Blog Archives

Broken Britain 18: captured by corporate interests?

.

George Monbiot recently pointed out that the Commons report on the Carillion fiasco is one of the most damning assessments of corporate behaviour parliament has ever published. It trounces the company’s executives and board and laments the weakness of the regulators.

But, as Prem Sikka said in his April article, it scarcely touches the structural causes that make gluttony a perennial feature of corporate life.

Both agree that the problem begins with an issue the report does not once mention: the extreme nature of limited liability. Sikka points out that this system, under which executives are only financially accountable for the value of their investment, has also benefited frauds and led to the self-enrichment of executives at the expense of workers, consumers, creditors, pensioners and citizens.

Monbiot adds that the current model of limited liability allowed the directors and executives of Carillion to rack up a pension deficit of £2.6 billion, leaving the 27,000 members of its schemes to be rescued by the state fund (which is financed by a levy on your pension – if you have one). The owners of the company were permitted to walk away from the £2 billion owed to its suppliers and subcontractors. (Left: the former Carillion chief executive Keith Cochrane in Westminster after appearing before the Commons work and pensions select committee)

Monbiot continues: “There is no way that fossil fuel companies could pay for the climate breakdown they cause. There is no way that car companies could meet the health costs of air pollution. Their business models rely on dumping their costs on other people. Were they not protected by the extreme form of limited liability that prevails today, they would be obliged to switch to clean technologies”.

So what is to be done?

Prem Sikka (right) proposes that the bearers of unlimited risks and liabilities should be given rights to control the day-to-day governance and direction of companies.

He advocates including employees and citizen/consumers on company boards – because both ultimately have to bear the financial, health, social and psychological costs associated with environmental damage, pollution, poor products, industrial accidents, loss of jobs, pensions and savings. Through seats on company boards, they could secure a fairer distribution of income, challenge discrimination, curb asset-stripping and influence investment, training and innovation.

Across the 28 European Union countries (plus Norway), most have a statutory requirement for employee representation on company boards – unlike the UK, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, Italy, Latvia, Malta and Romania.

George Monbiot proposes a radical reassessment of limited liability.

He points out that a recent paper by the US law professor Michael Simkovic proposes that companies should pay a fee for this indemnity, calibrated to the level of risk they impose on society. He adds, significantly, that as numerous leaks show, companies tend to be far more aware of the risks they inflict than either governments or the rest of society. Various estimates put the cost that businesses dump on society at somewhere between 4% and 20% of GDP

His own ‘tentative’ and ingenious proposal is that any manager earning more than a certain amount – say £200,000 – would have half their total remuneration placed in an escrow account, which is controlled not by the company but by an external agency. The deferred half of their income would not become payable until the agency judged that the company had met the targets it set on pension provision, workers’ pay, the treatment of suppliers and contractors and wider social and environmental performance. This judgement should draw on mandatory social and environmental reporting, assessed by independent auditors.

If they miss their targets, the executives would lose part or all of the deferred sum. In other words, they would pay for any disasters they impose on others. To ensure it isn’t captured by corporate interests, the agency would be funded by the income it confiscates.

Monbiot then says “I know that, at best, they address only part of the problem” and asks, “Are these the right solutions?

  • support them,
  • oppose them
  • or suggest better ideas.

He ends: “Should corporations in their current form exist at all? Is capitalism compatible with life on earth?”

 

 

 

o

 

Media 80: election result confirms waning influence of corporate media

Readers from other countries (left) who found the Media 79 article of interest are directed – for a fuller account – to a detailed article in Media Lens discovered after this post was written. As George Monbiot writes:

“The billionaire press threw everything it had at Jeremy Corbyn, and failed to knock him over. In doing so, it broke its own power.

Its wild claims succeeded in destroying not Corbyn’s credibility, but its own. But the problem is by no means confined to the corporate media. The failure also belongs to the liberal media, and it is one from which some platforms might struggle to recover . . .

