On second thought, I take it back. That business about incentives and rewards. The fact is I don’t really believe that, or if I do it’s only about 25%, it’s only set about with a mass of stipulations and qualifications and reservations. I don’t so much believe it as see that other people have a point when they believe it. Or perhaps I mean I don’t so much believe it as want not to be a silly fatuous naive wool-gatherer who doesn’t understand how the economy works. I don’t want to have the kind of ideas that, if anyone were ever so stupid as to put them into practice, would immediately reduce the economy to a level with Bangladesh’s. So as a result I tend to concede ground that I don’t really concede. I make dutiful noises about incentives, but they’re only dutiful. Because I don’t believe it, I think a lot of that stuff is pure rhetoric and self-interest, is rich people throwing up a smoke screen to veil the fact that they always want more and more money, whether that’s good for the economy or in fact bloody bad for it. More money for me please even if that does mean that all those tiresome poor people can’t afford to buy anything and so the economy tanks.
And above all I don’t believe money is the only incentive there is. Well I wouldn’t, would I – nobody pays me a dime to do this. Nobody pays me a dime to do most of the things I like to do, I just like to do them. Don’t we all. Do we get paid to look at the sunset, to watch birds, to read Flaubert or Austen, to swim, to go to the theatre? There are such things as intrinsic goods, and intellectual activity is often thought to be one of them. The fact is I don’t really believe that academics at Oxford necessarily become mediocrities just because they don’t have a star system and no one is rushing around to give them a flat overlooking Christ Church meadow and a cottage in the Dordogne. Why should they? If they’d wanted to get rich they would have gone into a different line of work in the first place. Not everyone values money above everything. Academics at Oxford can perfectly well be motivated to write brilliant books and/or teach inspiringly for internal reasons, reasons having to do with thinking the job is worth doing and valuable and interesting. I don’t want to be woolly but I also don’t want to think or even pretend to think that money is the best thing in life.