Dolce and Gabbana – tax evaders and sweat shop entrepeneurs – not that you’d know

Dolce and Gabbana - a sick, amoral  pair of self obsessed posers
Dolce and Gabbana - a pair of self obsessed amoral posers

A Milan prosecutor has requested that Dolce and Gabbana be put on trial for alleged tax evasion amounting to one billion Euros. What they have basically done is funnelled royalties on their brands through a sister company in Luxembourg, paying a much lower tax rate of tax in that country and avoiding paying the higher rate of tax in Italy.

Despite this being the ‘tax evasion case of the century’ This article from the guardian points out the Media in Italy have barely mentioned the case, so those who rely on the mainstream media in Italy for their information would be blissfully unaware of D and G’s aversion to paying their fair share. The article speculates that this is because D and G spend considerable amounts advertising in the mainstream media and because they are very well networked in Italian high society.

This is a good example of how those with money and social networks can use them to distort media reporting to keep information that is harmful to them outside of the mainstream media.

Something else Dolce and Gabbana probably wouldn’t want you know – you know it’s coming – yes – some of their stuff is made in sweat shop conditions - despite the fact that their clothes sell for ludicrous amounts and the tax evasion….

One subcrontractor comments – “They send me the materials and my team stitch, glue and finish the bags. I pay my 100 workers £2 an hour, but they are happy. They sleep in a dormitory above the workshop and I feed them. D&G sell the bags for up to £1,000 a time.”

However, while D and G take steps to hide the true extent of their class exploitation, they seem to be much happier expressing their contempt for women – as their use of  anorexic models suggests (not that it matters because fashion doesn’t encourage anorexia according to DG) as does that notorious rape fantasy add from 2007.

Then again, is it realistic to expect people working in the fashion industry to have a social conscience? They make their money out of producing socially useless products that encourage self -obsession after all.

The Hague – where leaders of poor countries face trial for war crimes

A couple of items from ‘The Week’ highlighting two recent court cases demonstrate how power can distort international criminal justice –

Jean-Pierre Bemba
Jean-Pierre Bemba - ex vice president of the DRC and on trial for war crimes

In the first case, Jean-Pierre Bemba, the former vice-president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, has gone on trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court in the Hague. He is the most high profile figure to be tried by this court since it was established in 2002. The charges relate to atrocities, including mass rapes, by Bemba’s personal militia, in the neighbouring Central African Republic in 2002-03.

Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, Israel, two Israeli soldiers, convicted at a military trial of using a nine-year old Palestinian as a human shield have avoided jail. The soldiers had forced the child at gunpoint to search bags for booby traps in a basement shelter towards the end of the Israelis’ 22 day assault on Gaza in January 2009. The men faced a maximium prison sentence of 3 years for ‘inappropriate conduct’ but were let off with suspended sentences and demoted.



In both cases we have countries using military force against another

Shimon Peres - president of Israel - probably won't be going to The Hague!
Shimon Peres - president of Israel - probably won't be going to The Hague!

country without UN sanction, both engaged in illegal wars/ occupations -but it is only the African president that is held to account by the Hague, while in the case of Israel there is no International trial of the president – the soldiers are tried in Israel itself and essentially let off.

This is clearly a very good example of how the amount of power a country has on the international stage, and maybe how close that country is to the US, influences the likelihood of the leader of that country being tried by the International Court of Justice – so I guess one could argue that the ICC is a place where leaders of poor countries get tried for war crimes, while the leaders of rich countries are allowed to pursue illegal wars with impunity.

In fairness, the ICC might catch up with Israel, and maybe even Britain and America (Iraq) in the next ten years, but I’d put money on the fact that we won’t be seeing Shimon Peres, George Bush, or Tony Bliare in the dock anytime soon!

The continued relevance of Marxist Theory part 3

Marxist Theory is still relevant because…. There is some evidence that those with economic power still have disproportionate influence over the superstructure.

I should just point out that the point of this post is to provide soundbites that you can use in an exam (or an arguement with a Tory supporter of the neo-liberal state apparatus) rather than a comprehensive or balanced account of evidence for or against (the variety of) Marxist theory.

Evidence of Elite control over the government

By far the best example of state putting the interests of Capital before the interests of the majority of people is how the government has responded to the present ‘economic crisis’. 

