Posts Tagged ‘Russell Group’

George Galloway Interviews on China and Tax Dodging by the Rich

December 6, 2017

This is a very interesting edition of Sputnik, one of the programmes on RT, hosted by media bete noir George Galloway, and a young Asian lady simply called Gayatri. Sputnik was, of course, the first satellite put into Earth orbit by the Russians. The name means ‘fellow traveller’ in Russian, and has come to mean an artificial satellite ever since.

In the first half of the programme, Galloway and Gayatri interview Jeanne-Marie Gescher, a British sinologist, who has been studying China ever since the notorious Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. Gescher has written a book about the country and its transformation, and describes how she was just about the only western person flying into China after the massacre, when all the other westerners were trying to get out. This, however, gave her a head start of a couple of years over the other academics researching China, when she was one of the very few westerners actually in the country. Galloway talks about President Xi’s party congress, and makes the point that most of it was about ‘socialism with a Chinese face’, rather than economics. He and Gescher also discuss the role of a strong central authority in governing and forming China, ever since its foundation all those millennia ago. They make the point that the role of a strong central authority is so much at the core of the country’s character and government, that it has been said that without it China is like sand. Gescher states that ever since the ancient shamans led the earliest ancestors of the Chinese to settle down, there has been a tension between two philosophies towards government and the natural order. One is that the natural world is too complex for people to understand, and so government is best carried out by a single ‘son of Heaven’ – the official title of the Chinese emperor – who governs autocratically. The other recommends instead that the world be subject to a structured investigation. This is not democratic, but it is wider than the concentration of power in a single autocratic figure. Gescher also describes the way China has repeatedly fragmented over the ages, only to come back together as a single, unitary empire again, with a quote from The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, one of the great classics of Chinese literature. To people of a certain age, the book is best known as the basis for the Chinese swashbuckling tale broadcast by the Beeb in the ’70s, The Water Margin.

They also discuss Donald Trump’s apparent volte-face last week. Before he went to China, he was full of anger at the Chinese and there was much resentment in the American media about perceived Chinese mistreatment. Trump was going to tear them off a strip about it. After he got there, however, and met the President, he ended up praising the country. Gescher states that this has shown the Chinese that Trump ‘flip-flops’. This will worry them, as there is nothing more dangerous than a leader, who so capriciously changes position.

Next on the show is Professor Steve Keen, who has also written a book demolishing economics. Keen’s a former economics professor at Kingston University, though at the end of the interview he states that he has left academia to go his own way via Patreon. Keen, Gayatri and Galloway discuss the infamous Paradise Papers and the tax dodging by the very rich. Keen himself isn’t shocked by the way the super-rich like Bono, Lewis Hamilton and the Queen have deprived the treasury of their taxes. He seems to accept that it’s just part of the pathology of the very rich. He states that they’re terrified of anyone else getting their hands on their money, and so pay enormous fees to people, who tell them how they can legally avoid paying cash.

Galloway is shocked, however, and makes the ironic point that the Queen, in her case, is actually avoiding paying tax to herself. Which is true. He also wonders about the mentality of the rich, who will spend their money on colossally expensive items like luxury super-yachts. Keen states he knows someone, who has actually bought one. This man had a 120-ft yacht, but turned it in for a 140 foot vessel, complete with space for a grand piano. He states that this comes from the sheer greed and sense of entitlement of the rich.

He then talks about the various fake holding companies and offshore accounts that the rich use in order to avoid paying tax in the country where they really make their money. He’s actually been to the Cayman Islands, and seen the office block, where so many multinational companies legally have their headquarters. He states that he read so many of the brass plaques on the building’s walls before he gave up. But it was all a scam. There was no-one in the building. It was all very much a legal fiction.

Keen himself has recommended his own way to stop this. At the moment, the tax on profits allows the rich to dodge paying tax by allowing them to cast their companies as subsidiaries working for a parent organisation somewhere else in the world. To stop them doing that, Keen recommends that there should be a tax on transactions instead, which would bring money back into the treasury and which couldn’t be avoided by setting up fake parent companies.

