Make the bludgers pay their fair share

Few things in this world make me eyeroll as strongly as the quibblers who jump up whenever you point out the discrepancy between the amount of money lost to benefit fraud – which our government pursues like a greyhound hopped up on E – and the amount lost to tax evasion – which isn’t nearly such a big deal, unless you’re a tradie, in which case you get doomsday language like “HIDDEN ECONOMY” slapped on you.

“But it’s different!” the quibblers cry. “Tax evasion is legal!”

As though “legal” is the same as “ethical”.

As though this doesn’t just prove how strongly the system is rigged – as though the loopholes aren’t there for a reason. As though the grey areas just evolved naturally.

As though all those just-legal-enough mechanisms are coincidentally only accessible to the people who are already wealthy.

As though the way we talk about tax and welfare aren’t designed to make this all seem okay.

That’s why I got a bit cheeky in the title of this post. When you saw it, who did you think I was talking about? Who do we usually frame as “bludgers”, and who do we usually assume isn’t paying their “fair share”? When politicians talk about people “taking responsibility”, do they mean the people with money? Or the people without?

Here’s the radical idea. Tax isn’t a burden. It’s one of the contributions we all make (yes, including people on state benefits) towards maintaining our society. Towards having strong infrastructure and free healthcare and education and a social safety net for people who need it.

The right like to scream and moan about the wealthiest 15% paying 75% of taxes – but it’s rubbish. What they love to avoid mentioning is that 1% of people in this country own 16% of everything while 50% of people own 5% – and they’d die before acknowledging that the 50% are the ones doing the actual work, while the 1% drain off the profits like leeches.

When it comes to lamenting the poor little rich boy who has to pay tax, there’s plenty of numbers and statistics to justify the status quo. When you ask the government how many kids they are letting go hungry because there aren’t enough jobs for their parents, and the jobs that do exist are paid poverty wages – oh no, that’s too difficult to measure, they say, we can’t do anything about that.

The truth is this. The rich aren’t paying their fair share to keep our country running. And even if they stopped using their wealth and power to dodge the spirit of tax law, if not the letter, they still wouldn’t be paying their fair share, because the tax system has been set up to benefit them.

This is a conversation the left desperately need to stop running away from, especially if we keep letting the first question for any progressive policy be “but what will it cost?”

Let’s just stand up and say it. Yes. It will cost a hell of a lot to institute a universal basic income, or raise benefits to a survivable level, or rebuild our health system. But we won’t be paying for it – those dickheads over there, who have been bludging off other people’s hard work and living the high life through fancy accounting tricks will. Because for too long they’ve dodged paying their fair share and it’s time they took some responsibility.

Let’s stop the bludging. The filthy rich have spent decades stockpiling the wealth other people worked to create, exploiting our country’s social support systems to enrich themselves. It’s their turn to pay the price for a strong, healthy democratic society. They won’t be impoverished by having to sell off one of their yachts or settling for just two investment properties. And they’ll benefit, as they always have done, from being able to do business in a country of healthy, educated, happy, productive people.

It’s really that easy. We just have to change the conversation.

Bold politics: redefining a good business model

I’m slightly in love with this idea of Jeremy Corbyn’s: to stop companies paying dividends until they pay the people who work for them a living wage. He said in a speech to the Fabian Society on Saturday:

Only profitable employers will be paying dividends, if they depend on cheap labour for those profits then I think there is a question over whether that is a business model to which we should be turning a blind eye.

By “slightly in love” I mean I cackled for a good five minutes after reading it because it’s so beautiful, righteous, and utterly outraging to the anti-Corbyn folk who have so desperately tried to get him to back down from his principles. This is not a guy who’s worried about being called “hard left” or “socialist”.

jeremy corbyn gives you the eye

It’s a serious proposition, though. It challenges our ideas of how businesses should operate – ideas which we tend to take for granted.

We know what a “good business” is meant to look like. It must be profitable! And efficient! And innovative! And of course it must “value” its employees – by giving them their own nametags or buying them Christmas hampers or talking a lot about just how much you value them. Even the second-most-horrible employer would agree that having happy employees/staff/associates/~partners~ is important to the success of your business.

(The most horrible employer is the Talley family, who think workers should be grateful to be fired for wearing green t-shirts. There’s always an exception that proves the rule, etc.)

We often talk about profit as though it’s the single most important measurement of a company’s success – but profit doesn’t trump everything.

britney serious

We don’t say “you only need to implement basic food hygiene after you become profitable.” We don’t say “accuracy in advertising is only required once you’re making money.” We understand the need for common-sense minimum standards in business.

If a CEO stood up and said “Look, our business model just wouldn’t be profitable if we had to ensure there wasn’t fecal matter in the ground beef” we would say “Your business model is broken.”

If a Director of Corporate Social Responsibility stood up and said “Our business model isn’t sustainable if we have to stop pumping raw sewage into the harbour” we would say “Your business model is both literally and figuratively shit.”

We already accept the idea of a minimum mandated wage for people who work. So why not stand up and say, “if you can’t afford to pay the people who do your work enough to live on, your business model is broken”?

Of course there’ll be pushback. Of course there’ll be resistance. And the people opposing us will have larger media platforms and greater influence and more money to throw into advertising and astroturf.

But that’s nothing we haven’t overcome before. That’s pretty much the entire story of the labour movement and the entire reason we have Labour Parties across the world.

This is the kind of idea which ticks all the boxes. It just makes sense. It challenges the rich and powerful who get whacking great payrises while the people who do the work struggle.

It’s the right thing to do. And taking a stand when it’s the right thing to do is how you win progressive causes. Isn’t it?

