Tag Archives: Sociology in the news

Agenda Setting round up

Some recent examples of agenda setting in the news – both taken from Private Eye –

Firstly, on December 15th, the BBC devoted 3 minutes of air time to promoting its remake of ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ – more important than providing more detailed analysis of other events that day?

Secondly – you may remember way back in 2008 – the Sun expressed a lot of moral outrage criticising Jonathan Ross and Russel Brand for being ‘loud mouth’ twitts when they they made a late night abusive phone call to Andrew Sachs. This week, however, they didn’t mention at all Frankie Boyle’s sick jokes about Jordan’s disabled son – perhaps because he doesn’t work for the BBC and perhaps because he writes for the Sun?

It won’t be Cadbury’s this Christmas

Because their corporate tax dodgers…

Kraft the company that took over Cadbury’s last year are moving some of their operations to Switzerland which will reduce their UK corporation tax bill from £200 million a year to £60 million (and we won’t mention the job losses here either). The daily mail are actually running a bouycott Kraft campaign.

But Kraft is just the tip of the cheesy- chocolate coated iceberg – this issue of corporate tax avoidance is costing the UK government billions in lost tax revenue every year. This fortnight’s Private Eye has an interesting article on this…

tax-dodgersVodaphone is the most notorious example – which recently came under pressure from protestors for tax avoidance – they had basically transferred a huge chunk of their profits into a subsidiary company registered in a tax haven abroad – Now under British Law, the Treasury currently has the flexibility to either tax such profits (at the current corporate tax rate of 28%), or not, and in this case the Treasury decided to let Vodaphone off. If the treasury had pursued the company, it would have netted £6 billion in tax revenues.  

Now obviously Vodaphone isn’t the only company or individual to try and avoid paying their taxes – David Davis points out that there are currently 190 ongoing tax dispute over the same tax law. There are now loads of companies using Vodaphone as a case study to try and get off paying their millions in taxes too.

Now if all this sounds a bit obscure – don’t worry – the Treasury’s ‘business forum on tax and competitiveness group’ – which comprises financial directors from leading companies such as Shell (I LISTED THEM BELOW THIS IS WORTH A LOOK)– has come to the rescue to clarify the issue – Tax law is changing – the UK government is to maintain the right to tax the offshore millions of international tax avoiders – but at a maximum of 8%, rather than the current corporate tax rate in the UK of just 28% (actually due to fall to 24%)

So future Vodaphones will have a choice – either run your revenues through a British registered company and pay 24% tax on profits – or run them through a tax haven company based abroad and pay just 8%.

Boots the Chemists are well ahead of the game on this – it’s as if they’re some kind of test case trying out the new law before it’s law (?!)– to illustrate the figures – ten years ago Boots paid roughly one third of its profits in UK tax – generating around £120- £150 million a year in tax revenue. Following their move to Switzerland in 2008 – tax revenue to the UK last year was £14 million – just 3% of profits.

A list of Members of the Treasury’s ‘business forum on tax and competitiveness group’ – the people who just convinced the government that it would good for Britain if they allow Corporations pay 8% Corporation tax rather than 28%

  • Andy Halford, Chief Financial Officer, Vodafone Group plc
  • Deirdre Mahlan, Chief Financial Officer designate, Diageo plc
  • George Culmer, Chief Financial Officer, RSA Insurance Group plc
  • Richard Lambert,  Director-General, The Confederation of British Industry
  • Julian Heslop, Chief Financial Officer, GlaxoSmithKline plc
  • Andrew Shilston, Finance Director, Rolls-Royce plc
  • Mark Elborne, President and CEO, UK, Ireland and Benelux, General Electric Company
  • Joe Greenwell, Chairman, Ford of Britain, Ford Motor Company
  • Andew Nelson, Finance Director, Amey plc
  • Mike Devereux,  Director, Oxford University Centre for Business Taxation
  • Simon Henry, Chief Financial Officer, Royal Dutch Shell plc

A few arguments against taxing the rich less (off the top of my head I may do a more systematic account later)

  • Firstly, and most importantly, it doesn’t guarantee long term, stable economic growth, as the case of Ireland demonstrates. What it enables Corporations to do  is to increase their short term profit margins.
  • Secondly, letting Corporation keep their profits would be more pallatable  if we knew those profits were distributed amongst the workers who actually generated those profits – but in reality they are not – much of it will go to the CEOs of the companies  who don’t actually earn their millions in profits through hard work – a lot of it is due to luck. (See Polly Toynbe – Unjust Rewards)
  • Thirdly, in the case of Philip Green (Top Shop) , Vodaphone and Boots – I imagine that a lot of their profit comes through overt exploitation of people in the developing world – letting them keep it is morally appalling. At least if the UK government taxes this some of this will get spent in development aid – and some poor people in Britain will benefit – although I am aware of the arguments against AID – it would be far better to have some kind of international tax regime in place to make sure profit gets redistributed much more fairly on a global scale.
  • Fourthly, Allowing CEOs to get richer through allowing their companies to avoid tax is highly unlikely to lead to social progress – I imagine a lot of that wealth will be used to buy up property – thus pushing up basic cost of living expensese for ordinary people – and on executive toys like yachts and jets – wasting scarce resources to flatter executive egos.

