Canadian Bank boss drawn to London’s ‘new Rome’

March of progress: does inviting the world in make a city important? © Getty Images

All roads in the ancient world led to Rome. Now the ambitious beat a path to the UK capital, as this week’s top appointment shows. Who are the winners and losers?

‘A global city which reached for talent and treasure from the ends of the earth, a place where everyone and everything was from somewhere else.’

This is classicist Mary Beard describing Imperial Rome. But this week’s appointment of Mark Carney, a Canadian, to head the Bank of England has turned the world spotlight once again on London as Ancient Rome’s modern equivalent: an international magnet for the talented and ambitious, celebrated for diversity but resented for its increasing inequalities and its habit of plundering the brightest and the best from other countries.

Announcing the surprise appointment, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said Mr Carney was ‘quite simply the best, most experienced and most qualified person in the world’ to take up perhaps the most senior non-elected job in the UK. He will receive a package worth £624,000 per year.

Mr Carney, who has a British wife and four dual nationality children, intends to apply for citizenship as soon as he meets the residency criteria.

On the same day, Boris Johnson, London’s Mayor, was touring India with a welcoming message for the bright and ambitious students he wants to see studying in the UK. Fabulously wealthy industrialists would be welcome to join the other plutocrats who have made London their home, he said. He failed to mention the hugely inflated house prices that result from so much foreign money pouring into the capital.

Critics of the effect globalisation has had on London argue that this influx of the super-wealthy is making resentment about income inequality worse, leading to social unrest and a disconnected upper and lower tier in society. Labour MP David Lammy argued at a conference yesterday that London ‘hosted’ the August 2011 riots, a period of anger, looting and alienation, as well as the joyfully multicultural world party of the 2012 Olympics.

And there’s another knock-on: what of the places left behind? Canada will now have to find a new central bank governor because the British have hooked another big fish from the Commonwealth talent pool.

Unreal city?

As a successful place becomes increasingly international, does life always improve for its inhabitants? Yesterday a survey revealed that 52% of those living in London would rather be in a different region, and the word most often used to describe the city was not ‘exciting’ but ‘expensive’.

Who is right: the senior investment banker who welcomed Carney’s appointment by saying that ‘Britain is turning itself into the ultimate meritocracy,’ or Lammy, who said that most of his fellow city dwellers felt they were not wealthy enough to enjoy London, a playground of delights for the international elite?

You Decide

  1. Do you find the idea of an international city exhilarating or unattractive? Why?
  2. George Osborne: ‘It says something about Britain that we have the self-confidence to go and get the very best in the world to serve as our Bank Governor.’ Discuss.

Activities

  1. Design a poster campaign to attract talented foreigners to live and work in your own local area.
  2. Research the impact of immigration on an economy: consider both high and low earners, public and private provision of services and whether wealth can ‘trickle down’.

Some People Say...

“Life was better when most people lived and died in the same village.”

What do you think?

Q & A

You’d have to be a real misery not to enjoy a major city.
Well, Samuel Johnson said when you’re tired of London, you’re tired of life. And if you are interested in sport, politics, music, business or the arts, one of the big global cities is a great place to have a career and indulge your enthusiasms.
You see? No downside!
Not so fast. The economic benefits of all this frantic activity aren’t necessarily shared. Only 9,500 of the 20,000 jobs for the London Olympics went to locals. But there’s a sense of belonging: Rome’s immigrants wanted to be able to say ‘Civus Romanus sum’ and yesterday’s survey showed that 59% of those in the UK capital call themselves Londoners wherever they were born.

Word Watch

Citizenship
Mr Carney is not required to be a British citizen to be Bank of England Governor, but as a Canadian he already has the Queen as his official head of state. To be granted full citizenship he will have to pass a test on British history and culture – one which famously tripped up the Prime Minister David Cameron on a recent US television show.
Plutocrats
Literally, those who rule because of their wealth. These individuals do not literally have power in the UK beyond their business and investment interests, but they are now a global class living an international lifestyle in expensive areas of London and other cities that sets them apart from local populations.
Commonwealth
The 54 independent states which were once part of the British Empire and still retain strong links with the UK.
Meritocracy
A word invented by left-wing thinker Michael Young in 1958 to describe a fictional society where wealth and other career rewards resulted only from natural abilities. The term is now often used without irony to recommend an ideal (seeing the able prosper) but in fact Young’s book The Rise of the Meritocracy was a satire about ruthlessness and inequality.

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