Practical definition: Bonus culture

Posted by Marc Hodak on September 8, 2009 under Practical definitions, Reporting on pay | Be the First to Comment

Politicians and the media, working together to politicize the language, have grabbed onto a new phrase:  the bonus culture.  It’s a suitably nebulous phrase that conjures up bankers immersed in a world of money–our money–flowing through their homes and dinners and art, regardless of what happens to “working men and women,” of which they are not a part.

The definition of ‘bonus culture’ should be simple:  an area of society where incentives are transparent.

Instead, we have this alienated view of money, and those who work with it, arising from the cargo cult mentality that endows money with a sense of magic, as if it flows toward certain people based on some dark art.  It hearkens back to the medieval view of traders and moneychangers who grow wealthy without producing anything tangible as the inherent objects of suspicion, while the looters who walked around with swords or muskets and forcibly took money from their subjects were treated with a sort of reverence for their power.

You’d think that in this day and age, we’d have a healthier view of money as a medium of exchange and a store of value.  You’d think that in a society where the vast bulk of involuntary transactions are tax collections, that those dealing without the threat of force would be regarded with a less conspiratorial view than those who rely on that threat.  But it remains exactly the opposite:  politicians are viewed with less suspicion than bankers.  And the reason is that bankers live in a “culture of bonuses” while the financial incentives of politicians are far better disguised.

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