While bankers remain hate figure no.1, it is important to recognise that many other top occupations have joined the Gadarene charge to the trough. And it’s not just the board members and chief executives of the mega-corporations, who had a 49% increase in remuneration last year when the income of the bottom tenth rose just 0.1%, i.e. a 500:1 ratio between top and bottom. It’s the lawyers too. In a revealing article in the New Law Journal two weeks ago, Geoffrey Bindman QC pointed out that there is a ‘magic circle’ at the top of the legal profession, chiefly commercial solicitors and mainly based in the City of London, who have devised a charging system which produces astronomical profits. The million a year (£19,230 a week) is now becoming the metier of succdess across the board.
The recent government-commissioned Jackson report on civil litigation estimates that partners’ hourly rates in the magic circle at £600-750 in 2008. By comparison legal aid rates are a tiny fraction of these. Even in 2010-11 austerity Britain the magazine ‘The Lawyer’ reckons that the top 5 firms deliver average profits per equity partner of more than £1m a year, and the top 50 firms over £500,000. These top 50 firms had a total revenue of £12.3bn, an increase at a time of a general pay freeze of £433m over the previous year.
This concentration of avarice is still exceeded by the bankers. Figures released a week ago revealed that the top 1,265 executives in the 8 leading London banks each received an average of £1.8m (£34 ,615 a week) last year as they struggled to deal with the catastrophe into which they had cast the nation two years before. As if that is not enough, they’re now clamouring for bonuses, incentive schemes, share hand-outs, stock options, totalling billions.
What is so galling about this pot-pourri of greed is the utterly selfish way it is being hung on to when even a modest re-allocation of these gains could transform the country’s economic and social breakdown. A one-off 10% supertax on the wealth of the super-rich could raise £800bn, as Greg Philo from Glasgow University has pointed out. A 28% capital gains tax on the gains made by the richest thousand persons in Britain (just 1,000!) over the last 15 years would raise £83bn, enough to pay off two-thirds of the budget deficit and to put half a million unemployed back to work. And as Geoffrey Bindman notes, if the top 50 law firms would give up their gains for just 1 year, that £433m would be more than enough to avoid having to make any of the government’s cuts in legal aid funding. Will they make this splendid gesture of social responsibility? You must be joking.