Them and Us (on Bankers’ bonuses)

[Picture taken from Will Hutton’s article in the Guardian]

As far as books written by men go, Them and Us is not the worst. Much better than The Spirit Level, which was nothing but a what-about-teh-menz diatrabe complete with an entire chapter dedicated to fat women because, you know, it’s really important to include a criticizm of fat women in a book about equality– even if women’s equality doesn’t actually garner a mention.

Them and Us tries its best, but when a book about fairness or social injustice does not reference women’s exploitation by men as a class, or it skips over the bit about male domination being the the basis and root of the system it is critiquing, then its argument has got more holes in it than a golf course.

So let’s start with the good. There were a few nuggets of wisdom. He takes the bankers to task, (but strangely, uses female pronouns a lot when discussing them–he and she) as though it were not a wholly male-designed system; as though somewhere, somehow, women  might have had some sort of influence over the debacle.)

Before I go any further, here’s the cherryblossom take on what went on:

The men were shit at their jobs.

Fact.

Their incompetence led to the financial crash.

Fact.

Taxes are being taken from women’s wages to pay for these men’s blunders, including not just the bail outs, but their continued employment, plus bonuses

Fact.

They are the biggest “scroungers” Britain has ever come across for relying on state hand outs to fund their lifestyles.

Fact

The fact that women, working in minimum wage jobs, (which they humiliatingly accept in order to “fit around the kids” , or simply because they are women and have no other option) are paying for male bankers’ wages and bonuses through their taxes is one of the most outrageous incidents’ of  modern institutional male dominance that I have come across.

The bankers involved should have been sacked, replaced or sent to jail. This final option –that the bankers should be in jail–was actually suggested by Hutton and this, in my eyes, exonerates him for  his other oversights.

“Bankers had created a gambling culture in which the moral borders between legitimate trading activity, recklessness and criminal activity became ever more fuzzy–and the disproportionate personal rewards disconnected from any economic or social reality”

You really have to be a woman to understand the privilege at play here. Women are put through the wringer by the patriarchy for the most minor of discrepancies. Men are financially rewarded for major ones.

“The poor could work, save and show some initiative. So why should we indulge them by giving them state hand-outs?”

This lies behind the arrogance with which bankers still defend their bonuses, in spite of everything that has happened over the last few years, even if the business model involves the state as the source of the ultimate bail-out. Rather than the collective repentance urged by the Archbishop of Canterbury as a means for society to come to terms with the mistakes that were made, the bankers invite us to get behind them so they can grow even bigger and wealthier. In evidence to the House of Commons Treasure and Civil Service Select Committee in January 2011 Bob Diamond, the incoming CEO of Barclays bank, declared that “there was a period of remorse and apology: that period needs to be over.” This is from a man who is no stranger to remuneration. Bankers had paid their dues; now they should be free to return to business as usual, as he would characterize it, best done if they were as untrammelled as possible, and complete with their bonuses.” [Italics mine]

He does concede the power dynamics on page 33, but briefly, and without analysis.

“Britain boasts a burgeoning super-rich sector: there are 47,000 people in this country with an average pre-tax income of 780,000 pounds a year. Another 420,000 have pre-tax incomes of between 100,000 pounds and 350,000 pounds. Nearly all of them are male, white and live in the South-East”

 Want to bet that the 780,000 bracket consists of only, or 99.999% , men? And that there two or three women who just manage to scrape themselves into  the 100,000 bracket?

And why no further analysis? Judging by the reams  of Evolutionary Psychology and gender stereotypes which crop up throughout the book, one could be forgiven for thinking Hutton believes the status quo– men being in power–is somehow connected to the natural order, Darwinism in fact.

He makes sweeping statements about society or fairness which, if anyone cared to looked close enough to the writings of feminists, are the very same points that women have been making for centuries.

It’s true, then, that being the member of an oppressor class corrupts the soul more than does being a member of the oppressed. Men have flashes of insight into the human condition, now and again. Women  live within the boundaries of those flashes every day and are able from birth to articulate them. And were able to articulate them hundreds of years ago. Girls are born a thousand years old.

He gives us his definition of fairness:

“A definition of fairness does not stop with just desert–it extends to the consideration of the role of luck, which plainly plays a part in any individual’s fortunes. Everyone understands the importance of good and bad luck….Circumstance plays an enormous part in the reality of being poor, just as it does in being rich; and the accident of birth is perhaps the most acute circumstance of all. “

Being born male in a patriarchy is indeed very lucky. The world is your oyster and you will be given the power to play with peoples’ money and futures in a way that others won’t. Again, women, have pointing this out for centuries. Isn’t it time men began to listen? When they look in the mirror don’t men feel a deep sense of inadequacy, knowing (as they must) that it was the genitals between their legs  that propelled them to their positions of economic power, and not the grey matter between their ears?

