Posted by Gordon in November's Magazine
Why is everyone so quiet, is this the democracy you wanted? – Zapatista communiqué, Chiapas, 1994. Emerging from the Lacandon jungle asking questions and challenging the Mexican state, the Zapatista Army posed fundamental questions claiming not to ‘usurp power but to exercise it’. I was reminded of this challenge, which is still ongoing, by the recent Occupy Wall Street movement, which has been replicated in Madrid, Frankfurt, Santiago, London, and even here in douce old Edinburgh at St. Andrew’s Square. There are over 900 occupations worldwide and at the time of writing the reaction from the State has been to play a waiting game in the hope that the movement will run out of steam.
Occupy Edinburgh repeat the call for a regime change that replaces the G8/20 and its institutions such as the IMF, WTO and UN Security Council, with humanity. This is hugely ambitious and posits that 99% of humanity must wrest control from the 1% who wield and exercise power notionally in our name. This is the terrain that is literally being fought over in Greece as Greeks challenge the authority of the State imposing the cuts on Greece demanded by the usurers at the IMF.
The Occupy Movement has found an unlikely champion in Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England, who in a recent speech to Scottish businesses paraphrased Churchill remarking, “Never in the field of financial endeavour has so much money been owed by so few to so many. And, one might add, so far with little real reform.” One of the demands of the Occupy Movement has been for the introduction of a Tobin Tax or Robin Hood Tax on financial transactions globally. The previous UK Government tried to introduce this but Barack Obama, leader of the World’s biggest debtor country, blocked it under pressure from Corporations. This is reform not revolution but it has still been resisted.
Jeffrey Sachs recently wrote an open letter to George Osbourne in the New Statesman urging him to adopt it and to halt the race to the bottom in tax – a move mimicked by the SNP here – as well as closing down loopholes and tax havens. The response from the UK Government has been to talk about cutting taxes for the rich whilst asking the rest of us to accept cuts. MP Dennis Skinner disparagingly calls the Government Front Bench ‘Millionaires Row’ so this response is no surprise.
Once again Mervyn King supports the premise behind this demand in his speech, saying, “The structure and regulation of banking in the UK needs reform.” Why? Mr King told Scottish businesses why… “It is hard to see how the existence of institutions that are ‘too important to fail’ is consistent with their being in the private sector. Encouraging banks to take risks that result in large dividend and remuneration payouts when things go well, and losses for taxpayers when they don’t, distorts the allocation of resources and management of risk.” This has resulted in a situation where King marvels that, “The sheer scale of support to the banking sector is breathtaking. In the UK, in the form of direct or guaranteed loans and equity investment, it is not far short of a trillion (that is one thousand billion) pounds, close to two-thirds of the annual output of the entire economy.” Bankers are back collecting bonuses and we’re still footing the bill.
So what to do? In the case of the UK Government and the Government here in Scotland it is cuts, or that race to the bottom, or Scottish control of Corporation Tax to reduce it. There is an alternative though. The Robin Hood Tax applied to UK financial institutions is estimated to raise £20-30 billion a year. This could be supplemented annually by the £25 billion lost in tax avoidance, the £70 billion lost in tax evasion by large companies and wealthy individuals and the £26 billion uncollected tax from a deliberately decimated Revenue and Customs. Over £120 billion a year out there waiting to be collected, according to the Tax Inspectors’ trade union PCS.
Most of us pay tax through PAYE but wealthy individuals such as our Chancellor of the Exchequer can pay people to work on their behalf to avoid tax in a way that nurses, bus drivers, home helps, bin men, or even Army personnel cannot, and do not as they realise the value of public service for the common good. We continue to pick up the tab and are told patronisingly that ‘we are all in this together’. We are well behaved.
Occupy Edinburgh and its sister camps throughout the world challenge this received wisdom and enjoin us, in their own quiet way, to remember the words of Shelley – we are many and they are few. And again, surprisingly, King: “The price of financial crisis is being borne by people who absolutely did not cause it…I’m surprised that the degree of public anger has not been greater…”
The myriad camps scattered around the globe may not be here for the long term but the questions they raise are timeless…remember the Zapatistas emerging from the jungle with that shatteringly simple question?
“Why is everyone so quiet, is this the democracy you wanted?”
Pic Credit: bellacaledonia.org.uk