Simply put, the state is making the poor pay for the economic problems caused by the Transnational Capitalist Class. The average guy on the street is getting poorer while the rich are still getting richer! Consider also the recent case of Ireland, where the minimum wage is being cut by one euro, VAT is being increase, and public sector jobs axed, while Corporation Tax remains at an incredibly low 12.5%  

Getting back to the cuts in Britain, this is no surprise if you actually look at the characteristics of those who make up the cabinet and the wider Tory Party; you actually find that many of them are themselves extremely wealthy. The prime minister, deputy prime minister and Chancellor are all millionaires – They are the Transnational Capitalist Class – and they are hardly likely to hurt themselves.

Evidence of Elite control over the Criminal Justice System

Another example of the elite class having control over the superstructure lies in the differential treatment of white collar crime and street crime. Even though White Collar Crime costs more to the economy than street crime, White Collar Criminals are still less likely to get punished. According to Tombs and Whyte, this is partly because the government invests fewer resources into investigating fraud and health and safety crimes (the types of crime Corporations are most likely to be guilty of) than it does into working class street crime.

Evidence of Elite Control over the mainstream Media

Greg Philo argues that it is simply crazy it is that the agenda in the media is about ‘what services should the government cut’ rather than ’should we tax the wealthy or make cuts.[1] Philo points[2] out that there are other solutions to the current economic crisis – there is enough property wealth in the country – we could just take it off them, but the government is making the average man on the street pay instead. In his film, 

Evidence of Elite Control of the Education system

Evidence for elite control of the education system lies in the fact that if you are wealthy, you can buy your children a private education, which gives them a much greater chance of getting into a top university and high getting a highly paid, prestigious job.  The statistics make for extremely uncomfortable reading… Intelligent children from the 20% of richest homes in England are seven times more likely to attend a high-ranking university than intelligent children from the poorest 40%’.Looked at another way, of 80,000 15-year-olds who’d been on free school meals in 2002, only 45 had made it to Oxbridge- compared to the high-end private Westminster school which averages 82 successful applicants every year.[3]

People from upper middle class, public school backgrounds dominate every economic sector except those – such as sport and hard science – in which only raw ability counts. Through networking, confidence, unpaid internships, most importantly through our attendance at the top universities, we run the media, politics, the civil service, the arts, the City, law, medicine, big business, the armed forces, even, in many cases, the protest movements challenging these powers. The Milburn report, published last year, shows that 45% of top civil servants, 53% of top journalists, 32% of MPs, 70% of finance directors and 75% of judges come from the 7% of the population who went to private schools.’[4]






The continued relevance of marxist theory part 2

One reason you could argue that Marxism is still relevant is because….

Exploitation still lies at the heart of the Capitalist system

There is a weighty body of evidence suggesting that the institutional backbone of global capitalism – Transnational Corporations exploit people and planet in the pursuit of profit. The most accessible resource providing an insight into this is the film, The Corporation which argues that if the modern Corporation were a person, it would be a psychopath. The film breaks down the kind of harms corporations do in the pursuit of profit:

1. Exploitation of people in sweat shops

2. Doing Environmental harm in the pursuit of profit

3. Profiting from the poor through the privatization of things such as water –

4. Profiting from selling goods that are harmful to people and the environment –

5. Profiting from war and fear

6. Working with oppressive regimes

7. Manipulating children to buy products they don’t need –

Please see my previous blog posts on this matter –

The case of Union Carbide – the worst industrial accident in history

The incredible immorality of Corporate Greed

Criticisms of TNCs 2 – Harms to the environment

I Nightmares, Killer Coke and Sweat shops

 Also see… The Continued Relevance of Marxist Theory Part 3

The Transnational Capitalist Class

Thumbs up for the Transnational Capitalist Class?
Thumbs up for the Transnational Capitalist Class?

This is my best effort so far at making some fairly complex ideas understanable to a typical 17 year old Sociology student – read it and good luck!

Held and Mcgrew (2007) suggest that Global Corporations have become the driving force behind ‘economic globalisation’ and wield considerable power in determining where in the world production takes place[1]. Today, 50 of the 100 largest economies in the world are run by TNCs rather than Nation States and Transnational Corporations account 80% of world industrial output, and approximately 40% of world merchandise trade.

Leslie Sklaire argues that the leaders of transnational corporations and their powerful political allies (4) in the world’s richest countries together form a ‘Transnational Capitalist Class’.

This class wields disproportionate power within two global economic organisations – The World Trade Organisation (WTO) and The International Monetary Fund (IMF)  which were initially established after World War Two to facilitate redevelopment through co-ordinating the expanding global economy. Through these organisations, leading politicians of countries and international business leaders meet at least once a year to agree on economic policies in order to improve trade relations – the WTO establishes ‘rules of trade’ between nations and the IMF regulates the global supply of money and, when necessary, lends money to nation states.