Only one bank survived the crash in Iceland and it was a feminist bank run by women. Shortly afterwards Iceland voted in a lesbian prime minister, Ms Sigurdardottir.

It makes sense.

“You can see what is happening,” says Katrin Olafsdottir, Associate Professor of Economics and a member of the board of New Glitnir, which is trying to devise a new mission for the crippled bank. “The men went out there and took these incredibly irrational risks — and getting loads of money for doing it, feeling really good about it – and then the women have to come in to clean it up.”

“n 1975, 90 per cent of Icelandic women went on strike for a day, shunning work, refusing to cook or look after the children in order to bang saucepans in the central square in Reykjavik. Men still shudder at the memory of “the long Friday”, the day when they learnt to change nappies. A few years later Iceland chose the world’s first elected female head of state, Vigdis Finnbogadottir. ”

The question now is how much better the country will be ruled by women. The chairman of the securities company Audur, Halla Tomasdottir, appears to be making a good crack at it. She hires mainly women, aims at women making investments and says: “Our ground rule is simple — we won’t invest in anything we don’t understand.”

The new Government has picked this up as one of the shortcomings of male-led governments: there is a tendency to mystify, to whip up smoke to cover up embarrassment or incomprehension. One of Ms Sigurdardottir’s first moves has been to hold weekly press briefings.

Women picking up the wreckage from the crash are also looking to revise basic lending principles. Katrin Olafsdottir admires the principles of micro-loans propagated by the Nobel prize laureate Mohammed Younis.”

How much is a plane ticket to Iceland again?

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9 thoughts on “Them and Us (on Bankers’ bonuses)

    • I know.. I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m seriously going to research Icelandic language and universities for my daughter.
      And I’m not joking.

      It sounds like Amazonian Utopia.

  1. Yes, so right that bankers are gamblers – I used to work in investment banking for a time, and know exactly what they are like – and most of them are clueless gits that got there for what was between their legs, not on talent.

    The Fred Goodwin thing still to this day gets my goat. His reward for bringing down RBS was a £700,000pa pension (£13, 461 pw or £1,917 per day). What he gets for a couple of days pension, I am expected to live on for a year.

    Iceland sounds good … except for that pesky volcano.

    In the few countries that have majority women leading them (like former war stricken places in Africa), social policies are more abundant and it is a fairer system to all. This disproves the myth that “a matriarchy would be an exact replacement for a patriarchy”.

    As far as female top earners in the UK, I think it is around 3-5%, but I would have to check. They are certainly a small minority, an exception to the rule. At the very least, top public servants should not be getting paid any more than the Prime Minister (supposedly the top public service job in the country).
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/7791600/Public-sector-rich-list-salaries-of-civil-servants-who-earn-more-than-PM.html

    • Because I worked shift work in the bank, I saw what they got up to after hours (supposedly putting in overtime). Activities included ‘desk basketball’ using crumpled bits of paper and a wastepaper basket.

      Clueless gits putting in “face time”. So they can tell the boss “I put in 80 hours this week” (and their ID card will prove they were in the building).

      Meanwhile, I worked a support role, and worked my butt off from the time I clocked on, to the time I clocked off.

  2. Cherry, thank you for this post. I love the idea of women in positions of power– real power, not “empowered” women (which, as you’ve pointed out, is not real power at all). I wonder if we women should be focusing on getting ourselves in real positions of power, and teaching our daughters to do the same. If we want change, we need to become leaders. Iceland leads the way!

  3. I think Iceland is incredibly xenophobic. Yes, even compared to Japan. Can’t tell the story here, but I think it’s rare for them to accept immigrants and not any of the usual “ticks” work. If you’re actually Icelandic, born in Wales while your mother was visiting, maybe. Being a scholar, or highly employable or having skills they need won’t count.

    But I agree with the rest. We all need to be Iceland in our souls.

  4. If you’re actually Icelandic, born in Wales while your mother was visiting, maybe

    Nope, don’t pass that criteria 🙂 And my daughter definitely doesn’t.

    I did read somewhere that they allow Phillipina women in to do the cleaning and housework
    hmmm….
    I’m sure it’s got its faults, but at least when teh menz say it can’t be done we can all point in the direction of Iceland.

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