Tag: margaret thatcher

The rot at the heart of British society runs deeper than the travails of Philip Green

By Daniel Margrain

The news that serial tax dodger Philip Green bought his third luxury super-yacht for £100 million, a sum similar to the amount that was effectively sequestered from the BHS pension fund, and which was subsequently hid in tax havens wrecking the lives of thousands of his employees in the process, is symptomatic of the kind of rot that has spread throughout the high echelons of the ruling class. Like rising damp in an old building that spreads throughout the foundations before working its way through the brickwork until it eventually subsumes the entire edifice, Britain is currently suffering from another kind of infestation that of the ruling class “elite” whose unprecedented actions and decisions are undermining the rules and laws on which the proper functioning of a civilized society depend.

The biggest scandal isn’t about the corruption surrounding the Panama Papers, bankers and the revelations about Philip Green (as bad as they are), but about wealth inequality. Currently, the top 1 per cent own as much as 99 per cent of the rest of the world combined. What the Panama Papers revelations highlighted was just how unequal the world is. In his book, ‘The Hidden Wealth of Nations’, economist Gabriel Zucman estimates that worldwide, more than $7.5 trillion is stashed away in offshore accounts. As an indication of just how much that is, the sum amounts to some 8 per cent of the entire financial wealth of the world. About 80 per cent of that has not, and will not, be taxed at all, ever.

This level of tax avoidance increases the wealth gap between the rich and poor. Hiding vast sums of wealth from the prying eye of governments makes it easier for the super rich, represented by the 1 per cent, to remain rich and avoid tax policies which are meant to help the 99 per cent. Off-shore accounts also make it more difficult for everybody else to get rich because of the uneven playing field that results from these tax havens. The 99 per cent among the mainly middle income earners are paying higher taxes to make up for the taxes that the 1 per cent don’t pay.

Although on average slightly less than 8 per cent of all the financial wealth of the world is off-shore, Europe fares worse at 10 per cent. By contrast, off-shore financial wealth in Latin America stands at 20 per cent, in Africa the figure is 30 per cent and in Russia an incredible 50 per cent of all its financial wealth remains hidden off-shore. What all this indicates is the sheer scale of a problem that hits the developing world the hardest where the results for the very poorest who have no access to any form of social protection, can literally be death.

As far as Europe is concerned, the massive use of tax havens began in the 1920s in Switzerland. In Britain this trend became a feature of society around the mid-to-late 1970s. Numerous tax havens had began to spring up during this time which is when the great wealth disparity really started to make its mark. This was no accident. During this period, the function of the state began to change from that of ‘welfare provider’ to more ‘pro-business facilitator’. The ideology that came to embody this change was neoliberalism.

Instead of the direct provision of services administered democratically at the local level, the trend has increasingly been for the state to act as a purchaser of these services which have then been provided privately and indirectly. As each separate financial intermediary takes their slice of the financial pie, the temptation for corrupt practices becomes greater and the concentration of capital and deregulation of labour markets more acute.

With the balance of economic power tilted increasingly towards the rich who are able to buy the influence of politician’s, the impact on democracy has been devastating for millions of ordinary people. This hollowed out system of democracy is one in which the 99 per cent increasingly seem to find it difficult to find some personal and meaningful pattern in a social world dominated by huge and distant monoliths whose power over the livelihood of millions seems absolute.

This explains the growing popularity of ‘unorthodox’ politician’s like Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sander’s and even to an extent, Donald Trump, who offer the electorate an alternative to the ‘business as usual’ politics of the corporate controlled political machine. However, until a distinct break with the current system occurs, the masses are faced with the prospect of more of the same neoliberal ideology predicated on austerity.

Contrary to popular mythology, it wasn’t the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher which came to power in 1979 that invented neoliberalism, rather that distinction is reserved for the preceding Labour administration under James Callaghan. It was the Labour government, not the Tories, who accepted the terms of the austerity package proposed by the IMF in 1976. The main condition of the IMF loan, insisted on by the US Treasury, was that the government deficit must be reduced by cutting demand.

Interest rates were raised and government spending reduced. Wage, job and welfare cuts were the hallmark of the ‘social contract’ between wage labour and capital agreed by the unions to bail out the government. As Colin Leys notes:

“From 1976 onwards, Labour accordingly became ‘monetarist’. Its leaders accepted that full employment could no longer be achieved by government spending but must be sought through private sector growth. For the necessary investment to take place, prices must reflect real values, and this in turn required ‘squeezing’ inflation out of the system and permitting the free movement of capital. In 1978 Treasury officials began preparing to abolish capital controls.”

Spearheaded by the deregulation of the movement of capital, the breaking of the unions and the centralization of state power that favoured the corporations in the running of state enterprises, rates of inequality that had been reduced from the previous highs of the depression years of the late 1920s began to grow again. During the 1920s wealth disparity was huge. Then, as people at the top paid more taxes, and people in the middle began to earn more, the gap became increasingly smaller.

