Tuesday 25 October 2016

Walking a mile in their crocodile-skin shoes

Published 08/05/2016 | 02:30

‘Luas drivers will still be getting about €250,000 a year less than
RTE’s Sean O’Rourke...’. Cartoon: Jim Cogan
‘Luas drivers will still be getting about €250,000 a year less than RTE’s Sean O’Rourke...’. Cartoon: Jim Cogan

There was much to savour in a recent BBC TV documentary called Inside the Billionaire's Wardrobe, in which reporter Reggie Yates showed us the things that make billionaires happy, the little extras like the skins and furs of exotic beasts and reptiles that are converted into wondrous coats and shoes.

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I would recommend, in particular, the trainers worn by the music mogul Jay-Z, which were created using the skins of elephant, ostrich, python, crocodile, alligator, stingray, lizard, boa and calf.

A lovely pair of shoes, if somewhat beyond the reach of the man in the street.

We're seeing a lot of this now, these programmes with names like The Super-Rich and Us, Britain's Biggest Superyachts and Five Star Babies, a whole strand of documentary-making which invites the viewer to observe the habits of rich people - as if the rich themselves have become exotic beasts and reptiles to be viewed only through a screen.

Though, unlike the beasts and reptiles who end up in Jay-Z's shoes, they are highly protected.

They probably feel that they need to be, since they are no doubt aware that they are the beneficiaries of a massive redistribution of wealth, that many of the people watching them at this great distance might be trying to live for an entire year on what they would spend on a crocodile-skin phone case.

And these viewers would not be 'poor' people, as such. Indeed, the theme of The Super-Rich and Us was how hard it was becoming even for people with "letters after their names" to make a living, working nights in Nando's to pay the rent. While governments such as our own speak proudly of some 'economy' which is doing very well, they can't understand why they are getting so few votes from punters who are actually not doing very well at all.

They have their 'advisors', members of an elite which itself is protected, because it is apparently against the law for any member of the executive class to be receiving anything less than a large six-figure salary, lest our whole society crumbles. For reasons best known to themselves.

So it is hard for these 'top people' to understand that people who are receiving about ¤100,000 a year less than them - a lot of people in truth - might be struggling.

It shouldn't be hard for them to understand such a thing, you don't need the imagination of a great novelist to connect with it, but like many other things, it seems completely beyond them.

Therefore, I try not to get too worked up about the Luas workers, and others like them. In fact, I don't even know all that much about their dispute - though I did note that a Luas driver would start on about €33,000 a year, or, if you like, bugger all. Otherwise, I don't want to waste too much of my precious time on the minutiae of whether people on €33,000 a year should be getting something more in the region of €40,000 a year.

Of course they should.

Of course any working person doing a highly responsible job should be getting a lot more than what they're currently getting, when you consider that it will still be about €250,000 a year less than what RTE's Sean O'Rourke is getting.

And O'Rourke is good. There are many in the higher echelons of our ruling class who are not good - they are bad - and they're getting a lot more than Sean, who also had the decency to admit to Niamh Horan last week that he's not worth it.

So why is he getting it then?

What kind of executive delinquency is creating these situations in which people are getting paid far more than even they themselves would feel is right?

Why is an entire class of people being paid ridiculous amounts of money, when the only thing we know for sure about the vast remuneration of the elites is that it can end very, very badly indeed?

For example, the problem with bankers' bonuses is not just that they are obscene in themselves, but that they create a frenzy among the bankers for short-term gains, a culture of monstrous entitlement that has already brought financial catastrophe on the world.

So when I'm worrying about what other people are getting paid, I'm worrying about these guys, the kind who are known to be incompetent and insatiable and irresponsible - certainly not responsible enough to be, say, driving a tram - which leaves me with very little energy to be worrying about people doing an honest day's work for not much pay, except to wish them the very best of luck in all their endeavours.

At least Jay-Z, to be fair to him, has talent. And for that you're entitled to whatever you can get, in the manner recommended by the sports promoter Mark McCormack, who said that his strategy in negotiations was "to keep asking for more until somebody says stop".

I have no problem with that, and the music of Jay-Z may even bring some joy to the lives of those who have to work for a living. Who may need three jobs to keep themselves alive, but who are still grateful not to be an elephant, an ostrich, a python, a crocodile, a lizard, a boa, or a calf.

Declan Lynch's new novel, 'The Ponzi Man', is available now.

Sunday Independent

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