Putting the Disgust Back in Disgustingly Rich

June 30, 2012 | By Paul Mackenzie Ross | Filed in: business, finance, news, philosophy.

Financially and morally we are living in interesting times:

David Cameron said, back in 2010, that “We’re all in this together” regarding the state of the nation as it struggled with an economic downturn. He then recently went on to finger Jimmy Carr for his tax avoidance but keeps quiet about billionaire Tory peer and party benefactor Lord Ashcroft and his avoidance of paying UK tax.

Then there’s the advisor to the Conservative party, (Sir) Philip Green, head of the Arcadia group of High Street stores that was famously sold to his wife, a UK-tax-avoiding resident of Monaco.

The obvious question that so many people have openly been asking is, if the PM can publicly castigate and embarrass a comedian for legally reducing his UK tax bill, at a time when the public pot so desperately needs every penny it can get, then why does the leader of the country allow others to get away with it? Oh, of course, rhetorical question; they’re party donors and modern-day politics doesn’t work without the injection of huge amounts of cash.

This past week or so we’ve seen RBS’ systems catastrophically fail and ordinary people suffer as a result – It has been reported that, after sacking 20,000 UK IT staff who knew the legacy system, and outsourcing to India, that a junior tech (allegedly) caused the problem.

Barclays was in the news for manipulation of the LIBOR (and EURIBOR). Bob Diamond, the head of Barclays, earns millions in wages, benefits and bonuses (the bonuses of which he waived this year). But Barclays has been fined a large-sounding total of £290 million for its misconduct and Bob Diamond retains his position and his wage.

So What?

So we’ve got some very rich people making vast amounts of money out of British institutions and avoiding paying their fair share of tax at a time when public services are being slashed.

On the other hand, a family of five from Gloucestershire were found guilty earlier in June of fiddling the taxpayer out of £500,000 – They’ve all received suspended prison sentences, been ordered to do community service and the HMRC has promised to claw back the proceeds of their crime (notably property portfolio purchases)

Moral and public outrage is nothing new but it seems, from my perspective, that it is reaching a crescendo; social media such as twitter often lights up when a scandal is reported and the comments on stories at major news portals now run into the thousands. The British public are really pissed off and, whilst they continue to moan loudly about the unfairness that they see in this country, they are doing so now, I believe, in the spirit and hope that something will finally and actually be done about it.

Secretly, I suspect, most people with money, influence and power think of the rest of us as the “great unwashed” and that once they’ve driven their Bentley through their electronic gates, and climbed the steps to the top of their ivory tower, that we will all go away. Their PR reps, lawyers and accountants are paid handsomely to smooth over any cracks and, in time, it will all be forgotten.

Not so. Not any more…

Times They Are a’Changing

Fred Goodwin, the former head of RBS, oversaw the biggest loss in UK corporate history. This is after he’d laid off around 18,000 bank workers and swelled the company coffers (by diverting money from pay into profits). But his blind greed continued and his purchase of ABN-Amro tipped the institution over the precipice: After nearly three years of the British public baying for his blood, he was finally stripped of his knighthood, awarded “for services to banking” and taken away because he had “brought the system into disrepute”. His pension was also reduced; the poor fellow now only receives a meagre £342,555 a year for being “retired”.

What if this moral outrage continues against Philip Green, Lord Ashcroft & Bob Diamond? In other quarters, we have seen Rupert Murdoch and his empire take a good hiding in the phone hacking scandal. The result has been the liquidation of the News of the World newspaper, arrests of numerous former Murdoch institution employees, an enquiry into press standards and Murdoch abandoning his takeover of British Sky Broadcasting. His nose has been put so far out of joint that he’s even attacked the British and “threatened” to spend his billions elsewhere. Good.

Hang ’em High

It’s been encouraging to see action taken against those who believe they are too powerful, too connected, too rich and untouchable. But we’re not all so optimistic and there have been quips that the Barclays CEO is currently only getting a “slap on the wrist”.

But if people pursue these moral crusades with enough weight and vigour then there will be nothing left to do but to act and change the landscape which has allowed these outrageous crimes to be committed. Because that’s what they are – crimes. Crimes against humanity. That  may sound a tad melodramatic but if you take a person’s hard-earned money for your goods or services, then refuse to share that back into the social system of which you are both part of, then that is selfish, immoral and, quite frankly, criminal.

I’ve never once had the time, money nor inclination to try and reduce the amount of tax I pay. I pay my fare share. There are people with less than me and I am happy that there is a social net in this country to which I contribute. I went for NHS treatment today and the service was excellent – The NHS staff at the Royal Surrey County Hospital were superb and I was treated well, my minor operation was a success. There are people in greater need to protect their health and well-being and I’m happy to chip in. Those that refuse or try to reduce their contributions to society are, to be quite blunt, evil.

And on one final note; I had a conversation with my MD at about the time of the budget and he mentioned that he was surprised that the richest people in this country pay a whopping great 25% of the taxes. You’d think, that if they paid that much, we should leave them alone because they contribute so much. But what we have to do is take one step back and look at how much they must have in the first place in order to be contributing as much as 25% – I don’t know about the UK but in a UN report back in 2006 it was reported that 1% of the world’s population own 40% of the wealth – By that token if the UK’s richest own 40% of the money then why do they only contribute 25% of it back into the system?

Disgustingly Rich

We’ve been putting disgust back in disgustingly rich, now it’s time to take it back out again.


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