Mhairi Black: I’m tired of being told that pain and misery are necessary for a stronger economy

My first speech of the week post was also a Mhairi Black one, so perhaps I should just have a “Badass Things Mhairi Black Said This Week” tag …

“I often find myself looking across that chamber at the Tory MPs and I think ‘are you so genuinely out of touch that you can’t see the damage you are doing’.

“Either way I am tired of being lectured by Tories as to why austerity is essential, why these welfare reforms – in fact they’re not reforms, they’re cuts – are essential. I’m tired of being told pensioners cost too much, I’m tired of our young people being told they’re not good enough, I’m tired of immigrants being scapegoated for the mistakes of bankers and politicians.

“I’m tired of being told that pain and misery are necessary for a stronger economy, for a long term economic plan.”

There could be a strategic opportunity here for UK Labour. The right, throughout Anglo countries, has dragged the political conversation in their direction, defining “common sense” or “the centre” more and more in their own terms. It leaves the big parties on the left chasing after them, crying “we’ll be fiscally responsible too!” or “we’re even better at delivering surpluses than they are!”

The big-party right (cough, National, cough) has often done it by having a more-extreme group on their flank (cough, ACT, cough). It makes them sound far more reasonable and measured when they say “well look, we’re not going to privatise all the schools/sell all the assets/eliminate all forms of taxation like those people want to, we’re finding the middle ground.” Even when the middle ground is a neoliberal wet dream.

With the SNP in a strong position and people like Mhairi Black speaking some damn fine truth to power, UK Labour has a readymade, strong left flank. Corbyn is being painted as an absurd extremist, with the kind of labels the right (and his own “centrist” colleagues) hope will distract voting people from the fact that most of the policies he supports are incredibly popular ones. The SNP, who are unafraid of saying radical things like “your welfare reforms are cuts, stop playing” and are frighteningly, well, Scottish, can be a fixed point to Corbyn’s left – a concrete bit of evidence he isn’t the resurrection of Lenin.

They can’t start in Scotland, of course. The worst thing Labour could do is run around undermining its natural allies by talking to their voters about how scary and extreme they are. They need to show the people who’ve been voting Tory for the last few elections that they can have stable, safe government and not sell off the NHS.

That’s how the left redefines the middle ground: by showing there isn’t just an alternative, there are multiple alternatives. Give people options and say, pick the one which matches your current comfort level. And move from there, leftwards.

Transcript via The Scotsman.

Older white men paid double young ethnic women

That’s not my headline. That’s Stuff’s business section’s headline.

Middle-aged white men might be sick of being cast as villains, but a report suggests they should check their privilege.

And that’s not my first sentence, that’s business reporter Richard Meadows’ first sentence.

I’m going to try to not just copy-paste the entire article – because it’s all good and it’s all quoteable – but seriously:

Young Middle Eastern and African women are at the bottom of the heap, with median pay of just $14.75 an hour, on par with the minimum wage.

At the other end of the spectrum, white men aged 45-64 command top dollar, earning a median hourly rate of $28.77.

Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Jackie Blue said it was only fair that wages should increase with time and experience.

These are the kinds of statements which normally get sneered at – when it’s Social Justice Warriors making them. There are cries of “ew, politics of envy!” and “that’s just because you all go off and have babies!” and “just upskill if you don’t want to flip burgers your whole life!!!”

Sorry, dudes: pay discrimination is a real, documented, mainstream idea.

The Human Rights Commission’s interactive Tracking Equality at Work tool is amazing, and I strongly encourage having a look – especially if you still want to pretend that we’re all living on an even playing field.

The only way to ignore these statistics and pretend they don’t matter is to openly admit that you really do believe that women, people of colour, and people with disabilities “just aren’t trying hard enough” and somehow “deserve” to be paid less, hired less, and promoted less.

Statement of the bloody obvious: of course different types of work and different levels of “skill” are always going to be paid differently in the economic system we currently have.

Other statement of the bloody obvious: but that cannot justify the widespread discrimination and disadvantage which is playing out in workers’ lives every day. It cannot justify paying women like Kristine Bartlett, with 23 years’ experience caring for elderly people in rest homes, $14.46 an hour.

If we took a serious look at the “value” produced by low-paid workers – the people feeding us, caring for us, keeping our workplaces and public spaces tidy and hygienic – we could not condone the miserable wages they are paid. We would not write off their jobs as “unskilled” or “women’s work”.

But the first step is admitting there’s a problem. And when it’s right there in black-and-white on a major news site – even listed as an “editor’s pick” on the front page – I think we’re ready, as a society, to take that step.

Campbell Live on poverty and school lunches

We said farewell to Campbell Live last week, and from tonight TV3 is delighting our screens with Road Cops in its place, presumably until their shiny new co-hosted totally-what-the-audience-wants current affairs show is ready to launch.

While Road Cops may involve some really gripping, in-depth reportage, I thought I’d head over to TV3’s website, where – for the time being, at least – you can still watch John and the team doing what they did best.

Here’s to you, Campbell Live, and here’s to your heartbreaking story about poverty and kids’ school lunchboxes.

Lunchbox differences in decile 1 and decile 10 schools

Childhood poverty increases the risk of poor health, poor educational achievement, unemployment, teenage pregnancy, criminality and so on.

Addressing it would not only enrich the lives of the children concerned, it would reduce the money we’re spending responding to those issues.

To illustrate the impact of child poverty, we’ve conducted a simple experiment.

Without any advance notice, we asked kids in a decile 10 school, and a decile one school, to show us what they’re having for lunch.

See the full video here.