Thursday, February 12, 2009

Higher Costs and Less Value

In the recent controversy about the US government forcing pay ceilings on bailed out bankers and the UK enacting similar punitive schemes on banks they bought many have complained that banks will be unable to recruit or keep the talented, see Living On Half A Million In NYC. The apologists for the corrupt and/or incompetent bankers complain that quality has a price and no one is willing to work for nothing. However when one looks at the sweep of history this is not quite clear.

There have been jobs and sectors that in the past were much more remunerative. But today we see that these jobs will not longer a path to riches can attract as good or even better people. When some jobs are so rewarding a couple things happen society as a whole over invests in these type of jobs. Second such overly rich posts attract people more interested in the the pay than the work or vocation .

Up until recently, less than 200 years ago, there are two types of "public sector" jobs that used to be much more highly rewarded. In the past senior religious and military officials used to be better paid in both relative and absolute terms. Bishops would and could build palaces, administer trusts and sometimes rule in their own right as temporal rulers. see The Barchester Chronicles. Popes used to be able lay up fortunes for themselves, their clans and their "nephews". When the Papacy was rich and powerful the only type of person who crawled his way upwards was someone dedicated to the pursuit wealth and power 24/7. Clerics still aspire to sees and bishoprics however they do so knowing that the reward will be mostly be in heaven then on earth. Successful generals and admirals could make fortunes large enough to keep their families rich for generations, see John Churchill). That was then now senior officers can only make a fortune if take over their governments, like Nasser, Gaddafi, Idi Amin, the Burmese Junta and other assorted thugs and malcontents. However at this point they are no longer strictly military officers and in the case of Nasser not even competent ones.

The message of history is paying fortunes means getting aggressive and ambitious losers.

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