Left wing critics argue that these institutions have ended up working in the interests of global elites and global corporations. One such critic is Joseph Stiglitz[2] who argues that since the 1970s these institutions have forced dozens of developing countries to adopt neo-liberalism. Neo- liberalism is an economic and political ideology that believes state control over the economy is undesirable and seeks to transfer control of the economy from the state to the private sector. Neo-Liberalism involves three main policies –

  • Deregulation – Nation States placing less restraint on private industry. In practise this means fewer laws that restrict companies making a profit – making it easier for companies to fire workers, pay them less, and allowing them to pollute.
  • Privatisation – where possible public services such as transport and education should be handed over to private interests for them to run for a profit.
  • Cut backs in public spending – taxes should be low and so investment in public services would be cut back.

While the transnational captialist class claim that neo-liberal polices are necessary to bring about economic growth, critics point out that that economic growth has in fact been slower in some neo-liberal countries compared to more social democratic countries (where the state plays a more active role in protecting social welfare). This is because neo-liberal policies have allowed economically powerful actors such as Transnational Corporations to do things such as open sweat shops, pollute local areas, and take profits away without giving very much back.

There is a long list of countries that have adopted elements of neo-liberalism (often encouraged or coerced by the above institutions, lead by the USA[3]) over the last four decades – starting with Chile and a whole host of other Latin American countries in 1970s, Britain in the early 1980s, many of the ex-communist Eastern bloc countries in the early 1990s, through to Iraq today. While all of these countries have seen economic growth, they have also all witnessed increased inequality, and related social problems such as worsening labour rights and social services, and quite often neo-liberal policies have been pushed through by oppressive regimes.

So to summarise, a class based analysis of society is still relevant because globally we have a situation where the Transnational Capitalist Class, operating through Transnational Corporations and the global financial institutions of the World Bank, World Trade Organisation and International Monetary Fund encourage or coerce developing countries into accepting neo-liberal economic policies that are primarily designed to benefit Corporations and broader Transnational Capitalist Class; it is the wider general public, you and I, who bear the costs of these neo-liberal policies – in terms of worsening social services and inreasing inequalities.


[1] Held D and Mcgrew, A (2007) – Globalisation/ Anti Globalisation: beyond the great divide – Polity.

[2] See Stiglitz – Globalisation and its Discontents

[3] One way in which the IMF can encourage countries to liberalise is by only providing development loans if the country deregulates the economy – this happened in one city in Bolivia in the early 1990s when it was required to privatise its water supply to get a development loan – this mean a French company took over the running of the public water supply and started charging people half of their disposable income for a service that was previously free –  This is detailed in this five minute clip of The Corporation – 



(4) Sklaire actually argues the TCC can be broken down into four main factions.

  • Owners and controllers of Transnational Corporations and their local affiliates;
  • Globalizing bureaucrats and politicians;
  • Globalizing professionals;
  • Consumerist elites (merchants and media)

Yet more evidence of business interests being put first

An extremely worrying post from George Monbiot that should make you very angry –

‘You’ve been told that nothing is sacred; that no state spending is safe from being cut or eroded through inflation. You’ve been misled. As the new public spending data released by the government show, a £267bn bill has been both ring-fenced and index-linked. This sum, spread over 50 years or so, guarantees the welfare not of state pensioners or children or the unemployed, but of a different class of customer. To make way, everything else must be cut, further and faster than it would otherwise have been.

This is the money the state now owes to private corporations: the banks, construction and service companies which built infrastructure under the private finance initiative. In September 1997 the Labour government gave companies a legal guarantee that their payments would never be cut. Whenever there was a conflict between the needs of patients or pupils and PFI payments, it would thenceforth be resolved in favour of the consortia.

The NHS now owes private companies £50bn for infrastructure that cost only £11bn to build.

Secrecy surrounded the whole scheme. To this day, PFI contracts remain commercially confidential. You can’t read them; MPs can’t read them. We don’t know what we are being stung for or whether the costs are justified

Obviously this supports the idea that interests of the business class – their profits – come before the well being of the public.

