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Friday 8 October 2010
Letters: Perspectives on bankers' bonuses
Greedy fund managers
As a former director of a bank I agree with Peter English (letters, 3 October) that bonuses in the financial sector are not driven by the need to buy skill, but by greed and the lack of accountability. Exactly the same as MPs' expenses, but on a much larger scale.
The restraint that is missing is the one that should have been exercised by shareholders, but unfortunately the ultimate shareholders are represented by fund managers who have no incentive to exercise that control and have too little accountability for their own earnings. Quite apart from the consequent financial crisis, all of this adds up to a massive diversion of funds from investors, making it even more difficult to fund pensions.
The restructuring needs to ensure that the entrepreneurial benefits of capitalism flow to those who have saved and who are bearing the ultimate risk.
Jon Hawksley, London EC1
Different rules for the City
The "emotion" surrounding bank bonuses stems largely from the fact that the financial industry in general has been responsible for the destruction of so much of British industry, usually on the dubious grounds of inefficiency.
When the City then displays its own inefficiency and incompetence, driven by greed, suddenly the rules change and a howitzer is held to our collective head.
And how do these latter day Del Boys repay us? Humility, sorrow, gratitude? Nope, just the usual blend of greed and arrogance. With the cost of money at an all-time low and interest rates still high, it's hardly a surprise that the City is raking it in.
Andrew Whyte, Shrewsbury
Why do they need so much?
A not-so-young lady phoned into one of the radio talk programmes a night or two ago, and explained how she lived on her own but perfectly comfortably on £6,000 a year. Admittedly she owned her own house, but otherwise was much like the majority. I manage quite well on £10,000 a year.
Goldman Sachs, on the other hand, is still handing out bonuses; their 5,500 employees in the UK were paid an average of £308,000 in salary and bonus payments last year, according to recent news. The average UK worker gets under £25,000 a year, on which they manage to pay their mortgage, raise a family, go on overseas holidays, and have a house full of gadgets. So what do the high-earners need all that extra money for?
David Cameron has suggested that in the public sector nobody should earn more than 20 times the income of the poorest paid. If this were applied to the private sector, in the case of Goldman Sachs alone it would raise over £1bn this year and would improve the visible fairness in our society, make for a much better relationship between the haves and the have-nots, and avoid the planet being cluttered up with the present excess of materialism and, indeed, wanton waste.
Peter Russell, Plymouth
Lord Mayor challenged
Nick Anstee, Lord Mayor of the City of London, would have us believe that the case for city bonuses is sound as they mark a significant contribution to the UK economy, through direct and indirect taxation (letters, 6 October). Given this, perhaps we should significantly increase the bonuses, thereby raising contribution from the £4.1bn that he calculates.
Alternatively perhaps we should pay no bonuses and thereby increase the value of the Government's investment in those banks which have been saved by the taxpayer.
J Barge, Southrop, Gloucestershire
Children are of benefit to all
Katherine Schofield asserts that "nobody has to have children" (letters, 7 October). Who does she expect to care for her in her declining years, to provide her pension, be her doctor, her dentist, her butcher, her baker? Presumably it will be someone currently a child, or one yet to be born.
On the same day, Brian Carter equally lacks any vision of reality when he asks why taxpayers should subsidise the spouses of well-paid workers so they can attend coffee mornings and yoga classes. My wife has just confirmed to me that she has never attended a coffee morning, nor a yoga class. What she did do over more than 20 years was not only ensure that our three children were expertly cared for at all hours of the day or night, whether I was at home, or away overnight on business, but also find time to work as a volunteer counsellor in secondary schools. As a busy working individual I never once had to concern myself about the children's arrangements. And I was far better equipped to do my job as a result.
Why should a wife, who assists her husband's career in the way I have described, not be able to use her own tax allowances? A household surely has the right to organise its affairs in any way it chooses.
In some countries couples have an option for joint-assessment. The fact that the UK does not allow this, in my view, puts it in doubtful compliance with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees respect for family life.
Chris Sexton, Crowthorne, Berkshire
Brian Carter's letter of 7 October is insulting. Most of us would agree to share the burden of losing Child Benefit if the cut was shared fairly. Clearly this is not the case when a household earning more than £44K from one earner loses the benefit, when another household earning jointly more than £44K from two lower-paid earners keeps it. Having children is a joint enterprise, so make benefit cuts based on a joint income.
Second, although I admit I play tennis occasionally in the morning (don't do yoga, sorry) and have been known to drink coffee, I may also be the person who delivers Meals on Wheels to your elderly parents (or you). I may be the volunteer who shows you to the correct department when you arrive at hospital; the friend's mum who collects your children from school when your terribly important business meeting runs over, or the person who reads with your child every week in school.
Big Society? Give me a break! Some of us have been doing it for years – ask any stay-at-home parent.
J Botcherby, St Helens, Merseyside
Our household will no longer qualify for Child Benefit as my husband earns just over the threshold for higher-rate tax. Obviously one would rather have the £20 a week, but the real rub is that as a full-time mother I will lose the associated entitlement to a full state pension which depends upon receipt of Child Benefit.
I have called the pensions credit line who have confirmed that the only way for me to protect my contributions is "to go out to work and put my children into childcare". There is no encouragement whatsoever in the tax system for anyone to stay at home to raise a family; the loss of pension entitlement is just a kick in the teeth.
I paid considerable amounts of tax for nearly 20 years before having my children. How is it that in 2010, a woman's state-pension entitlement is suddenly linked to whether her husband gets paid £40K or £45K?
Joanna Burnett Reed, Ely, Cambridgeshire
The outcry from the upper class over child benefit has me baffled. Did they really think that only poor people would pay the price of government spending cuts?
My husband and I are in the higher tax bracket and – while we enjoy the extra income of the child benefit – it would be outrageous for us to claim that sacrificing it is an unfair burden on our family. Given the dire economic straits of many families in Britain, I'm quite happy to have the money go to someone less fortunate than me. But please, Mr Cameron, don't spend it on follies like Trident.
Suzanne Savage, Malvern, Worcestershire
It's time for the Conservative Party to start to question the judgement of David Cameron. Do they really think it fair that he intends to bribe his way out of a self-inflicted row regarding changes to child benefits, with a tax bribe to married couples? How can he continue to claim with any kind of credibility that we are all in this together when he has taken away child benefit from unmarried as well as married couples, but is singling out married couples only for a tax bribe?
Julie Partridge, London SE10
Inevitably, when the Government withdraws a benefit from a group that they believe does not need it, it will turn out that some of those people will suffer. It would be much easier for everyone if those who genuinely do not need the allowances simply do not claim them. The same sort of moral behaviour that we now expect from our MPs!
Richard Groom, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire
As a higher rate tax-payer (just) with three young children, I have been reflecting on the incentives offered to me following the Chancellor's announcement on child benefit this week. He seems to be trying to persuade me to either take a lower paid job, put my children into childcare so my wife can work, or divorce my wife.
Can someone explain to me how any of these actions can be considered beneficial to my family or the economy?
Tim Bell, Uttoxeter, Staffordshire
It's comforting to see that the moderately wealthy (the higher rate tax-payers) are showing their addiction to welfare. We most definitely are One Nation when the top 10 per cent are as addicted to hand-outs as the bottom 10 per cent (all those scroungers).
Stuart Shurlock, Basingstoke
Rich complexity of teen language
Joe Roberts (letters, 6 October) should not find it remarkable that the girls' exchange he quotes "appeared to function as a genuine conversation". It is indeed meaningful; to think otherwise would lack empathy for the diversity, richness and power of language. Critics of new language distrust the reality of a constantly evolving medium, and the degree to which all social groups, from doctors to toddlers to teenagers, treasure a degree of private language.
Furthermore, the girls' words "OhMyGod" and "Duh" require a preceding "like" to make them, very cleverly, adjectival and strongly hinting of simile. The result is remarkably semantically economical. "I'm like OhMyGod" succinctly sums up so much youthful emotion; "He's like Duh" – well, a lexicographist would require a goodly long sentence to describe the layers of meaning there.
Rather than reducing the language, the girls have modelled two new words, a challenging use of "like", and proof that English is alive and kicking.
Graham Shimell, Norwich
Bernard Lamb makes some excellent points in "God save the Queen's English" (7 October). Our educational system is partly to blame.
I still remember my experience in an inner-city primary school in the 1970s: I was in the corridor with a colleague, when a pupil ran up to us and said, "Look what I done, miss". I gently explained that he should have said either "what I've done" or "what I did".
