But they should not be 'socially useless' either, it turns out, as the Business Secretary describes Barclays boss Bob Diamond as "the unacceptable face of banking", telling The Times.
“If you look at Bob Diamond, who took £63 million in pay — that to me is the unacceptable face of banking. He hasn’t earned that money, he’s taken £63 million not by building business or adding value or creating long-term economic strength, he has done so by deal-making and shuffling paper around.”
He added: “If anyone could justify that I’d like to see them do so. Just because somebody is very rich, it doesn’t mean to say different standards of morality apply to them.”
This can be seen as an extension of the pre-1997 New Labour attack on the 'fat cats' like Cedric Brown in the privatised utilities whose mega-pay owed noting to entrepreneurial endeavour.
The new Mandelson doctrine is that the question on fair pay or getting filthy rich is not so much "how much" but "how did you get it".
Indeed, this has been set out in more detail by Roger Liddle, who co-authored The Blair Revolution with Mandelson before the 1997 election and has been a Number 10 policy advisor to Tony Blair. Liddle wrote for the Mandelsonian pan-European think-tank Policy Network about the need for a Top Pay Commission, making what Next Left has called "the impeccably New Labour case for scrutiny of top pay".
What is needed in the UK is a change in political culture and discourse about questions of income and wealth. In The Blair Revolution published over a decade ago, I wrote “New Labour should use the tax system to attack unjustified privilege, without
weakening incentives for risk-taking and hard work.” In crude and simple terms, we need to move from a society that is afraid to ask “How much have you got?”, to one that is prepared to question “How did you get it?” This was how Winston Churchill as a radical Liberal sought to turn the political argument in defence of Lloyd George’s redistributive 1909 budget.
In the early 20th century it was landowners who were seen to enjoy gross excesses of income and wealth, for which in Neville Chamberlain’s wonderful use of Biblical language “they toil not, neither do they spin”. The gross excesses of 21st century Britain are in different social categories: directors whose compensation packages have little or no justification in terms of their contribution to the profits and success of the companies they lead; investors who take advantage of Britain’s generous capital gains tax provisions but are not genuine risk takers, building a business from scratch through their own hard work; individuals who owe their comfortable circumstances to inheritance rather than their own efforts. What is needed in the UK is a change in political culture and discourse about questions of income and wealth