Tuition Fees – the public just aren’t that interested

Given that opinion polls suggest the public are against the university fees increases I got to wondering how much people actually really care about the issue! (Apologies btw – I posted this twice – the last version formatted oddly)

Obviously this isn’t an easy thing to research – but I thought a quick trawl through the Guardian online public commentary might provide some insite.  

This is obvioulsy non -representative – you could in fact call it a purposive sample – but this should tell us something  – my reasoning – Guardian readers are likely to make up the main base of wider public support against the raising of tuition fees –  the readership is older, left wing and middle class – so if these readers don’t seem interested in the protests, one can reasonably assume that there is no popular groundswell of meaninful, passionate opinion against the rising of tuition fees, even if the opinion polls tell us that 75% of the population are oppossed.

There are 36 million unique hits on the Guardian website every month – but if you look at the commentary on items sucha as this about the tuition fees and students protests – you find a few hundred comments, maybe a thousand,  which to my mind doesn’t represent an engaged civil society debating the issue online, and it certainly doesn’t suggest popular heartfelt support for the student protestors.  

So while a lot people say ‘I don’t agree with the increasing of tuition fees’ when aksed in a poll,when push comes to shove, the wider population just couldn’t care less. Students can protest all they like, the fees increase is here to stay

Having said all of that – a quick trawl through the ‘readers comments’ on  the Guardian online gives you a lot more to think about than a TV news item with ‘experts’. Below are some of my faves –

Comment 1 – [the recent protests] should remind us all that we have been living in relatively calm times for a while. Britain remembers times that were not very calm at all. It is just the beginning for the Government. If they think it will just go away because Dave shouts a few Headmasterish slogans, then they have another think coming. Read your history Dave. This is what happens when people feel like they have been treated unjustly. It has happened many times in our history, it will happen again.

Comment 2 – I am sure a lot of this is about more than fees for those who were running around Oxford street etc smashing things up – it is about seeing banks getting more and more money whilst whole community’s are targeted for the second time by neo-liberalism. First they came and took working class jobs and decimated industry and now they are coming for the benefits that have kept those people able to eat at least – and then they wonder where the anger comes from….And yesterday in the US the banks payed out bonuses early so their staff could buy Christmas presents whilst thousands protested outside them asking for jobs. People can see that what is happening is the biggest gulf opening up between ‘them’ and ‘us’ since feudal times.

Comment 3- I quote directly from Rachel Burden on 5live yesterday lunchtime “there look to be roughly 10,000 students protesting so far. All very calm at the moment so no real story yet, we’ll cross live if there are any developments” Kind of puts all the “if only they were peacful their message would get across” into perspective doesn’t it?

Comment 4 – I dislike the monarchy, to be fair I found it quite amusing

Comment 5  – I can’t believe senior police called their officers ‘brave’, what exactly is brave about dressing in full armor and attacking unarmed protesters? They really have done themselves no favors, and they wonder why the majority of people these days don’t like them. Fools.

Raising tuition fees – bad for democracy and meritocracy

You would expect this survey by the NUS to report that adults are against the increase in tuition fees, but the findings are back up by the results of two other surveys I found –

According to this online survey of a representative sample of 2,001 British adults, 70 per cent of respondents oppose the increase in the level of fees which Universities can charge students to take their courses. Only 23 per cent of Britons support the change.

Seven-in-ten respondents (71%) think the maximum cap of £9,000 per year is too high, and 57 per cent believe that the change in tuition fees will ultimately discourage students from economically poorer backgrounds from attending University.

According to this Ipsos MORI survey published by the Sutton Trust eight in ten (80%) of the pupils aged 11-16 at schools in England and Wales said they were either ‘very likely’ (39%) or ‘fairly likely’ (41%) to go into higher education.

The 2,700 survey respondents were asked for the first time this year to rate their likelihood of attending university if tuition fees were raised. More than two-thirds (68%) said they would still be likely to go on to higher education if fees were increased to £5,000. But only 45% would be likely to continue to university if fees were raised to £7,000 – and this percentage falls to 26% with a major hike up to £10,000.

