Friday 15 February 2008

Bad faith, hopeless, and charity

In what appears at first glance to be a rare proposal for re-distribution of wealth, Labour MP Frank Field has stated that he wants people earning over £15,000 per year to pay 10% more tax, or give it to charity (BBC News: MP Field's 'tax or charity' call). Although it seems welcome on the surface, it is also rather flawed, and his comments contradictory.

Most contradictory is his dewy-eyed admiration of Margaret Thatcher, and his assertion that 'his proposals would fulfil Margaret Thatcher's dream of a "giving culture".' (Frank and Maggie sitting in a tree ...) If I were him, I would ask any former miner or steelworker for a second opinion on Thatcher's 'generosity' :-(

I totally disagree with big business using charity as a 'get out of jail free card' for failure to fulfill its social obligations, and am rather dubious about charity in general.

For starters, some charities are horribly right wing and have overt right-wing intentions. Anti-abortion charities such as Life, fundamentalist Christian 'family' charities, 'public' (really private!) schools, even the (now thankfully defunkt) hated employment black-lister the Economic League, all have or have had had charity status.

Even charities with laudable aims have acted in a right-wing manner. In recent years, we have seen the road safety charity Brake supporting measures which unfairly target young drivers, and Alcohol Concern putting an undue emphasis on under-age (rather than general problem) drinking. I can't help but think, if charities were tempted to rely even more on wealthy (and generally right wing) donors than they are now, their policies and practices would veer further to the right.

Further back, in the early 20th century, groups like the Christian Brothers and even Barnardo's were involved in 'child migration', the transportation of orphan kids to places like Australia - where many suffered neglect, abuse, and were often used as virtual slave labour, with the connivance of both the Australian and British Establishments.

Even today, charities sometimes do more harm than good. Notably with their fundraising campaigns; disabled people, and people in Third World countries, are often portrayed as helpless inferiors who need our charity to live. (My views on disability charities can be found at Red Disability: What's wrong with charities?)

However, Frank Field is also partly right. The rich should pay more tax. And should not be able to donate their way out of it.

But why only 10% more? The vast majority of high earners get their money by exploiting workers, paying us far less than the value of the goods and services we produce. Profit, ie money received by a company over and above what they pay in wages etc, is nothing more than 'excess labour' over and above what we are paid fairly for. In other words, profit is exploitation, and those who manage companies are profiting from exploitation.

We should bleed the bastards dry!

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