As the consensus between capital and wage labour started to go in reverse from about 1980, inequality began to increase steadily to 1920s levels which is roughly the point they are today. By the mid 1980s tax havens started to emerge in places like the Caymen Islands, Singapore, Hong Kong, Panama, Bermuda the British Virgin Islands and increasingly, London. All of the wealth located in these havens isn’t actually invested their. This means that the vast majority of people who live in, say, London, don’t benefit from foreign money that’s invested in, for example, property due to the massive rise in property prices that result from these investments.

So why do the 99 per cent put up with all this?

Many people tend to get distracted, whether that’s through working all the hours under the sun merely to survive, or through sports or other forms of leisure activities. Many others are angry but feel disconnected from the political process. The politicians, by contrast, benefit from the current situation so they are not motivated to change it, largely because they are immune from any effective political pressure from below.

The consequences for civil society that emanate from the combination of public apathy and apoplexy are potentially extreme. The lack of proper investment in public services like the NHS, social care, libraries and schools will end up with them collapsing. This is a process that to a large extent is already happening. The fact that the super rich have their money stashed away off-shore, while many among the poor don’t earn enough to pay tax in the first place, has resulted in an insufficient tax yield.

The reason why many people can’t get a prompt appointment with their GP, paving stones in the streets are cracked, their libraries are staffed by volunteers and there are pot holes on the roads that never get attended to, is directly linked to these factors. So while public services are being slashed on the one hand, people are increasingly having to pay for the ones that remain with money, in many cases, they haven’t got. If they are fortunate enough to have a job, it’s likely that their disposable income in real terms wouldn’t of increased in the last four decades.

Particularly for the young, the prospects of finding secure, fulfilling and well paid work is as remote now than it has been for at least 70 years and the situation is likely to get even worse as robots begin to replace many traditional blue collar and even white collar jobs. Leaving aside the threats posed by climate change, the underlying root cause of the problems society faces both now and in the coming period, is the inability of governments’ to take a long term approach to tackling levels of inequality that are so extreme that violent disorder on the streets may be the only language the politician’s will take note of.

Terrorism & the chronicle of war foretold

By Daniel Margrain

The rolling media coverage that followed the tragic events in Brussels was accompanied by the predictable rhetorical political flourishes from across the spectrum highlighting the need for terrorism to be defeated. After every tragedy of this nature the same kinds of statements are repeated again and again even though the politician’s making them must know that such an eventuality is impossible.

According to the politician’s and the media, terrorism is the new global threat against which global war must be fought. ISIS and their affiliates constitute for them an ubiquitous presence against which the democratic values of civilization must take their fight to the backward forces of reaction and irrationality. But this notion reflects only a partial truth because it ignores an important historical context. The concept underpinning perpetual warfare that the Project for the New American Century evokes, was the precursor to ISIS which emerged from the ashes of the chaos resulting from the US-led slaughter in Iraq and the attack on New York that preceded it. It’s therefore not Islamist terrorism that represents the catalyst for chaos and destruction in the world, but rather the United States, it’s allies and their proxies.

A crucial dimension implicit to this unfolding story regarding the intention of the United States to create a wilderness as the precursor to ‘peace’, are the contemporary and historical links that have developed between American neoconservatives and the Israeli right. Specifically, this relates to the latter’s colonial role in its service to imperial power. This relationship, in the words of Theodor Herzl provided.“a portion of the rampart of Europe against Asia”. In other words, the newly created Israeli state in Palestine would, as part of the tail to the US dog, be part of the system of colonial domination of the rest of the world.

Today, close links exist between leading neoconservatives and the Israeli political elite. Christian fundamentalists – an indispensable element in the rights political base – have also incorporated support for Israel into a worldview in which Palestine is perceived as the land given by God to the Jews in the Old Testament and regard the return of the world’s Jews to a triumphant Israel as a precondition of the Second Coming. A consequence is a close identification by many Republican right-wingers of the strategic interests of Israel with those of the United States, as well as the hostility towards any notion of peace that they share with Likud and Binyamin Netanyahu .

A second dimension is the notion that the destruction of the terrorist demon be exorcised at all costs, even if that cost means the curtailment of civil liberties. The truth is, the global sweep of security services has been an utter failure. Casting the net ever wider by adding millions of names to a digital database in the hope of catching potential terrorists, is less than useless. The whole process seems concerned with targeting people on the assumption that a crime will be committed based on the nature of people’s thought processes rather than what they have done or plan to do.

Ultimately, individuals who are committed to undertaking atrocities in a democracy will always find a way of committing them. To successfully stop them would mean a curtailment to the kinds of civil liberties that the masses take for granted. Wherever large crowds of people gather, the potential for a terrorist to commit an atrocity will be there. Moreover, radicalization is not limited to non-EU or US citizens since many home grown terrorists are motivated to commit their atrocities as a result of them witnessing injustices almost daily on social media.

The disproportionate wall-to-wall media reportage in relation to the aftermath of Western based terrorist atrocities, gives a false impression that terrorist violence in European or American cities is far more of a danger than is actually the case. The reality is that the odds of being killed or injured in an Islamist terrorist attack in Britain, for example, is virtually non-existent. In the last decade, only one person has been killed in the UK by such an attack. Far more people have been killed and far more destruction and chaos caused in countries like Yemen, Syria, Libya and Iraq. This is not to condone the actions of illegal wars/terrorism wherever they occur, but to highlight that the coverage given to European and North American based atrocities is highly selective.

