Friday, August 8, 2008

Layer 66 - Meet The Rich, Unjust Rewards and Capitalism in a Shambles

Another black teenager was killed in London yesterday. He died in the Woolworth store in Walworth when two young men with handguns leapt off mopeds and fired through the shop’s doors. He was the 22nd victim of knife or gun crime in London so far this year.

I find this utterly shocking. For God’s sake - mopeds? Where’s the dignity in that? Even at the age of 16 I wouldn’t have been seen dead (whoops!) on a moped, let alone have used one on a mission to kill somebody. Mopeds were, and are, a joke - a real tossers machine if ever there was one. Top speed 30mph, with a following wind.

Can you imagine Al Capone’s gangsters going about their business on whiny little mopeds instead of roaring around in cool black V8 Fords and Chevys? What the hell’s got into these kids? It’s time we took another look at how they’re being educated, and also consider offering them some serious mentoring. Mopeds!


Unjust Rewards

This week the Guardian has been publishing extracts from a new book by Polly Toynbee and Davis Walker called Unjust Rewards. The first extract was called Meet The Rich, and describes “the jaw-dropping arrogance they encountered when they asked some of the fat cats to justify their lives of luxury”.

Here’s a couple of extracts to give a flavour of the piece:

“Those who make the most money seem less willing than ever to see it redistributed. Tax consultants Grant Thornton estimated that in 2006 at least 32 of the UK's 54 billionaires paid no income tax at all.”

“We hoped to gain an insight into their notions of fairness - what might persuade them to share more of their wealth with others. What we encountered was a startling demonstration of ignorance. Here were professionals who deal daily with money, yet know next to nothing about other people's incomes. When asked to relate themselves to the rest of the population, these high-earners utterly misjudged the magnitude of their privilege.

How much, we asked our group, would it take to put someone in the top 10% of earners? They put the figure at £162,000. In fact, in 2007 it was around £39,825, the point at which the top tax band began. Our group found it hard to believe that nine-tenths of the UK's 32m taxpayers earned less than that. As for the poverty threshold, our lawyers and bankers fixed it at £22,000. But that sum was just under median earnings, which meant they regarded ordinary wages as poverty pay.

Mistakes such as these should disqualify the wealthy from pontificating about taxation or redistribution. And yet City views carry great weight with ministers and politicians of all parties.”

“None of us like to feel guilty about our comfortable lives, and it would have been absurd to expect mea culpas from these people just because they earned so much. What we had hoped for was more awareness, some recognition that their position needed explaining and even justification. Instead, with the exception of a couple of progressive lawyers, they simply denied they were rich.”

“The idea of redistributing more was, said one lawyer, "all kinds of bullshit crap which doesn't help the people". They felt a passionate hatred of capital gains tax and inheritance tax.”

Toynbee and Walker conclude:
“Here were people who might be technically adept, or good at deal-making, but as a group - with one or two exceptions - they were less intelligent, less intellectually inquisitive, less knowledgeable and, despite their good schools, less broadly educated than high-flyers in other professions. Their high salaries were not a sign of any obvious superiority. Most dismaying was their lack of empathy and their unwillingness to contemplate other, less luxurious lives. They could not see that the pleasure they derived from possessions, prospects and doing well by their children is universal and that others deserve a share of that, too.”

I find this whole scenario - the tax avoidance, the elitism, the snobbery, the greed, the stupidity - so sickening I can hardly even bring myself to think about it, let alone comment on it. What I do think, though, is that New Labour has done nothing at all to deal with these attitudes and these people whatsoever, and has presided over more than a decade of widening inequality.

And even now, when the City has been busted by the sub-prime crisis, and has had to go cap in hand to the government for subsidies and for bridging loans, the fucking government still has no idea what to do about the entire shambles.

There’s a very good piece in yesterday’s Guardian on this issue by Aditya Chakrabortty called “Capitalism Lies In Shambles, and the Left Has Gone AWOL.”

There’s more good stuff by Aditya C to be found at:

Seamus Milne, also published in the Guardian’s Opinion pages yesterday, was quite specific:
“The challenge for the rest of the party has to be to crystallise what is already a clear majority for a more progressive and popular policy agenda: on pensions, health, housing, tax, regulation and Iraq. With or without Brown, Labour has to take a new political direction to survive.”

“Brown could face down the threat of a counter-coup and relaunch his premiership next month by breaking with untrammelled neoliberalism and making the move beyond Blairism he ducked last summer. He could announce an emergency package of measures that would tilt government policy unambiguously towards greater equality and public intervention - such as controls on utility prices, a shift of the tax burden from the low-paid to the rich, and a major public housing programme. He could make a conference speech that reminded voters of what Labour is supposed to stand for and carry out a reshuffle reflecting the new approach: cutting the disproportionate Blairite presence down to size.”

“What neither Brown nor his rivals seem yet to have grasped is the scale of political change needed to deal with the new conditions triggered by global financial crisis, falling living standards and recession - and the bankruptcy of a deregulated market model (that was) all the rage during a boom (which) has now evaporated.”

In his piece Milne gives a damn good kicking to David Miliband for being the Blairite he’s always been. It’s true that Miliband has been loyal to Brown, (in that he hasn’t suggested any radical shifts in direction or policy), and of course he was loyal to Blair for more than 10 years. It’s also true I wrote about Miliband recently with a certain amount of praise for his manner and his potential. ( ) I still think that Miliband would be an asset to some sort of coalition government in the event of there being a hung parliament, but I still think he’s far too young and inexperienced to even contemplate becoming party leader.

Maybe he’s similar to another young Foreign Secretary who was promoted too high too soon - David Owen - and who never subsequently prospered in politics, for a variety of reasons. Maybe he’ll emulate Owen by leaving the Labour Party after it’s returned to its left of centre roots and quickly move on to help set up a rival party of the centre left in which he can be a guiding star and a philosopher king. I think that would be pretty much inevitable if we ever get around to adopting proportional representation. You read it here first, folks.


Perhaps it’s worth repeating another point I made in that previous blog, since we’re considering here the attitudes of the fat cat bankers and stockbrokers, etc, and now that more and more people are having to default on unmanageable mortgages, especially with fuel and food prices shooting up -

“Delightful TV footage this morning of Bear Stearns executives in handcuffs, charged with fraud and misleading investors. Charged with not communicating the true risks of the sub-prime market. They moved their own money to safety whilst keeping everybody else in ignorance of the fact that the economic and financial shit was about to hit the fan.Will the British authorities now follow this excellent example? Don’t hold your breath. Do keep a clothes peg handy for when the stench gets really bad.”

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