Pay for bankers and top executives has become "a bit of a Ponzi scheme" and most of them would do the work for half the money, Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, has said.
But the Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney was worth his reported £300,000 a week because of his exceptional talent, Balls said in an interview on BBC Radio 5 Live's Pienaar's Politics on Sunday.
Balls was responding to a comment from Vince Cable, the business secretary, who said he could not understand why bankers needed to earn £1m a year.
Rooney's pay was understandable, Balls said. "There's only one Wayne Rooney and he plays for Manchester United, he could go anywhere in the world."
Very-high salaries for exceptional entrepreneurs like the late Steve Jobs, whose iPhones are sold around the world, were also acceptable, he suggested. But Balls said he agreed with Cable about some bankers' salaries being impossible to defend.
"In some parts of our economy – when it's not a great idea or when it's not the talent of Wayne Rooney – then you do think to yourself these massive multimillion-pound salaries, it feels like a bit of a Ponzi scheme," Balls said.
It was time to "get back to a bit of rationality", he continued. "If somebody actually was to say stop a minute, let's stand back and say is this really sensible and rational, most of those people would do those jobs for half the money."
Cable told the Observer: "I don't understand why people need a million quid a year. I've asked one or two of the more sympathetic bankers to explain it to me. The response has been: 'It's not that I need the money, it is because others get it so I should too.' That is a ludicrous mindset. What on earth do these people think they are doing?"
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