Masterclass: Remuneration

WHAT IS IT? Hard pay. Money. Wonga. So vulgar, these terms. How much better to draw a veil over the crude reality of the 'cash nexus' and use the most polysyllabic term we can think of. As usual, Shakespeare was on to the absurdity of this word 400 years ago. The clown Costard in Love's Labour's Lost is handed a payment by a nobleman (described as a 'remuneration') and inspects his winnings: 'Now will I look to his remuneration. Remuneration! O, that's the Latin word for three farthings: three farthings, remuneration ... Remuneration! Why, it is a fairer name than French crown. I will never buy and sell out of this word.'

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Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

WHERE DID IT COME FROM? Its Latin roots imply paying someone back for something - a recompense (hence 'compensation'). At the heart of capitalist exchange is the notion of fair play and indeed fair pay. Trade is all about getting something for something. So when somebody's remuneration (or, even worse, 'emolument') gets out of hand, the receivers of said excessive remuneration are in a sense offending against the very spirit of business itself. They also arouse suspicion by using such a fancy term to refer to what, in plain language, simply means great wads of cash.

WHERE IS IT GOING? Top people's pay, which is what most people think of when they hear the word 'remuneration', has got wildly out of hand in recent years. Since the early 1990s, chief executives, financiers and others have been trying to outdo each other in the sprint to get their snouts into the trough first. Where once a CEO might have expected to get paid 15 or 20 times what the most junior employee receives, that ratio has now soared to 200, 300 and even 400 times. We simply cannot go on like this. Can we?

Fad quotient (out of 10): 10 and rising - up, up and away!

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