Tuesday, April 05, 2011

no, actually that's what stupidity looks like


Watching the ongoing campaign by UK Uncut against the various shades of cad, tosser and bastard on the high street is particularly warming. However, the joy I derive from the spectacle of Barclays branches being occupied is diminished somewhat by the underlying feeling of A Seriously Missed Point. Why are people targeting banks, which no one can reasonably resent attempting to maximise profits within the existing legislative framework, instead of politicians? Its politicians who create legislation regulating how much tax banks and other businesses pay. Its politicians who decide whether to gut the HMRC of its valuable staff, leaving the playing field even more insanely one-sided for the megacorps and their legions of top-flight accounting staff that run rings around the underresourced and undermotivated HMRC staffers.

The same phenomenon of misguidance is equally evident on the other side of the Atlantic where impassioned articles such as this one are becoming increasingly common (see where the title of my post comes from?). In contrast to such myopathy, the legendary Matt Taibbi does an awesome job of revealing the utter moral bankruptcy and mendacious sociopathy of the big finance houses but he has also done a fantastic job drawing attention to the hollow institutions of government whose job it should be to police such corporations. If the government won't govern then there's little point trying to get corporations to listen to their social consciences as they don't have one. At all. Corporations exist to maximise shareholder value and their directors are restricted by law to acting solely in that interest. Calls to action against corporations and businesses will achieve little. If you want to change how much tax corporations pay you need to lobby the government. UK Uncut obviously does this as well as targeting businesses and there is a credible argument to be made that engaging in direct action against tax avoiders grabs media attention and "gets the message out". It can also be argued that it confuses the message by suggesting that corporations act  immorally by engaging in tax avoidance measures when they are simply staying afloat in the race-to the-bottom that is neoliberal capitalism.

The problem is that many lobby groups already do target politicians. Its damning of UK society that the commentariat of the 4th estate has to argue the case for more tax officials. See Richard Murphy, George and Johann for more info. And that is my point: As with most issues, this one boils down to a fundamentally unrepresentative, unaccountable and undemocratic government. Its pretty clear that the UK public don't want Vodafone to get away with their epically cunty tax avoidance scheme but the UK's political elite disagree and there's no way for the public to force them to act.

What comes first: A just tax policy or an accountable and representative government? I'm pretty certain that you won't get the former without first establishing the latter and so I'm afraid that, without widening their goals to include the establishment of an representative and accountable government, the current protest movement is doomed to failure.

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