Voice From the Back

Taxing Your Incredulity
A study by HM Revenue and customs found that the extremely rich are using avoidance schemes to reduce their income tax rate to an average of 10 per cent – less than half the average level. The Chancellor personally studied the ‘anonymised’ copies of the tax returns submitted by some of the country’s wealthiest citizens which showed some people are able to avoid paying income tax entirely. “Mr Osborne told the Daily Telegraph: “I was shocked to see that some of the very wealthiest people in the country have organised their tax affairs, and to be fair it’s within the tax laws, so that they were regularly paying virtually no income tax. And I don’t think that’s right.” He said, “I’m talking about people right at the top. I’m talking about people with incomes of many millions of pounds a year” (Daily Telegraph, 10 April). For a Chancellor of the Exchequer to be “shocked” and state that he doesn’t “think that’s right” is indeed incredible. Millionaires protecting their property is the very basis of capitalism.

Land of the Free?
Politicians in the USA like to depict America as the epitome of freedom and democracy and sneer at the repressive measures of totalitarian states, but their boasts are ill-founded. “America which is known as the freest country in the world has incarcerated more of its citizens than the rest of the world combined. 7.1 million Americans are either in prison, on probation or under correctional supervision. The numbers continue to climb each year as more prisons are built nationwide” (CNN, 2 April).

Recession? What Recession?
We are supposed to be living in an economic depression but this does not affect large sections of the owning class. More than 200 real estate brokers and lawyers, filed into an Off Broadway theatre last month to discuss a real estate boom. “While the brokers sipped wine and nibbled cheese, a panel of lawyers and a banker reviewed some of the biggest sales made to Russians, including the $188 million spent on properties in Florida and New York by trusts linked to Dmitry Rybolovlev, who made billions from potash fertilizer; the $48 million that a composer, Igor Krutoy, paid for an apartment at the Plaza Hotel; and the $37 million spent by Andrei Vavilov, a former deputy finance minister, on a penthouse at the Time Warner Center. … Over the past four years Russians and other citizens of the former Soviet Union have signed contracts to buy more than $1 billion worth of residential real estate in the United States, according to estimates from lawyers and brokers” (New York Times, 3 April). As the number of billionaires in Russia and Ukraine has more than tripled since 2009, to 104, according to Forbes, it is far from a depression for them.

Poverty and Plenty

Much is made of India’s industrial and commercial progress, with daily reports in the media of the increasing wealth of its millionaires, but this being capitalism there is another side to the story. “In India 93 million people are estimated to be living in slums; fully half the population of the capital, New Delhi, lives in slums, while the figure could be as high as 60 per cent in glittering Mumbai” (Inter Press Service, 4 April). Amidst growing affluence we have a growth in poverty and slums – that is how capitalism works.

Squalor And Splendour
The awful poverty and downright squalor of the Chinese working class is amongst the worst in the world but the affluence of their owning class is equally obvious. “The Chinese economy is booming at a blistering pace. It is driven largely by the Fudai: the superrich who call the superpower home. Many are just in their forties. From building 30-storey towers in just 14 days, to amassing a luxury fleet of sports cars or a private jet – China’s million millionaires and 600 billionaires are helping to change the country’s landscape. And China’s mad rush to urbanisation is only helping these elites get richer and richer” (Al Jazeera, 10 April). That this country of billionaires and poverty can still claim to be communist is surely one of the world’s greatest travesties.

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