He adds that broadcasters allow themselves to be led by the newspapers, despite their massive bias, citing the 2015 election campaign, during which opinion polls revealed that the NHS came top of the list of voters’ concerns, while the economy came third – but received four times as much coverage on TV news as the NHS, which was commonly seen as Labour’s strongest suit: “This appeared to reflect the weight given to these issues in the papers, most of which sought a Conservative victory”.

Monbiot records that an analysis by the Media Reform Coalition and Birkbeck College found that, despite the rules on impartiality and balance, when Corbyn’s leadership was being challenged last summer, the BBC’s evening news bulletins gave almost twice as much airtime to his critics as they gave to his supporters. They often ascribed militancy and aggression to him and his supporters, but never to his challengers and quoted one report on the BBC News at 6 which finished with the words,

“This is a fight only one side can win. The others are being carted off to irrelevance. The place for political losers”. The accompanying shot showed a dustbin lorry setting off, painted with the word Corbyn”.

Suzanne Moore also looks at the futile attempts of these tabloids to ‘crush Corbyn’ in the Guardian but in a slightly less crude way the Times and the FT also devoted much space to this end (see the Rachman FT article and cartoon, below) – and signally failed to achieve their objective.

Many ‘ordinary’ people have suspected that social media has been becoming far more influential – Suzanne observing that: “the hope of so many on social media and the tirelessness of those out campaigning contrasted with the stunned, sometimes agonised coverage of the old men who govern the airwaves”.

After detailing the evidence of bias in the Guardian George Monbiot concludes that the liberal media have managed to alienate the most dynamic political force this nation has seen for decades:

“Those who have thrown so much energy into the great political revival, many of whom are young, have been almost unrepresented, their concerns and passion unheeded, misunderstood or reviled. When they have raised complaints, journalists have often reacted angrily, writing off movements that have gathered in hope as a rabble of trots and wreckers. This response has been catastrophic in the age of social media. What many people in this movement now perceive is a solid block of affluent middle-aged journalists instructing young people mired in rent and debt to abandon their hopes of a better world”.

Monbiot asks why it has come to this, even in the media not owned by billionaires – apparently not taking into account that retaining the lucrative corporate advertisements is of crucial importance to    newspapers. He points to the selection of its entrants from a small, highly educated pool of people adding “Whatever their professed beliefs, they tend to be inexorably drawn towards their class interests”.

He ends “We need to interrogate every item of the news agenda and the way in which it is framed” and we enlist his support for Media Lens, which is doing exactly that”. 

 

 

 

 

bb

 

 

 nn

Waiting in the wings: servants of the public or the corporate world?

Taking back control – for the wealthy?

“It seems extraordinary that a man with such a past could have been brought back into government, let alone given such a crucial and sensitive role”.

The new international trade secretary, Liam Fox explained his enthusiasm for leaving Europe: “We’ll be able to make our own laws unhindered by anyone else, and our democratic parliament will not be overruled by a European Court.”

Liam Fox: “a corporate sleeper cell implanted in government five years ago”?

liam foxGeorge Monbiot reminds us that in 2011 Fox resigned his post as defence secretary in disgrace, after his extracurricular interests were exposed. He had set up an organisation called Atlantic Bridge which formed a partnership with a corporate lobbying group called the American Legislative Exchange Council, funded by tobacco, pharmaceutical and oil companies. It was struck off by the Charity Commission after allying with people and organisations to lobby for privatisation of public services privatised and releasing corporations from regulation.

He allowed a lobbyist to attend his official meetings, without government clearance, making misleading statements about these meetings, which were later disproved.

Fox is said to promote TTIP which would “significantly undercut the last vestiges of sovereign power, spuriously revered by Fox and his allies, by insisting that the government open up the NHS and other public institutions to American companies, who could even sue the UK in international courts if policies affect their profits”.

Owen Smith: Labour’s corporate leadership candidate

owen smith smallAs noted in an earlier post, Owen Smith, who became Labour MP for the safe seat of Pontypridd in 2010, is on record as being pro-choice aka privatisation in the health sector.

Having worked at the heart of America’s corporate world, he is acceptable to right-wing Labour and Conservatives.

