THE BLOG
04/12/2013 08:19 GMT | Updated 02/02/2014 05:59 GMT

Keeping Up With the Joneses, and So On

After several years of being underserved by my High Street bank, and as they somehow managed to confuse a £70.00 withdrawal for a £7,000.00 withdrawal, I moved at no little inconvenience to the Coop...

After several years of being underserved by my High Street bank, and as they somehow managed to confuse a £70.00 withdrawal for a £7,000.00 withdrawal, I moved at no little inconvenience to the Coop. Like a million other people I assumed that the Coop was the least worst option on the High Street, and while under no illusions that the bank was run by anybody other than, well, bankers, I assumed that they would be merely regularly awful, rather than indulging in the sort of puppy-punching and burning-money-in-front-of-the-homeless misanthropy we have come to expect from the rest. So I am actually quite relieved to hear that Paul Flowers has been indulging in the relatively vanilla shenanigans of drugs and hookers paid for with his own money, rather than spending his time thinking up new ways to steal other people's.

I have never personally understood the argument that says that if you pay an individual enough in one year to quit his job and spend the rest of his life on a beach then you incentivise him (and let's face it, that is the most likely pronoun) to work harder the next. The stories of bullying and stress in banking are legion. The only way you can rationalise such behaviour at the top is that the bankers on the largest sums are either the greatest bullies, or they get a perverse kick out of high-stress, cut-throat behaviour and general dickishness; which is just about the clearest definition of psychopathy I can think of.

It is as if bankers and waitresses are incentivised in the same way. Bankers claim that the whole of society can be reduced to a set of market incentives, but seem oblivious to the fact that they don't live by the same logic themselves. To live in a world where a salary increase makes so little difference in your standard of living that you have to invent things to buy like £7,450 skis implies that bonuses exist solely for the purposes of stroking egos. And banker's egos are definitely the thing we need incentivised. Even if you buy into the narrative that says that eternal growth is always a good thing and always possible, surely this is an indication of a market failure occurring even when the bankers own personal money is at stake?

Into this season of goodwill and charity to all men comes Borisconi. "Some measure of inequality is essential for the spirit of keeping up with the Joneses and so on" is the Mayor's considered response to the longest recession in British history and one quarter of pretty unremarkable growth.

Notice the way that this sentence trips so lightly and unironically off of his tongue? The assumption that most people in the country are middle-income, read the Daily Mail (or The Telegraph if they went to the right school), have two cars in the drive, send their kids to independent schools, or aspire to once they get that promotion, treat themselves with BMWs and holidays in the sun, and get angry at the thought of asylum seekers and benefits scroungers refusing to play the game. It betrays a lack of self-awareness that is worrying for the chief executive of the world's greatest city. As if people are never motivated by becoming excellent at something, mastering a profession, being loyal to their employer, taking pride in the stake they earn in a business, the self-respect and diligence of work, or just the camaraderie of being with other people on a shared endeavour.

I don't buy the argument that Boris is a master strategist, lobbing rhetorical grenades into public life with calculated political precision. He appeals to that small-c conservative mindset that thinks that Nigel Farage is some sort of courageous oracle for standing up against so-called political correctness - which always seems to be synonymous with anything people on the left may value. The same school of political analysis that says: 'everyone in the world is an idiot except me.'

How alienated you must be from human feeling to think that all of life can be reduced to fear of what the neighbours may say on one hand, and numbing the daily grind through shopping on the other. Given the amount of money mothers and fathers pay to send their sons to Eton, aren't they being short-changed given the cynical, angry, distrustful, blame-shifting, reactionary adults they get in return?

Speaking of which, Borisconi's former Whiff-Whaff partner David Cameron has been engaged in more statesman-like matters this week in Beijing. "No country in the world is more ready to forge a dialogue of mutual respect and understanding that can address issues of concern and advance our shared interests in the world" said our Premier to theirs. This Government, who considers the social democrat Ed Miliband to be an unreconstructed Marxist, has no problem doing business with a regime that only permits one political party to exist, is explicitly Communist in name (even if it has never advanced beyond the Vanguard of the Proletariat stage of revolution) and executes as many people each year as the rest of the world put together. What more could be expected from a Prime Minister who seems to think that we live in a world where ideology is no longer important? Communism, on planet Cameron, can be casually put on the list of 'things we don't like', with the Milliband Family, Europe and asylum seekers, and it definitely no longer includes actual Communist Parties.

When Boris or Dave say '...the harder you shake the pack...' what they mean is incentivising the productive sector of the economy (entrepreneurs), and disincentivising the unproductive sector (benefits claimants.) No matter that most of cornflakes that rise to the top are not entrepreneurs but well-paid employees of established companies, and that benefits claimants don't stop participating in the economy just because they receive benefits rather than wages (and will also spend a much larger portion of their income than the 'productive' rich at a time when the economy could do with some more stimulating.)

This is a cynical view of capitalism that says if you incentivise a banker to the tune of a million pounds he will produce two million pounds in value, but if you incentivise a teacher or a nurse they will just become lazy and unionised. As I have argued before, the current leadership of the Conservative Party doesn't actually believe in capitalism at all. They just believe in rich people.

We should worried about the top ranks of our governing party not just because they are out of touch, but because they suffer from that most dangerous delusion - lacking the self-awareness to even know they are.