Should we know how much each other is paid? David Aaronovitch in the Times says yes. Andrew Lilico says no. I’m not sure about either’s argument.
David says transparency would “help mend trust”. This is a worthwhile aim, but I’m not sure transparency would achieve it. We don’t trust banks and other multinationals not because we don’t know how much their senior employees are paid, but because there has been serial corporate wrongdoing for years.
Not sharing pay details has much the same effect as school uniforms – it is egalitarian. If I go to play football with my friends or I go to my singing group or to church I want to interact with the people there as one of them, with a shared interest in what we are doing. I want to be judged, if judged at all, on my football skill or effort or team-play, on how well I sang in tune, and so on…I don’t want us to be judging each other on how much we earn
But we already have a vague idea of our friends’ earnings, based upon where they live, what car they drive, their occupation and even their manner and bearing. Healthy people routinely and easily put this information aside and enjoy our common activities.
Instead, I suspect there are other reasons for transparency:
One is that it might reduce the stigma attached to low wages. Just as black and gay pride were (are?) ways for marginalized groups to assert and rebuild self-esteem, so too might be the recognition of low pay.
Another is that it could shame the right people. The main opponents of pay transparency, I suspect, are those people who secretly know that they are being paid too much; a disproportionate number of these, I guess, are in London jobs. Pay transparency might put these onto the back foot: “You’re paid how much?? For doing what??”
I confess to being unconfident about these, however. What’s at issue here is whether or how far transparency would affect culture. And cultural change is difficult to foresee.
But there’s something else. There’s some evidence that people under-estimate income inequality. Transparency would correct this. Surely, there can be nothing wrong – and plenty right – in people being better informed about social facts.
PS I earn around £45,000 pa.