Friday, December 23, 2011

Layer 502 . . . Banking Reform, City Whingeing, Britain's Interests, Tax Havens, Tax Avoidance, Neuroscience, Punishment, Values, Virtues and Education

An interesting column by Vince Cable in the Guardian this week:

Put aside the City's whingeing

The threats posed by banking reform are exaggerated. The country's interests must come first


Simon Jenkins' column this week is, as usual, well worth checking out:
The government is so draconian, yet so casual towards dodgy private cash
At times like this we need an equality of misery. Yet public spending is slashed while Revenue & Customs caves in to the wealthy
In good times such stories merely water the envious eye. In bad times they induce blind rage. Why the hell should people be expected to lose their jobs, their houses, their lifestyles, when the government is a soft touch for the rich and powerful? This is not a matter of left or right, socialist or capitalist. Britons are now embarking on a journey into a dark night of economic gloom. Nothing will make them less inclined to co-operate than the sight of a lucky few rowing to safety in gold-plated lifeboats.
Fairness cuts both ways. Today's report on the tax leniency shown by the Revenue towards big corporations indicates that toughness towards the poor is not replicated by toughness towards the rich. The estimate was of some £25bn in taxes gone missing, the bulk of it concealed by an insistence on "commercial confidentiality", otherwise known as incompetent secrecy.
Goldman Sachs appeared to have paid £20m less than it should on bonuses alone, and was excused with a £10m payment ex gratia and a "handshake" with the boss of the Revenue. Vodaphone paid just £1.25bn towards a tax bill that should have been some £6bn. The reasonable assumption is that these cases were tips of an iceberg. Meanwhile the relevant inspectors were being wined, dined and offered jobs by the grandees of the accountancy firms overseeing the scams.
It may be a corny adage, but it remains glaring that almost no holder of high office in Britain at present has ever met a payroll, run a business or cut a corporate budget. They are children playing with sweets.
Osborne is the scourge of public sector unions and condemns tax avoidance, yet he refuses to end the scandal of crown tax havens, from Jersey to the Caymans, that enjoy the benefits of British citizenship while enabling individuals and corporations to evade British tax. Last week the European Union lectured Britain on financial regulation, while harbouring on its borders such fiscal black holes as Monaco, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. The thesis, accepted by governments of all parties, that the rich should be allowed to escape tax for their "wealth-creating potential" has surely been exploded by the credit crunch. It is not the kind of wealth Britain can afford.
Just because lobbyists say bonuses and tax havens are "essential to Britain's recovery" does not mean they are. The government's tolerance of both is more than stupid. It induces cynicism in the public realm and recruits fair-minded people to the cause of St Paul's protesters and public sector strikers. Nothing is more crucial to national wellbeing at a time like this than a sense of equality of misery. 

There's an interesting piece in the Guardian by Vicki Helyar-Cardwell on the age of criminal responsibility, and sentencing policy:
Sentencing of young adults should take their maturity into account
Our criminal justice system should heed the latest research on neuroscience and the law
"The prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for decision-making, impulse control and cognitive control, is among the slowest parts of the brain to mature and is not fully developed until around the age of 20".
A University of Birmingham report, commissioned by the Transition to Adulthood Alliance, has shown that "Development of those areas of the brain concerned with higher order cognitive processes and executive functions, including control of impulses and regulation and interpretation of emotions, continues into early adulthood; the human brain is not 'mature' until the early to mid-twenties."
While your [Guardian] article focuses largely on the implications of neuroscience for the age of criminal responsibility – undoubtedly far too low at 10 – the findings have equal importance for policy towards young adults, who are by and large treated as fully fledged adults from the moment they wake up on their 18th birthday. This was certainly the case in the sentencing following last summer's riots.
The public support these measures: a recent poll found that 69% think emotional and psychological maturity should be taken into account for those accused of breaking the law.
In Germany this is common practice: courts can choose to try young adults up to the age of 21 under juvenile law if the offender is immature or the circumstances of the offence are more typical of youth crime.
Our organisation [the Criminal Justice Alliance] has long argued that maturity, not just chronological age, should be recognised in the sentencing process. This latest report strengthens that argument.
The problem with all this is that it's crap. This isn't an issue about the "maturity" of the physical brain. It's an issue about intelligence - the personal, social, emotional and spiritual intelligences, to be precise. It's an issue about the failure to develop spiritual and personal intelligence through proper education that allows children to consider and to PRACTICE positive human values and human virtues.

Very young children are usually aware of when something is "right" and when something is "wrong". The issue is whether they grow up in environments and circumstances that allow and encourage them to make positive choices rather than negative choices; places that discourage them from behaving selfishly and egocentrically. They need to develop the language of social, emotional and spiritual intelligence. In good schools and homes this can happen at a very early age.

Just waiting for the physical brain to "mature" is NOT the answer.

What needs to be taken into account when we sentence people for criminal behaviour is whether those people have been given opportunities to develop all of their intelligences - despite their physical brain not being "fully developed" or "mature". Sadly, in far too many cases, such education and such learning has NOT taken place, and young people are simply repressed rather than educated in the theory AND practice of living life virtuously, according to positive human values.

The really hard cases with high academic attainment sometimes go out into the world and get rich on tax evasion and avoidance, and financial scams. They then complain like crazy that young criminals are treated too leniently and aren't punished sufficiently.

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