As head of government affairs for Pfizer, which involved lobbying and public relations for the US drug company:

  • He chose to work with Pfizer, which reached a $2.3 billion settlement with the US government in 2009 for fraudulent marketing and kickbacks paid to doctors who prescribed Lyrica and other Pfizer products and $400 million to settle a shareholder lawsuit over this case.
  • He endorsed a Pfizer-backed report offering patients a choice between NHS services and private-sector healthcare providers.
  • He helped the drugs company to strike an exclusive distribution agreement with UniChem, the wholesaling arm of Alliance-Boots; the OFT’s chief executive warned that such agreements “could cost the NHS hundreds of millions of pounds while reducing standards of service”.

Mr Smith then decided to move on to work as head of corporate affairs at the biotech company Amgen until 2015, a company recovering ground after its anti-anemia blockbusters, Aranesp and Epogen, had been hampered by losses due to concerns about side effects, regulatory issues and insurance trouble

There is a real danger – as Monbiot points out – that people with such histories are only concerned with promoting the millionaires’ agenda, by urging that the social contract which makes this country more or less habitable be ripped apart.

99%-3

 

There is an honest and public-spirited alternative – “Remind you of anyone?”.

 

“If we are to live in Remainia, we should insist on sweeping change”

A Moseley reader sent a link to the Guardian article by George Monbiot today and as usual the original article, posted on his website, has a subtle difference of tone.

Monbiot points out that the Leave campaigners have scarcely mentioned the European Union’s great bonfire of banknotes – not expenditure on quangos or relocating and running the institution but on farm subsidies at €55 billion a year.

Why? The leading Brexiters . . . denounce the transfer of public money from the rich to the poor but are intensely relaxed about the transfer of public money from the poor to the rich

Continuing “The leaders of the Remain campaign are no better”, Mr Monbiot points out that the payments would more accurately be described as land subsidies, as they are paid by the hectare. The poorest farmers who own or lease less than five hectares are excluded: “The more land you own or lease, the more public money you are given, so the richest people in Europe clean up. Oh, not just in Europe. Russian oligarchs, Saudi princes and Wall Street bankers have bought up tracts of European farmland, thus qualifying for the vast sums we shovel into their pockets”

These payments are not related to food production and surprisingly, though they are supposed to act as an incentive for environmental conservation, Monbiot comments that, in Westminster’s version of the European rules, ponds, wide hedges, reed beds, regenerating woodland, thriving salt marsh and trees sufficient to form a canopy are listed as “ineligible features . . . which need to be destroyed if farmers are to claim subsidies for the land on which they grow”. He describes the Common Agricultural Policy as “a €55bn incentive to destroy wildlife habitats and cause floods downstream”, noting that across Romania, farmers are beginning to realise that they can make money simply by mass felling of trees and destruction of wildlife, not for any productive purpose, but just to meet the European rules.

Monbiot ends, “I will vote In on Thursday, as I don’t want to surrender this country to the unmolested control of people prepared to rip up every variety of public spending and public protection except those that serve their own class . . .

 

 

 

Can corporate-ruled America really be described as independent – and truly successful?

As American Independence Day was celebrated on Saturday many will wryly reflect that the country freed itself from one master only to embrace a far more formidable one – the multinational corporate sector, aka “a grubby cabal of privateers”, Monbiot.

Corporate rule works to the advantage only of their hierarchy and shareholders, at the expense of those on lower incomes; successive British governments have also embraced these corporate bedfellows – regardless of the social and environmental consequences.

The Center for Responsive Politics records some of the interactions between Congress and federal agencies (1998-2015) here:

lobbies usa 1998 2015

Corporate dominance skews decision-making in favour of profit maximisation, rather than the satisfaction of basic needs – leading to a high incidence of mental and physical ill-health

The US Council on Foreign Relations describes the findings of the US National Research Council (NRC) and the Institute of Medicine as “a catalog of horrors”.