Shortly after the atrocity in Brussels, for example, a suicide bomb exploded in a football stadium near Baghdad killing at least 41 people. The incident received virtually no media coverage. During last Friday’s (March 25) Germany/England football international, both teams wore black arm bands, not paradoxically in memory of the 41 who died at the football match near Baghdad, but in memory of those who died in Brussels. The Baghdad atrocity was followed by a terrorist attack in Lahore, Pakistan, which received just over two minutes of coverage on a subsequent BBC news 24 bulletin.

But not only are the kinds of coverage given to terrorist atrocities highly selective depending on who is killed and where, but the wall-to-wall rolling coverage given to Western-based atrocities are also, I contend, counterproductive. This is because terrorists crave the oxygen of publicity. It says something about the strange times we live in, that a figure as divisive and reactionary as Margaret Thatcher was more radical in her thinking over 30 years ago than the majority of the current crop of corporate controlled robots in Westminster today. This is what Thatcher said in 1985 during a speech to the American Bar Association::

“The terrorist uses force because he knows he will never get his way by democratic means…Through calculated savagery, his aim is to induce fear in the hearts of people. And weariness towards resistance…And we must try to find ways to starve the terrorist and the hijacker of the oxygen of publicity on which they depend. In our societies we do not believe in constraining the media, still less in censorship. But ought we not to ask the media to agree among themselves a voluntary code of conduct, a code under which they would not say or show anything which could assist the terrorists’ morale or their cause while the hijack lasted?”

There is no moral excuse for committing horrific violence upon civilians. This remains true whether they are committed by men in uniforms pressing buttons on computer screens in the cockpits of aircraft that release bombs at the behest of commands from rich men sitting behind desks in plush offices, or if they are committed by alleged alienated Muslims in Brussels. Two wrongs do not make a wrong right. However, just because there is no moral excuse doesn’t necessarily mean that there are no circumstances in which individuals will not rationalize the use of violence.

If your loved ones happened to have been victims of an Obama drone attack or a Blair bomb, your life will be debased and you might feel that you have nothing to lose. I’m not condoning such actions but merely trying to put myself in the shoes of others. It doesn’t make it right or moral but seeking retribution against injustice anyway you can under circumstances where no alternatives are possible, might be reason enough to drive you over the edge. Every human being has a breaking point and seeing the death of your loved ones in terrible circumstances might be the straw that breaks the camels back.

If pushed to extremes, humans are potentially capable of just about anything. This goes far beyond the conventional media reasoning for terrorism which focuses almost exclusively on Islamist fundamentalist rationales but continually fails to make the connection between the foreign policies of Western governments and the consequences of those actions. Terrorism doesn’t emerge out of a metaphorical clear blue sky and so we need to reflect on why people all over the Middle East hate us. And they do hate us. We represent two decades of bombing the hell out of them and they loathe us for that. It doesn’t excuse the outcome but it explains it.

But instead of asking the relevant questions relating to likely causes, journalists tend to focus far more on the effects. Suicide bombings are not some barbaric throwback to pre-modernity. They are a horribly distorted response to the very real horrors of imperialism and capitalism. As Stephen Holmes, in relation to the 9/11 attacks on New York, argued:

“The vast majority of Bin Laden’s public statements provide secular, not religious, rationales for 9/11. The principal purpose of the attack was to punish the ‘unjust and tyrannical America’. The casus belli he invokes over and over again is injustice not impiety. True, he occasionally remarks that the United States has declared war on god, but such statements would carry little conviction if not seconded by claims that the United States is tyrannising and exploiting Muslim people… Bin Laden almost never justifies terrorism against the West as a means for subordinating Western unbelievers to the true faith. Instead, he almost always justifies terrorism against the West as a form of legitimate self-defence.”

In other words, the Muslim extremist goal is no different from other national liberation movements – to achieve independence by forcing the imperialist power to retreat. The terrorists may express themselves in religious terms, but in essence the aim is the same pursuit as that adopted by previous secular-nationalist movements in the Middle East, namely the defeat of US imperialism and its allies in the region. The scale and reach of some present-day attacks is greater than any terrorist organisation has been able to carry out in the past. But the devastation and death toll are still on a massively smaller scale than that routinely inflicted by the armed forces of ‘civilized’ states.

By focusing on the effects of terrorism as opposed to addressing the probable causes, encourages the worst kind of highly politically motivated and bigoted soundbite journalism imaginable. Examples have been the crass responses to the horror of Brussels by the likes of Katie Hopkins and Allison Pearson. Both ‘journalists’ attempted to tie the events in the Belgium capital city with the unfolding refugee crisis by condemning people who suffer terrorism on a daily basis in places like Syria and Iraq for fleeing to Europe where it’s virtually non-existent. The fact that this kind of commentary is widely regarded as part of the acceptable face of journalism within the ‘mainstream’, illustrates just how debased journalism has become.