Do You Pay to be Called?

by Rt Revd Peter Selby

Posted: 4 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?

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 was President of the National Council for Independent Monitoring Boards from 2008 until 2013 and the former Bishop of Worcester. He is currently part of the Interim Directing team for St Paul's Institute.