6:16 am - November 29th 2007
The Taxpayers’ Alliance published a couple of weeks ago a public sector rich list. Its a really good political ploy from an alliance whose main cause is the reduction of taxation but what is interesting is that the implications of compiling such a list actually tend to go in different directions to those in which the Taxpayer’s Alliance wishes to push British politics.
Firstly its noticeable that on their website, they claim the need for this survey because these public sector workers are paid so much more than teachers, soldiers and policemen. The politics of envy resurfaces and is evident in many of the comments! Such an argument presupposes a commitment of some kind to equality- and acknowledges the injustice of directors of the Royal Mail sitting in plush offices earning millions whilst soldiers sit in Basra risking their lives earning thousands. I’m not sure how that sits with the reductions in taxation that the TPA advocates elsewhere- nor am I sure that the only inequalities are within the public sector.
Secondly they argue that the salaries of public officials should be justified- and they are right. Lets take Adam Crozier, chief executive of Royal Mail. He is paid a ridiculously vast amount of money, but he was recruited from being Chairman of the FA- and before that was a leading advertiser. If the TPA believe in the efficacy of private markets setting wages then Adam Crozier is probably being paid at about the market rate for a chief executive- and so are many others amongst these fat cats in the public sector. Ultimately the cause of the pay of the public sector fat cats is the pay of the private sector fat cats. If you want to get your hands on these types of people you have to pay these types of salaries. So if you want to take a look at public sector people being paid too much for these jobs, perhaps you have to either settle for rubbish directors (of which more in my third point) or you have to think about private sector pay scales.
Thirdly, ah says my Taxpayers’ alliance friend- but the question is whether they have any impact on their organisations. But again that presents him with an ideological problem. Generally researchers for the TPA believe in hierarchy and hence in differentiated pay. There is lots of evidence, just have a look at Chris Dillow’s blog, that company directors don’t necessarily have an impact on their company stock’s performance- and its quite possible that the same thing applies in the public sector but again all the arguments in favour of or against hierarchy apply similarly in both sectors and hence all the arguments for and against large pay differentials and packets!
The ultimate problem with this kind of Daily Mail politics is that in order to establish that well paid bosses don’t make the public sector any better off, the Taxpayers’ alliance would have to accept that well paid bosses don’t have any positive impact on any organisation. Otherwise they are arguing for poorer public services! (Or perhaps that equality is a moral good which trumps efficiency, but again is that a unique truth for the public sector!) All these arguments seem to me to rebound upon their owners.
In a sense this isn’t important- the list they did didn’t really make the national media. But I think its worth thinking about. Partly because of what it tells us about the fact that even for the right-wingers in the Taxpayers’ alliance, equality is a moral good- the fact that teachers are paid a fraction of what the fat cats get matters to them in this context- so you have to ask why it doesn’t matter in other contexts. The other thing about it is that the Taxpayers’ Alliance ends up arguing that large salaries are unnecessary to promote efficiency and that they should be justified by results- again there is nothing necessarily limiting those insights to the public sector- those insights could be applied to the private sector. The thing is that as soon as you examine the logic of what the Taxpayers’ Alliance are saying you end up with politics far closer to the tradition of George Orwell than that of Margaret Thatcher.
I’m not sure that was what their intention was.
'Gracchi' is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He started a blog last year which deals with culture and politics and history, where his interest lies. He is fascinated by all sorts of things including good films and books and undogmatic discussion of ideas. This seems like a good place to do the latter... Also at: Westminister Wisdom
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