British Economy is "Standing at the Edge of a Cliff"
By Ben Cohen
The banking crisis in the U.K is so severe, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg has warned that the economy is "standing at the edge of a cliff".
As the economy teeters, Prime minister Gordon Brown is moving to calm fears by buying up toxic assets and providing credit lines to troubled banks. He has also gone on the offensive accusing his rival David Cameron of being "out of his depth" on economic issues and "out of step with the rest of the world'. Cameron shot back attacking the government's lack of credibility, but his position looks weak given his inexperience.
Brown has received wide praise for his role in managing the crisis, but we should not forget that the economic measures he took helped create the mess in the first place.
Even in this crisis, the government still offers refuge to pinstriped pirates
Britain's tax havens fuel crime and corruption on a huge scale but, for Brown, keeping business happy is still the priority
Gordon Monbiot, The Guardian
If you want to know why Britain has never completed the process of decolonisation, look at two lists side by side. One is the official register of tax havens, compiled by the OECD. The other is the list of British overseas territories and crown dependencies. Over a quarter of the world's tax havens are British property. More than half of Britain's colonial territories and dependencies are tax havens. Strip out Antarctica, the military bases and the scarcely habited rocks and atolls and, of the 11 remaining properties, only the Falkland Islands is not a recognised haven. The obvious conclusion is that Britain retains these colonies for one purpose: to help banks, corporations and the ultra-rich to avoid tax.
These figures scarcely do justice to the UK's responsibility for this menace. The website Shelter Offshore, which helps people to avoid their obligations to society, has just published its list of the world's "top 5 tax havens". Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man come first. "These highly respectable British offshore tax havens," the site tells us, "can be very attractive indeed", offering "superior levels of investor privacy". Privacy is the polite word for the secrecy and obstruction that helped to bring down the world's financial systems.
Last month the British government announced that it will introduce new laws to prevent piracy: the armed forces will be allowed to detain ships and arrest suspected robbers on the high seas. