BP CEO Bob Dudley Pay Increase; Flawed Ethos of Individualism

The grotesque 20% pay increase to £14 million per year awarded to BP Chief Executive Bob Dudley has surprised even business organizations such as the Institute of Directors (IoD) who now rightly fear that the government will take action on corporate governance. But this act of naked greed illustrates a number of problems with our broken socio-economic model. First lets look at the tired old excuse that has been trotted out once again for Dudley’s award by a BP spokesperson:

BP’s performance surpassed the board’s expectations on almost all of the measures that determine remuneration – and the [pay] outcome therefore reflects this.

In a nutshell here is the application of possessive individualism in a pure form – the arrogance of assuming that the individual at the top has achieved an organizational target solely on their own abilities without the help and co-operation of their staff. So they alone deserve the rewards of extra millions! But Dudley is not the only one, the attitude is endemic – just look at Martin Sorrell at WPP for another example.

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Thomas Jefferson: A Fatally Flawed Radical

Thomas Jefferson was a leader of the American Revolution, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and a principal author of the 1776 Declaration of Independence. He became the second Vice-President (under John Adams) and the third President. He was a significant thinker and proponent of democracy and republicanism and there are many quotes expounding his ideas of liberty which resonate with us today. One I find significant is:

All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression.

Something which we can also identify with is Jefferson’s warning of the dangers of corporatism, which was sadly ignored:

I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.

But the practical working out of his republicanism had a flaw which limited its application as the United States developed through the 19th Century. He was at heart an agrarian and influenced by the Country Party tradition of British politics. He saw society working best when it was a free collection of planters, small traders and smallholders which in many ways was a regressive concept harking back to a perceived agrarian golden era. Lest this be considered a criticism based on hindsight we can compare his ideas with his great friend and contemporary, Thomas Paine. Paine was an urbanite and correctly perceived that in the future land would be used for many purposes other than agriculture. Moreover republican theory would have to deal with the fast emerging capitalist culture. Paine’s solutions were very different and included, for example, the introduction of a Universal Basic Income to compensate the majority of citizens alienated from land ownership.

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John Osborne: looking back at a rebel

The brilliant and controversial British playwright John Osborne was born on 12 December 1929. Possibly his most transformative work was his 1956 play Look Back in Anger. Despite being associated in his early life with left wing politics, he claimed to hold to no firm political views. In his later life he turned towards a libertarian right wing stance, To his eternal credit, Osborne openly questioned the existence of the monarchy in his contribution to a book called Declaration. This was in 1957, a far more deferential age than 2015 and it got him into trouble! The chairiman of the English Stage Company industrialist Neville Blond was furious and a party to celebrate the publication of Declaration at the Royal Court Theatre was cancelled. Ironically, the ESC was no stranger to controversy itself. But I completely agree with Osborne:

My objection to the royal symbol is that it is dead; it is the gold filling in a mouthful of decay.

Thomas Hobbes, advocate for autocracy

The political philosopher Thomas Hobbes died today (December 4th) in 1679. But as a civic republican I shall not be mourning him, for a number of reasons. Ironically for one of the founders of liberal and libertarian thinking (along with John Locke) a primary aim of Hobbes was a defence of sovereign power and autocratic government. Hobbes works include Leviathan, published in 1651 in which he developed his social contract theory. His work was partly aimed at opposing the radical politics which emerged during the English Civil War and the theories of the high Republicans during the Commonwealth of the early 1650s; the modern combination of which I find compelling!

So what lay behind Hobbes insistence on an absolute monarch (or ruling group)? It comes from Hobbes concept of society which viewed people atomistically, in perpetual motion trying to get economic power and influence over each other. From this a natural structure to society emerges with individuals all seeking their best interests. But if society is of this nature, what stops it falling apart in some kind of anarchic fight for ultimate power? Why, none other than a universally accepted absolute sovereign charged with passing laws to ensure the continued health of the competitive system. To keep the sovereign above the throng he or she would have the power to appoint their successor (what better than the eldest son!).

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