Two years ago, the conclusion of a major report released by the NRC and the Institute of Medicine revealed the extent of the US’s “health disadvantage”. The report recorded:

  • higher rates of disease and injury from birth to age 75 for men and women, rich and poor across all races and ethnicities,
  • the rate of teen pregnancy, traffic fatalities and heart disease,
  • and the rate of premature births in the US – the highest among the comparison countries and more closely resembling those of sub-Saharan Africa.

Eight people died and – according to local media – forty-one were wounded after an Independence Day shooting in Chicago on July 4th.

Gun2-Violence-Graphic_054144235308

Why are rates of suicide and homicide so high in the United States? PCU contends that it is due to organising society in the corporate interest – the consequence of a consumption-promoting “dream world of materialism and debt and atomisation”- Monbiot.

To all this, add environmental pollution.

A few examples:

miami coastline

In Miami, corporate builders support politicians that deny climate change and, in low-lying south Florida, building goes on.

children drone killed

And above all, the total loss of moral perspective shown by drone-delivered execution without trial – the frequent killing of civilians in other countries.

Arms industries, which spend huge sums to exert influence in the American states where they are located, are the only beneficiaries of the military aggression blackening the country’s reputation.

George Monbiot says “To seek enlightenment, intellectual or spiritual; to do good; to love and be loved; to create and to teach: these are the highest purposes of humankind”. But the corporate world’s pointless and destructive jobs consume millions of the lives of the brightest students – as Monbiot says: “amputating life close to its base”.

How Corrupt is Britain?

People laughed when MP Neil Hamilton was found to have accepted money in a brown envelope – this is not the British way. But the bestowal of directorships and employment for family and friends is acceptable – ‘good form’ – lucrative and legal.

George Monbiot points out that many poor nations are plagued by the kind of corruption that involves paying bribes in that way, but adds that the British system already belongs to the elite.

cameron corruption

He notes that Transparency International’s corruption index ranks Britain 14th – why not lower? His explanation: “the definitions of corruption on which the index draws are narrow and selective. Common practices in the rich nations that could reasonably be labelled corrupt are excluded; common practices in the poor nations are emphasised”.

A former minister ran HSBC while it engaged in systematic tax evasion, money laundering for drugs gangs and the provision of services to Saudi and Bangladeshi banks linked to the financing of terrorists. Instead of prosecuting the bank, the head of the UK’s tax office went to work for it when he retired.

The Private Finance Initiative has been used by our governments to deceive us about the extent of their borrowing while channelling public money into the hands of corporations. Shrouded in secrecy, stuffed with hidden sweeteners, it has landed hospitals and schools with unpayable debts, while hiding public services from public scrutiny.

Monbiot reminds us that state police forces are alleged to have protected prolific paedophiles, including Jimmy Savile, and – it is now reported – a ring of senior politicians. The BBC has sacked many of those who sought to expose him while promoting people who tried to perpetuate the cover-up. He cites other forms of corruption:

  • our unreformed political funding system which permits the very rich to buy political parties;
  • the phone-hacking scandal and the payment of police by newspapers;
  • the underselling of Royal Mail;
  • the revolving door allowing corporate executives to draft the laws affecting their businesses;
  • the robbing of the welfare and prison services by private contractors;
  • price-fixing by energy companies;
  • daylight robbery by pharmaceutical firms and dozens more such cases.

Monbiot asks, “Is none of this corruption? Or is it too sophisticated to qualify?”

The power of global finance and the immense wealth of the global elite are founded on corruption, and the beneficiaries have an interest in framing the question to excuse themselves.

how corrupt britianA ground-changing book called How Corrupt is Britain?, edited by David Whyte, was recently published. It argues that narrow conceptions of corruption are part of a long tradition of portraying the problem as something confined to weak nations, which must be rescued by “reforms” imposed by colonial powers and, more recently, bodies such as the World Bank and the IMF. These “reforms” mean austerity, privatisation, outsourcing and deregulation and tend to suck money out of the hands of the poor and into the hands of national and global oligarchs.

Monbiot believes that How Corrupt is Britain? should be read by anyone who believes this country merits its position on the Transparency International’s corruption index.

The loyalists of power

 Monbiot article ends:

Those entrusted to challenge power are the loyalists of power.