So all in all Thursday was a bleak day for democracy – especially keeping in mind that the only party that was orginally for raising tuiution fees so drastically was the Conservative Party – and they only got one third of the popular vote in the last election.

No wonder people are angry!

Oh I’ll blog on the meritocracy thing later – lots of evidence to pull together on that little number!

Somali Pirates and £7 billion banker bonuses

Breaking news – that retired middle class couple who were stupid enough to go sailing in pirate territory last year have been released – not exactly sure how much was paid to release them – something in the region of half a million dollars I think – sounds about right for a stupid tax.

Small change compared to the 7 billion in bonuses the UK’s banks are set to announce later today, some of which would have been bailed out by the British tax payer last year.

So, in the grand scheme of things, who is more immoral – somali pirates jacking the ships of the rich or UK bankers siphoning off the wealth of the general public?

What they both have in common is that both the Pirates or Bankers use their positions of power to extort what they can from their victims. Personally I think the banking class are worse – at least with the pirates, they are honest, they kind of let you know that they don’t really care about your well being – and that they’re just lining their own pockets – while that’s also the bottom line of the banks – they lie to us by pretending that they’re working with us and for us; I even think that some junior bankers might actually believe that bullshit themselves.

Tory cuts – more sink housing estates – rising crime?

This podcast provides Some basic left wing analysis of the likely effects of the recent Tory Benefit cuts – from the web site –

‘The changes to housing benefit include a 10% cut for those out of work for more than a year and an overall cap of £250 a week for a one-bedroom property, rising to £400 a week for a four-bedroom or larger home.Critics say the coalition’s housing benefit cuts will displace 200,000 people from Britain’s major metropolitan areas, ghettoising the poor.’

This is potentially relevant to the A2 module in Crime and Deviance

This effect will of course be generalised across other regions – rich and poor neighbourhoods will become ever more polarised – so on the one hand we see here a likely intensification of ‘sink housing estates’ that, according to both and Right and Left Realist criminology, create the conditions for crime and on the other hand we should also see a longer term increase in gated high security communities – maybe even the emergence of Bauman’s ‘Fortress Cities’ – as those that can afford it strive to protect themselves from the dangerous poor, desperate people living in ghettos.

Thanks Giddeon!

Interestingly in John Heale’s book one blood he argues that most of the of the present gang crime problem emerged in inner city ghettos that were cuased by Thatcher’s neo – liberal policies of the 1980s causing greater inequalities.

Tory cuts – Britain’s Shock Doctrine

Hey kiddos – my predictions about the toryscum shafting people and planet for the sake of corporate profits have come true –

Check out this item  in which George Monbiot outlines how Giddeon’s cuts benefit his corporate chums.

A brief extract – ‘Public bodies whose purpose is to hold corporations to account are being swept away. Public bodies whose purpose is to help boost corporate profits, regardless of the consequences for people and the environment, have sailed through unharmed. The government’s programme of cuts looks like a classic example of disaster capitalism: using a crisis to re-shape the economy in the interests of business.’

Interestingly Monbit draws on Naomic Klein’s shock doctrine – one of the most important leftist books of this century – read it!

So if you think Marxism (well OK left-libertarianism) isn’t relevant – think again!

Thinking Allowed – White Collar Crime

The link below will take you to the ‘Thinking Allowed’ archive for Crime and Deviance – if you scroll down you will find three programmes on ‘White Collar Crime’ – The programmes look at the culture, practice and prosecution of white collar crime, with Laurie speaking to leading academic experts and professionals on both sides of the law.

A summary of these three programmes can be found at 

(see http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/factual/thinkingallowed/thinkingallowed_crime_deviancy.shtml) says:

You should listen to these programmes for yourselves. Some of the key findings are as follows –


Point 1 – Evidence that Corporate Crime is harmful

Criminologist Garry Slapper, argues that Corporate and white collar crime cause considerable harm

Some dreadful deaths happen as a result of corporate negligence – Workers have been buried alive, eloctocuted, fallen into vats of chemicals. However,  breaches of health and safety law are often considered to be ‘not really crime’ (Croal). Those who commit the corporate crimes which maim and kill are hidden from view.

Steph Tombs and Dave White – criticise the lack of moral compulsion. Base line figure – HS executive – about 200 people die each year, 500-600 if you dig into it, max estimate is that up to 50 000 die each year because of a result of exposure to substances at work

At one point the programme interviews an accountant called John who worked for a local authority and who illeagally siphoned £360 000 from client’s accounts over a four year period. This amount barely registers compared to other Frauds, but £360 000 would make the top ten list of amounts stolen in face to face robberies.  

Mark Levi assesses the amount of damage done by fraud – (despite the obvious problems) – a conservative estimate was that it costs the UK economy £11.5 billion – £20 billion if one includes income tax fraud -2005 figures.

