbulence around the pay - so they must have got that about right too.

  • He will head an organisation which needs to be able to recruit people of high achievement and ability among its senior executives, in a market where private institutions paying high bonuses and salaries abound. Mr Carney's pay must not be so low as to depress other salaries in the Bank of England where there needs to be a differential; on the other hand it couldn't be so high that it caused others lower down in the Bank of England hierarchy to seek higher levels of remuneration.

  • It may be that there was a less tangible, but quite significant, other point: does a person doing a job of that level of responsibility have to be paid at a level that enables him to look in the eye people with whom he'll have to deal - chief executives of major banks, or other central banks - and not feel embarrassed by being paid too little, or arouse envy by being paid too much? (I recall that in a debate about differentials in clerical stipends an archbishop remarked that bishops had to be paid more than vicars so that they would be able to talk as equals with those at the top of other professions. I didn't think much of that argument in the case of bishops because it seemed to me that respect has to be gained by the quality of the interaction, not by what you were paid for having it - but maybe it's different among bankers.)

I have probably missed some other elements in the negotiation. But even these tell us quite a bit about how money 'works' - or we may say the language money talks.

What might a faith perspective, one that includes the possibility of calling, have to say about the message conveyed by this - or any other - remuneration package?

We know that 'work' is of varied types and levels of responsibility, and we are used to that being reflected in differing rewards. We also know that like all human systems, sin and error mean that systems of differential rewards often degenerate into arbitrariness and unfairness, or simply reflect power relationships which make some more able than others to command higher rewards.

We also know that some are called to live in ways where responsibility is not recognised by larger rewards: religious communities are a witness to the value of having all things in common and esteeming all work and all human life equally. That vision of equal worth is what we may hope for in the coming kingdom of God.

We also know that in the meanwhile we live between those poles of mere this worldly 'doing things for the money' and the heavenly equality of reward. That means we shall accept some of the failings and errors of differential systems, but always be alert to correct them. We shall guard against rewards that are disproportionate, paid at a level that harms others by depriving them or (as with celebrities) lead others to envy. We shall also be aware of the possibility that any of us may be called to work for less than we could command and to value other compensations of the work, but we shall also be aware of the risk that those who work out of a sense of calling can end up being exploited.

And to end on a note of encouragement, the turbulence there is over some rewards and the absence of it in relation to the new Governor's package suggests that even if we disagree on the detail there is a sense of fairness around that can distinguish justified rewards from unjustified ones, can accept rewards for success while objecting to rewards for failure, can acknowledge that some groups who would otherwise be exploited need to stand together to gain for each some due reward.

So the Christian hope for an equal honouring of all and a Christian awareness of the way in which sin and error invade our systems seem to find echoes in a popular sense of what is outrageous and what is 'fair enough'.


About this author

The Rt Revd Dr Peter Selby is the former Bishop of Worcester. Following his role as part of the Interim Directing Team from 2012-2014, he continues as an adviser to St Paul's Institute.


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