They rage against the social media and people like Russell Brand, without seeing that the popularity of alternatives is a response to their own failures:

  • their failure to expose the claims of the haut monde,
  • their failure to enlist a diversity of opinion,
  • their failure to permit the audience to see that another world is possible.

If even the public sector broadcasters parrot the talking points of the elite, what hope is there for informed democratic choice?

Will vested interests give way south of the border?

George Monbiot 3George Monbiot reports that the Scottish government is to consider breaking up large land holdings when they impede the prospects of local people. It will provide further help to communities to buy the land that surrounds them.

The Spanish system is described as being totally transparent, but Monbiot records that – in England – it took Land magazine several weeks of fighting official obstruction and cost almost £1,000 to find out who owned the land around its office. The old land registers had been closed and removed from public view.

Monbiot wryly comments that it is a different matter when landowners are applying for subsidies from the rural payments agency, which possesses a full, though unobtainable, register of their agricultural holdings.

We are asked to compare the Scottish government’s promise of “a fairer, wider and more equitable distribution of land” with the Westminster government’s vision of “greater competitiveness” – which leads to an increase in the size of land holdings.

Scotland is also to open up the question of property taxes, which might lead to the fair and comprehensive land value taxation system.

greenfield site 4

 

Flood-prone green field site now:

acorns aq rd

Monbiot leads us to ask:

  • Will the Scottish government address the ‘speculative chaos’ that mangles the countryside (above) while failing to build the houses people need?
  • Will it challenge a system in which terrible homes (above) are built at great expense?
  • Will it take land into public ownership to ensure that new developments are built by and for those who will live there rather than for the benefit of volume housebuilders?

And ends, “For centuries, Britain has been a welfare state for patrimonial capital. It’s time we broke it open, and broke the culture of deference that keeps us in our place. Let’s bring the Highland spring south, and start discussing some dangerous subjects”.

The fully referenced article can be found at monbiot.com

Why are increasing numbers of people using alcohol and legal/illegal drugs to excess? Monbiot indicts the economic system

nhs alcohol admissionsAlcohol Concern reports that the NHS is under strain as almost 10 million admissions in England last year were related to alcohol.

Treatment costs the taxpayer £2.8billion, and they are urging the government to tackle the ‘public health crisis’. (Picture: Metro)

Scroll down to see a chart showing the rise in drug-related hospital admissions, 2002-2012.

Yesterday George Monbiot, in the Guardian, recorded that dementia, high blood pressure, alcoholism and accidents, depression, paranoia, anxiety and suicide, become more prevalent as social interaction has reduced.

nhs drug admissions

He notes some socio-economic changes which have led to increasing isolation of the individual:

  • factories have closed,
  • people travel by car instead of buses,
  • they use YouTube rather than going out to the cinema,
  • people turning to their televisions for company.

The content of current TV programmes breeds deep dissatisfaction:

“You have only to think of the wall-to-wall auctions on daytime TV, Dragon’s Den, the Apprentice and the myriad forms of career-making competition the medium celebrates, the generalised obsession with fame and wealth, the pervasive sense, in watching it, that life is somewhere other than where you are, to see why this might be”.

Monbiot briefly critiques the current economic system which has led to rising inequality:

“Figures published this week in the Times show that while the income of company directors has risen by more than a fifth, wages for the workforce as a whole have fallen in real terms over the past year. The bosses now earn – sorry, I mean take – 120 times more than the average full-time worker. . .The top 1% now own 48% of global wealth, according to a Credit Suisse report, but even they aren’t happy. A survey by Boston College of people with an average net worth of $78m found that they too are assailed by anxiety, dissatisfaction and loneliness”.

Apart from one reference, he did not mention the effect of long-term unemployment which arguably has been created as a consequence of the economic system progressively gaining ground since the 50s.

We are now entering a post-social condition created by economic policies which have led to a broken society. Monbiot counts the cost:

  • the natural world has been ripped apart,
  • conditions of life have been degraded,
  • freedoms have been surrendered and
  • increasing numbers of people have become engrossed by electronically purveyed “compulsive, atomising, joyless hedonism”.

