It was Peter Drucker who invented the 20 to 1 ratio, suggesting top executives wouldn’t be able to manage their firms effectively if they paid themselves more than 20 times their lowest paid employees, because of the ‘hatred’ and ‘contempt’ in which they would be held. Today, top executives in both public and private sectors pay themselves vastly more than 20 times, simply because they can, authorised by compliant remuneration committees of fellow fat cats.
The phenomenon results from what Bruno Frey referred to as the “crowding out” effects of extrinsic monetary rewards, the intrinsic motivations arising from the satisfaction of doing an interesting and hugely worthwhile job, being “crowded out” by the monetary rewards being pressed upon them or placed within their grasp. (The “socially useless” financial sector is excluded from these considerations – that’s another story!)
Executives in the real economy, and the public sector, may well have started out with intrinsic motivations to leave the world a better place for their brief presence in it. But these higher aims are “crowded out” in what becomes a mindless chase for more money.
But the person inside inevitably judges what others would think if they saw an act of theft, whether it’s picking up a £10 note on the street and pocketing it, or taking a multi-million pound salary. As Adam Smith indicated, it matters what others think; they would prefer others to think well, rather than ill, of them. Only when they know others think irredeemably ill, do they no longer care how their acts impact. Then there is nothing to lose, so they themselves become lost. They surround themselves with sycophants and hangers on, who insulate them from the hatred and contempt of their fellow humans. It’s a pity the sycophants include government ministers and politicans, for example George Osborne and Peter Mandelson notoriously meeting on a fat cat’s yacht a couple of years ago.