He also has a very different view of taxation than other economists. He argues that the point of taxation isn’t to pay for government services. Governments, by their nature, create money. They pump it into the economy. What taxation does is take it out of the economy, so you don’t have runaway inflation.

Talking about his decision to leave academia, Keen states that it was forced on him by the government’s effective privatisation of higher education. This has turned students into ‘informed consumers of higher education’. However, the league tables concentrate on the Russell Group, and so the new universities that were created post 1992 are starved of funding. This has led him to break with the university, and start crowdfunding his work. He states that he has a great bunch of people funding him through Patreon, and that he’s learned a lot from them. He is also critical of university tenure, because it creates a very conformist mindset. It’s not supposed to. It’s supposed to do the opposite, but he states that by the time professors have done all the things needed to gain tenure, they are afraid of stepping out of line.

The programme ends with Galloway and Gayatri reading out some of the Tweets they have received on the shows contents. Several people remark that, whatever Trump says, America very much needs China to avoid collapsing. And others are about the Queen and the rest of the rich dodging tax.

This is interesting, as it shows that Galloway is a very good interviewer. I also find it quite a nostalgic experience, as it reminds me of what quality television on BBC 2 used to be like in the 1970s and 1980s. No fancy graphics, just the programme’s host or hosts in the studio and his or her guests, talking. You can see the same approach used by Tariq Ali on his TV show. And while it is talk, it’s very much informed talk by experts, that isn’t dumbed down and reduced to soundbites by programme editors afraid that too much pop videos have left people with an attention-span no longer than a gnat’s.

Keen’s perspective on the rich and their sheer avarice is interesting, as is his proposed solution. I’m also struck by his innovative attitude to taxation. I’ve read similar things like it on Mike’s blog, where he has reblogged material from the Mainly Macro economist. As has the Angry Yorkshireman, Tom Clarke. This looks like a positive approach to the dismal science that will break the Tory orthodoxy about taxation and paying for the welfare state.

The Privileged Class Background of BBC Staff, and the Problem of Oxbridge Public School Elitism

August 26, 2017

Earlier this week I put up a piece reviewing Tom Mills’ The BBC – Myth of a Public Service. This contributes immensely to the debate about the Corporation’s bias by showing how it consistently allies with the elite against the left and the working class.

And Mills makes a very strong case that, apart with the institutional methods of control the government exercises over the Beeb through the license fee and the appointment of its governors, the BBC also sides with the elite because of the elite, upper and very middle class origins of its managers and staff. Mills describes this background on pages 29 and 30. He writes

A 2014 report of the quasi-official Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission had no qualms about identifying these top BBC executives, and over a hundred other senior BBC managers, as members of ‘Britain’s elite’ – along with politicians, civil servants, the super-rich, FTSE 350 CEOs, newspaper columnists and other groups. The Commission’s survey of 125 BBC executives found that 26 per cent had attended private school (compared with 7 per cent of the population), 33 per cent had attended Oxbridge (compared with just 0.8 per cent of the population) and 62 per cent had attended one of the Russell Group of leading universities (compared with 11.4 per cent of the population) – figures which were comparable with those for other factions of Britain’s power elite, as the report shows. Senior BBC managers are also extremely well paid: in 2014/15, the seven executive members of the BBC’s Executive Board earned an average of over £424,000. Meanwhile, around eighty BBC executives are thought to earn over £150,000, even after policy measures were put in place to reduce executive pay following fierce criticism from the press. Among this executive cadre are around a hundred or so senior managers in editorial policy who on average earn just over £100,000, and the most senior of whom can earn two or three times that.

Below these senior editorial managers, we see similar patterns of privilege. In 2006, the Sutton Trust examined the educational backgrounds of 100 leading news journalists in the UK, of whom 31 worked at the BBC. It found that 54 per cent were privately educated and a remarkable 45 per cent had attended Oxbridge. Educational background is of course an indicator of shared class background. But it is also in itself a profoundly important basis for elite cohesion, forging along with other formative experiences, if not a shared set of ideas, then at least a shared demeanour and set of dispositions. Elitist recruiting practices – which are naturally justified in meritocratic terms, even if they are recognized to create serious problems in terms of legitimacy – thus create subtle forms of institutional and cross-institutional cohesion.

