The Great Debate UK
from Nicholas Wapshott:
There is nothing more likely to spark anger than an unfair tax regime. The American Revolution was founded on it. So the discovery that some of the largest and most successful companies in the world -- among them Google, Apple, Amazon and Starbucks -- have legally minimized the tax they pay, sometimes to as low as zero, in many nations in which they earn the lion’s share of their revenue is causing considerable irritation.
The result was evident at the G8 meeting in Northern Ireland, where Britain’s conservative government, chairing the conference of the world’s richest nations, put making corporation tax fairer at the top of its agenda, after the civil war in Syria. David Cameron, who like most conservatives believes in low taxes, is in a bind.
In an attempt to reduce public borrowing he is imposing high personal taxation on the Brits -- lifting “value added” consumption tax to a record 20 percent -- but finds that many of the most profitable companies operating in Britain are dodging taxes altogether. He thinks it is unfair. And so do his voters. He is under intense pressure to deliver a solution or he can expect to be turfed out of Downing Street.
At Davos this year he signaled his intention of doing something about it. “Companies need to wake up and smell the coffee,” he said, “because the customers who buy from them have had enough.” “In a world where some companies navigate their way around legitimate tax systems -- and even low tax rates -- with an army of clever accountants,” he said, “some forms of avoidance have become so aggressive that I think it’s time to call for more responsibility and for governments to act accordingly.”
from Jack Shafer:
One measure of our culture's disdain for whistle-blowers like Edward Snowden can be culled from the pages of a thesaurus. Beyond "source" and "leaker," few neutral antonyms exist to describe people who divulge alleged wrongdoing by the government or other organizations to the press, while negative synonyms abound—spy, double-agent, rat, snitch, informer, fink, double-crosser, canary, stoolie, squealer, turncoat, betrayer, traitor and so on.
We bristle at the scent of whistle-blowers for atavistic reasons: They've violated the norms that bind the group together and must be scorned and punished, and their only allies are like-minded individuals who've deserted the pack—or joined opposing packs—and portions of the press, which occupies a floating niche somewhere between the individual and the group that allows it to thrive on such principled perfidy.
“Don’t cry for me, RBS” could certainly be the lament being sung by Stephen Hester, outgoing CEO of bailed out Royal Bank of Scotland, after the shock announcement that he will have left the bank by the end of this year. CEOs of banks come and go; however, the government stake in RBS makes this CEO particularly important.
There are two things that make Hester’s departure fascinating: firstly, the fact that the RBS board along with the Treasury have concentrated on how a new leader is needed to privatise the bank. Secondly, the fact that Hester doesn’t seem to want to go.
During an interview with BBC Radio 4 less than 24 hours after the announcement was made, Hester admitted that he wanted to take the bank through its privatisation process “for me that would have been the end of the journey.” However, that was not meant to be, and he said he “understood” that “new blood” at RBS was a good thing.
from Anatole Kaletsky:
It’s cynical, manipulative and hypocritical – and it looks like it is going to work. How often do you hear a sentence like this, to describe a government initiative or economic policy? Not often enough.
The media and a surprisingly high proportion of business leaders, financiers and economic analysts seem to believe that policies which are dishonest, intellectually inconsistent or obviously self-interested in their motivation are ipso facto doomed to fail or to damage the public interest. But this is manifestly untrue. The effectiveness of public policies and their ultimate desirability is in practice judged not by their motivations, but by their results.
from Nicholas Wapshott:
Whatever high crimes and misdemeanors the National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden may or may not have perpetrated, he has at least in one regard done us all a favor. He has reminded us that we are all victims of unwarranted and inexcusable invasions of privacy by companies who collect our data as they do business with us.
Some, like Google and Facebook, pose primarily as software companies when their main revenue source, and their main business, is to mine data and sell advertisers access to customers. We knew this already, of course, though it seems many of us would prefer to forget the true nature of the technology firms that have boomed in the last decade. Seduced by their dazzling baubles, we have bought in to Big Brother without truly understanding the true price we are paying and will continue to pay for access to their brave new world.
from Jack Shafer:
Edward Snowden's expansive disclosures to the Guardian and the Washington Post about various National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance programs have only two corollaries in contemporary history—the classified cache Bradley Manning allegedly released to WikiLeaks a few years ago and Daniel Ellsberg's dissemination of the voluminous Pentagon Papers to the New York Times and other newspapers in 1971.
Leakers like Snowden, Manning and Ellsberg don't merely risk being called narcissists, traitors or mental cases for having liberated state secrets for public scrutiny. They absolutely guarantee it. In the last two days, the New York Times's David Brooks, Politico's Roger Simon, the Washington Post's Richard Cohen and others have vilified Snowden for revealing the government's aggressive spying on its own citizens, calling him self-indulgent, a loser and a narcissist.
By Matt Scuffham, UK Banking Correspondent.
The government should hand most of its shares in Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group to the public, an influential political think tank says, in what would be the country’s biggest privatisation.
The proposal would enable 48 million taxpayers to apply for shares at no initial cost and with no risk attached, the think tank said. A ‘floor price’ would be set and taxpayers would make a profit on any rise in the shares above that level.
–Dirk Jan van den Berg is President of Delft University of Technology, and was formerly the Dutch Ambassador to China and the Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York. The opinions expressed are his own.–
Despite much media attention on disagreements, ranging from Taiwan to alleged cyber-attacks, as Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Barack Obama prepare for their first major summit meeting in California, there is a relatively new and growing basis for warmer ties: scientific and technological collaboration.
from The Great Debate:
As Chinese President Xi Jinping prepares for his landmark summit with President Barack Obama in California Friday and Saturday, the critical mission of improving China’s image in the world could well be uppermost in his mind.
from The Great Debate:
The tragedy at the Rana Plaza clothing factory was a sober reminder that Bangladeshi garment workers still lack basic rights and protections. My mother was a seamstress. She worked in the textile factories of northern New Jersey. I saw how hard and tiring her work was. But it was never lethal. And it shouldn’t be.