The boy was barely out of earshot when my colleague – in today's parlance – "literally" exploded and accused me of being bourgeois and prescriptive.
Vera Lustig, Walton-on-Thames, Surrey
Like why such a fuss about "like"? Relax, the fad will pass. Who now remembers how we all turned around before we spoke? "She turned around and said to me ... so I turned around and said to her." I don't think it was just the dizziness caused by twirling speakers which caused the habit to be dropped; people just got fed up with using superfluous words.
Anthony Blane, Nottingham
Mr Babbage's amazing engine
Jonathan Brown's article about the possibility of building Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine, 173 years after Babbage designed it, raises a fascinating question (4 October). The Analytical Engine was a more sophisticated machine than his Difference Engine, a full-size working version of which was indeed completed in 1991 by a team at London's Science Museum headed by Doron Swade.
But could an Analytical Engine be built today? My view, given in my book Jacquard's Web (2004) is that – quite apart from the enormous expense – the major problem is that Babbage's plans for the Analytical Engine are insufficiently comprehensive. His plans for the Difference Engine Number 2 (the one that was built) were extremely detailed, but even so the Science Museum team needed a full six years to build the device, and encountered a whole host of engineering challenges.
None of this is to denigrate Babbage's wondrous achievement in his designs for the Analytical Engine, which anticipate the memory, central processing unit and micro-programming of modern computers, even though Babbage was working more than a century before the world's first electromagnetic digital computer was built.
Interestingly, only Ada Lovelace – Lord Byron's sole legitimate daughter – realised at the time the thrilling potential of the Analytical Engine. She appears to have understood even more about its true potential than Babbage himself did.
James Essinger, Canterbury
The habitat of Essex man
I enjoyed Pete May's feature on "Essex man", and indeed Essex girl (6 October). But two thoughts occurred to me. One is that most large towns in the UK today appear to have their own version of Essex man, and I'm not sure he is now unique to Essex. Second, isn't it a shame that the rest of Essex is tarred with the same image as those places mentioned in the article?
Essex does not just stretch from Romford to Southend, but has many charming villages and small towns where people are well mannered and cultured, particularly towards its northern and western borders. And travel up the Essex coast away from Southend, through Burnham-on-Crouch and Maldon, and it's like being in a different world.
Jeremy Bacon, Woodford Green, Essex
Disadvantaged by class or race?
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown states that I believe racism no longer exists ("The forces of hate are still with us", 4 October). This is incorrect. I wrote in Prospect magazine this month: "Of course racism still exists, but things have improved to a point where many ethnic minority Britons do not experience it as a regular feature in their lives." This assertion is supported by evidence from a number of sources, including the Government's recent Citizenship Survey.
Nor have I claimed that policy-makers should focus exclusively on white, working-class people. Rather, I explained that class and socio-economic background was the most significant disadvantage today, for ethnic minorities and white people alike.
Munira Mirza, Greater London Authority, London SE1
Afghan civil wars drag on
You claim that what Afghanistan looks like in 2015 "will be its own judgement on 14 years of war" (7 October).
In fact, Afghanistan has been in a continuous state of civil war since the communist coup of 1978, and Nato forces have been no more than supporting actors in this theatre of conflict that will almost certainly persist after British troops withdraw by 2015, unless some form of political reconciliation can be devised that decentralises power from Kabul and therefore assuages resentment among parts of the Afghan population, particularly rural Pashtuns, about the imposition of an unrepresentative government.
Aymenn Jawad, Oxford
Tax the rich
Yes, Mr Cameron, let's have a debate on what fairness means. Let's start with the richest 10 per cent, who own 40 per cent of the nation's wealth. A wealth tax would erase the deficit without the need for cuts at all. Is it fair to focus on the deserving poor, while ignoring the undeserving rich?
Collin Rossini, Bradwell, Essex
The aluminium-processing accident in Hungary has polluted 40sq km of countryside. The Hungarian Prime Minister has declared some areas a write-off. What were the plans for this waste if the accident had not happened? There is seemingly a mindset common to both governments and corporations that says the profits are good and we'll leave consideration of the problems produced to future generations.
Tom Baker, Glyn Ceiriog, Wrexham
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