Eight ways in which Marxist theory is still relevant to an understanding of contemporary society

  1. A class based analysis of global society is still relevant if you look at things globally.
  2. Exploitation still lies at the heart of the Capitalist system if you look at the practices of many Transnational Corporations.
  3. If you look at the recent bank bail outs it appears that those with economic power still have disproportionate influence over the superstructure.
  4. If you look at how individualised we have become it appears that many people are still under ideological control – but we don’t realise it.
  5. Work is still Alienating for many people.
  6. Economic crises are still inherent to the capitalist system and that in recent years these crises have become more severe and more frequent.
  7. Capitalist exploitation is so bad in some parts of the world that there is vehement resistance to it.
  8. In Britain there are tens of thousands of people who call themselves Communists and who sympathise with Marxism and the wider anti-capitalist movement. Left Wing criticisms and the anti-capitalist movement is still very much alive today.

In the next four blogs, I will outline how each of these ideas is relevant in more detail. This is designed to coincide with the teaching of Marxism in the A2 Theory and Methods syllabus and should be of use when answering an exam question such as ‘Assess the relevance of Marxist Theory to an understanding of contemporary society’.

Related Links

The Continued Relevance of Marxist Theory Part 2

Sociopops – The Arctic Monkeys – guest starring Gordon Brown

Gordon Brown - likes the Arctic Monkeys - or was it Cold Play?
Gordon Brown - likes the Arctic Monkeys - or was it Cold Play?

Back in 2006, I thought it laughable that Gordon Brown expressed a liking for the Arctic Monkeys. Having just got around to listening to 2/3rds of an album – which seams to consist mainly of songs about socialising with precious little insight of any depth – I’m left wondering… 

The Arctic Monkeys have obviously got, or at least had, signficiant subcultural capital, which is often associated with being politcally edgy, but AM  appear to just sing about their lives without even bothering to pretend to have anything of any real value to say – which makes them pure children of Postmodernity.

So getting back to Gordon, now that I know that the AM are nothing but self-obsessed,  shallow posterboys for postmodern vacuity, a question mark arises over Gordon Brown’s motive for coming out as a fan – clearly a man of his intelligence must have known that his declaring a liking for such a band would turn young people off them – so perhaps that whole affair was actually an attempt to turn people away from being shallow and apolitcal?

Or maybe I’m reading too much into this?

Of course, I’ve only listened to half an album, so I might be totally misjuding them, but like for like, I’ve scratched the surface, and see nothing underneath, so I won’t be digging any further anytime soon.

Having said all of that, I actually thought this was an interesting song about fake tans and night clubs – although not insightful in a challenging way.

David Cameron’s Happiness Agenda

Happiness_is_Mandatory_by_NekoAthenaIt Sounds crazy - especially coming from a Tory Government whose economic policies spell misery for millions of people. David Cameron wants to measure how happy we are.

Ronald Inglehart has been doing this since 1995 as part of the World Values Survey

Ronald Inglehart’s research attempts to measure global happiness. Inglehart constructed a measurement of happiness based on mainly two questions, that should reflect happiness and life satisfaction:

1) “Taking all things together, would you say you are very happy, rather happy, not very happy, not at all happy?”
2) “All things considered, how satisfied are you with your life as a whole these days?”

The problem for David Cameron is that on this ranking, we only come 74th in the World for happiness- which seams odd given that we are 6th in the world rankings for GPD (Gross Domestic Product – a measurement of the size of our economy). I’m not sure if that’s the largest discrepency between wealth and happiness in the world, but it’s got to put us up there.

Of course, as Polly Toynbe points out, all this is old News to certain sociologists such as Wilkonson and Picket who wrote the Spirit Level. According to their findings,  the reason we are so rich and yet so miserable is because Britain is so incredibly unequal. Every model they have looked at shows that the most unequal societies are the least happy. Even the rich in unequal countries are less happy than the best off in more equal countries.

Given that the Tories are currently instigating policies to increase inequalities, people are likely to be getting more miserable. So it would appear that Cameron’s challenge with his inequality survey is one of wording  the survey differently to that of the World Values Survey, so that it returns different results. Any ideas? How would you design/ administer a survey that makes people seam happier…. Please take this little white pill, wait for 30 minutes, and then we’ll begin…?

Share the World’s Resources

Share the World’s Resources is one of my favourite sites for Global Development issues – it is packed full of interesting audio-visual resources on Globalisation, Poverty and Inequality, the economic crisis and, most importantly, alternatives to global capitalism.

A particularly interesting, interactive feature is the ‘cost of war calculator’. I just learnt that for the cost of one aircraft carrier we could build 3.2 million clean water wells!