Former senior police officers who worked on White Collar Crime – argue that unreported white collar crime represents a ‘serious economic attack on the country’

A city insider argues that systemic fraud is built into the very structure of a market place (think big city stock broking firms.) He argues that many at the top of these companies are fuelled on cocaine and  points out that you only reach these organisations by being dominating – and once you get to the top, you will do what is necessary to stay there – if Fraud is necessary you will commit Fraud.

He argues that city types justify their crimes by talking of ‘being in a war’ with other companies, or being in ‘a battle of survival’ he also argues that they talk in aggressive macho language – when taking over other companies – ‘ we’ve got to bust or rape that company’



Point 2 – White Collar and Corporate Crimes have a very low prosecution and clear up rate

Q – The clear up rate – the proportion of detected fraud is 5% – why so low???

Reason 1 – While the opportunities for fraud have increased exponentially because of the growth of the internet. You don’t have to look far to witness them – the Nigerian Government fraud squads have been stripped and declined over the last ten to fifteen years

Reason 2 – Garry Slapper – argues these agencies are too under resourced to actually regulate let alone prosecute –  there is 1 building inspector for every 3000 building sites

Reason 3 – There is also a culture of negligence towards crime and fraud prevention – The Financial Services Authority or the Health and Safety Authority (who are the bodies who prosecute corporate and financial criminals) do not see the same moral compulsion to prosecute as ordinary Police Officers tackling Gun Crime.

70% of deaths at work are caused by violation of law – the average fine for a worker death is about  £50 000 even where you cans show where the director of a company is responsible

Record Health and Safety fine was in Runcorn in the NW against ICI – due to a mercury leek – £300 000 fine, -0.1% of profit for that year.

HSE –46% decline in Health and Safety Prosecutions over the last 6 years, even though the number of deaths and accidents have remained roughly the same.

Very complex array of agencies – and it is easy to defend against, also used to

Corporate Manslaughter act (2008) should make this easier.

The cost of the financial crisis – £4000 per year per household

That’s an overall loss to the taxpayer of about £90 billion at a conservative estimate!

Just a brief summary from the WDM on the costs of the current financial crisis – yet more evidence of how the average guy on the street ends up paying  for the greed of the capitalist class (the bankers who destabilised our economy and their government apologists who let them).

Keep in mind what I said in this post about David Harvey who pointed out that the world’s leading hedge fund managers in 2009 took home  £15 billion in bonuses between them. – http://realsociology.edublogs.org/2010/08/11/why-any-sane-person-should-join-an-anti-capitalist-movement/

According to the article –

”The Treasury’s total net cash outlay for purchases of shares in banks and lending to the banking sector, including Northern Rock, amounted to around £117 billion by 2010. The Treasury’s additional potential exposure to banking losses totals (through insurance of bank assets and Bank of England lending) totals over £1 trillion.’

‘The crisis has had a huge impact on the public finances. UK households will have to pay around £3,900 per year more in taxes – or public spending per household will have to be reduced by £3,900 per year, or some combination – to balance the books. Households are also likely to face a one-off cost of £1,500 each (on average) for the banking bailout itself.’

The figures above may not quite add up because there are numerous different ways of caclulating (estimating most of the time) costs and potential costs!

Spending cuts, agenda setting and ideological control

I thought the following two quotes were worth flagging up – from Polly Toynbee’s latest post – about the forthcoming budget cuts…

‘Never mind that benefit fraud is only 0.7% of the benefit bill, Cameron’s crackdown smears all claimants by association. The tax evasion bill is at least £70bn, according to Richard Murphy of Tax Research UK, and the IMF puts it higher.’

So she is basically saying that if the government put its efforts into making the wealthy pay the taxes they are legally suppossed to be paying, then the forthcoming cuts would be much less severe…

‘Cameron has performed a political conjuring trick of some brilliance in diverting voters’ wrath from the gamblers of high finance to public servants’ excess. By persuading people it was public spending not the bankers’ crash that wrecked the economy, he has won the narrative so far – no mean feat. ‘

Now the media agenda is focussing on inefficient public services – when the cause of the financial crisis was the private sector lending irrespsonsibly. Interestingly, the fact the Tories are engineering a debate about what should be cut is precisely what steers our attention away from the tax avoidance by the rich and the fact they caused the crash in the first place.

Don’t be fooled by the Tory propoganda – It was the wealthy who caused the crash and now it is the poor who are going to pay! Demand an end to tax avoidance and higher taxes for the rich! Make those who created this mess pay for it.

An interesting discussion question here might be – has the time now come when violent resistance to Tory cuts is a duty rather than merely a right?