This bears out a comment made by one of the television directors Mike and I heard speak over two decades ago at a Doctor Who convention here in Bristol. He stated that it was very difficult to become a director at the Beeb unless you had been to Oxford or Cambridge. If you hadn’t, it was very difficult. If you had, on the other hand, it was very easy.

As for Oxbridge, I’m currently reading Gregory Benford’s SF novel Timescape (London: Gollancz 1980). The novel’s plot is split between the devastated Britain of 1998 and the optimistic California of 1963, as a group of scientists in Cambridge attempt to use tachyons to carry a message back to their counterparts in La Jolla to warn them of the coming ecological crisis which is gradually causing global civilization to collapse. Benford is an American, and one of the team of Cambridge scientists, Gregory Markham, also hails from across the Pond. The book therefore includes descriptions and meditations on Britain’s relationship to its past, compared with America, and the class structure of British society. On page 182, Benford comments on the educational segregation at Cambridge High Table.

He walked back towards the colleges, letting this feel of the press of time seep into him. He and Jan had been to High Table at several of the colleges, the ultimate Anglophile experience. Memorial plate that gleamed like quicksilver, and crested goblets. In the after-dinner room of polished wood, gilt frames held glowering portraits of the college founders. In the great dining hall Jan had been surprised to find de facto segregation: Etonians at one table, Harrovians at another, the lesser public schools’ alumni at a third, and, finally, state school graduates and everyone else at a motley last table. To an American in such a citadel of education, after the decades of ferocious equality-at-all-costs politics, it seemed strange. There persisted a reliance on inherited advantages, and even the idea that such a system was an inherited virtue as well.

This is not too far removed from the description of outright class snobbery Thackeray describes in his Book of Snobs. Casting his eye about England’s great, and at the time, only universities, he noted the way the class system affected even the type of gowns undergraduates wore:

If you consider, dear reader, what profound snobbishness the University system produced, you will allow that it is time to attack some of those feudal middle-age superstitions. If you go down for five shillings to look at the ‘College Youths’, you may see one sneaking down the court without a tassel to his cap; another with a gold or silver fringe to his velvet trencher; a third lad with a master’s gown and hat,, walking at ease over the sacred College grass-plats, which common men must not tread on.

Me may do it because he is a nobleman. Because a lad is a lord, the University grants him a degree at the end of two years which another is seven in acquiring. Because he is a lord, he has no call to go through an examination. Any man who has not been to College and back for five shillings [the price of the train fare to Oxford and Eton], would not believe in such distinctions in a place of education, so absurd and monstrous do they seem to be.

The lads with gold and silver lace are sons of rich gentlemen, and called Fellow Commoners; they are privileged to feed better than the pensioners, and to have wine with their victuals, which the latter can only get in their rooms.

The unlucky boys who have no tassels to their caps, are called sizars – servitors at Oxford – (a very pretty and gentlemanlike title). A distinction is made in their clothes because they are poor; for which reason they wear a badge of poverty, and are not allowed to take their meals with their fellow-students.(pp. 60-61).

One of the other, British characters in Benford’s novel, Renfrew, who has the idea of using tachyon radiation to transmit to the past, is also an outsider. He’s the son of a working class Yorkshireman, and because of this is also an outsider amongst the public schoolboys. At one point Renfrew remembers how, as an undergraduate walking down Oxford’s corridors, he passes another pair in gowns. One of these says very loudly in an Oxbridge drawl, ‘Oh God, not another oik come up on a scholarship!’

Oxford has been under considerable pressure to make its more democratic, and Robert Peston has said in his book, Who Runs Britain, that there’s an element of hypocrisy amongst some of the Scots universities, who tried to capitalize on the class scandals that have erupted over Oxbridge in recent years. Some of the Scots universities, particularly St. Andrews’, are even more elite and class-ridden.

It’s tempting to think of those days of class snobbishness as having vanished along with scholarships. However, as the Tories are intent are privatizing the British school system, and really, desperately, want to bring back grammar schools if they can get away with it, as well as cut away the last vestiges of the student grant to the poor, it’s likely that they’ll come back.