He ends: “Having consumed all else, we start to prey upon ourselves”.

 

Corporate Benefits Street – featuring Britain’s state-endorsed oligarchy

Cameron's real changeGeorge Monbiot has analysed the rhetoric of the chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne, who claimed that business is under political attack on a scale it has not faced since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Speaking at the Institute of Directors, he was introduced with the claim that “we are in a generational struggle to defend the principles of the free market against people who want to undermine it or strip it away”.

No, Digby: only concerned electors, Greens and Plaid Cymru are calling for greater restraints on corporate power

Monbiot adds that a few days before, while introducing Osborne at the Conservative party conference, Digby Jones, former head of the CBI, warned that companies are at risk of being killed by “regulation from ‘big government’” and of drowning “in the mire of anti-business mood music encouraged by vote-seekers”. Monbiot asks:

“Where is that government and who are these vote-seekers? They are a figment of his imagination” adding that all Labour can say is “us too”.

Legal strait-jackets

ttip cartoonAfter warning against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, “steered by business lobbyists” and noting the practice of writing in very costly penalty clauses into outsourcing contracts with corporates, he cites the example of one being negotiated with the probation service: “if a future government seeks to cancel these contracts (Labour has said it will) it would have to pay the companies the money they would otherwise have made over the next 10 years. Yes, 10 years. The penalty would amount to between £300m and £400m”.

Corporates enjoy windfalls everywhere as companies are assisted to capture essential public services – water, energy, trains

david cameron pmqMonbiot continues: “Think of the massive state subsidies quietly being channelled to the private train companies. When Cameron told the Conservative party conference “there’s no reward without effort; no wealth without work; no success without sacrifice”, he was talking cobblers.

“Thanks to his policies, shareholders and corporate executives become stupendously rich by sitting in the current with their mouths open”.

In effect the public is a sitting duck – saddled with heavy charges set out in detail at great length by James Meek – that they are forced to pay.

Monbiot summarises: “Through a lobbying industry and a political funding system, successive governments have failed to reform, corporations select and buy and bully the political class to prevent effective challenge to their hegemony. Any politician brave enough to stand up to them is relentlessly hounded by the corporate media. Corporations are the enemy within”.

In the Guardian on Monday Aditya Chakrabortty had written about a very congenial silence – for the CBI and business lobby groups – at the very centre of our democracy.

Soundbites:

“The bill for corporate welfare is huge – and largely hidden. We know a lot about the people who claim social welfare: we know how much each benefit costs the public, but corporate welfare? The government has itself acknowledged: “There is no definitive source of data about spending on subsidies to businesses in the UK.

kevin farnsworth“Farnsworth has achieved something extraordinary: he has yanked into the open an £85bn subsidy that big business and the government would rather you didn’t know about”.

Kevin Farnsworth, a senior lecturer in social policy at the University of York, has produced a comprehensive audit of the British corporate welfare state. He has added up the subsidies and grants paid directly to businesses in the financial year 2011-12 which come to over £14bn – almost three times the £5bn paid out that year in income-based jobseeker’s allowance. Add to that the corporate tax benefits:

  • the value of the cheap credit made available to banks and other business,
  • the insurance schemes run by the government to protect exporters,
  • the marketing for British business laid on by Vince Cable’s ministry,
  • the public procurement from the private sector …

Farnsworth calculates that direct corporate welfare costs British taxpayers just short of £85bn – a conservative estimate.

fish organise

Will the little fish organise? Chakrabortty thinks that Farnsworth’s research should trigger a public debate about the size and uses of the corporate welfare state, adding, “Personally, I’ll believe we’re getting somewhere when Channel 4 puts on Corporate-Benefits Street – with White Dee replaced by Amazon founder and inveterate tax-dodger Jeff Bezos”.

Sources – read in full:

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/07/bullying-corporations-enemy-within-business-politicians
http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/06/benefits-corporate-welfare-research-public-money-businesses
http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/aug/22/sale-of-century-privatisation-scam
.