Primatologist Frans de Waal devised a famous experiment involving monkeys, grapes and cucumber.

It's either poignant or hilarious - or both - depending on your point of view (a Ted Talk clip is on YouTube).

It consists of two capuchin monkeys in adjacent transparent cages, both trained to perform the same simple task and each time rewarded with a piece of cucumber. Life is good.

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But then, on both completing the task once more, the trainer gives the second monkey not a piece of cucumber but a grape.

In monkey world, cucumber is good, but grape is yum. Initially, first monkey seems a bit nonplussed when second monkey scores a grape. But nek time, same thing. First monkey cucumber, second monkey grape.

For the first monkey, life is no longer good. Outraged, it chucks cucumber back at trainer, vigorously rattles cage and pounds bench. Even monkeys know about fairness.
At experiment's end, de Waal remarks to the audience that they've just witnessed, in essence, the Wall Street protest. Given his own surname, it may be a bit of a pun, but no one misses the allusion to the "One PerCenters".

The allegory may be extrapolated. The last three or four decades of the so-called developed world could well come to be known as the Age of Grape and Cucumber: low and middle income wages have been marginalised and stuck on cucumber, while top-end remuneration has moved on to not just single grape snacks, but bountiful bunches of them.

Now we all know that society needs entrepreneurs and investors and healthy competition and all those market dynamics required to keep business innovative and responsive.
Conversely, though, healthy businesses not only need buy-in from their employees but also heavily rely on the cultural and infrastructural capital of wider society - the education, airports, roads and so forth - that produce able employees and allow businesses to operate.

Frank Greenall
Frank Greenall

The late Steve Jobs and Apple are often held up as paragons of so-called "free" enterprise - creating ground-breaking technologies resulting in miracle products like the iPhone.

The economist Mariana Mazzucato identified 12 key technologies that make smartphones work, such as microprocessors, memory chips, liquid crystal displays, the internet, GPS, touchscreens, and so forth. But on reviewing the history of these innovations, she found every single one had derived from various government-funded programmes - mostly American.

For government, read Joe and Joan taxpayer. Joe and Joan were the wind beneath Steve's "free" enterprise wings, so no wonder Joe and Joan get a bit miffed to look up and see gazillion-dollar Apple profits winging off to global fiscal hidey-holes untroubled by the taxman. Why? Because it's unfair.

Not all that long ago New Zealand led the world in relative quality of life standards. Back then, one of our defining characteristics - the envy of all - was our relative egalitarianism, and the sense of fairness that went with it.

By and large, Crown ministers, heads of major companies and public service departments and the like were on salaries just three, four or five times the average wage. Most thought that fair enough.

As recently as 1997, only 10 per cent of New Zealand chief executives earned in excess of $500,000 per annum. Just 20 years later, that ratio is five times larger, while over the same period middle and lower end wages have stagnated. With all sorts of emoluments and allowances thrown in, many chief executives now earn 30-50 times the average wage.

No wonder even dairy farmers look askance at the likes of Fonterra boss Theo Spierings' stellar $8.3 million take-home pay, despite - as Fonterra shareholders - scratching for a living themselves.

The "executariat" speciously claims it's simply a response to global market demands. It's a false argument, because often executive pay packages bear little relation to actual company performance. Just because there's a lot of prime pillaging on the global stage doesn't mean we have to buy into it. A sovereign nation can choose to steer its own course, fairly.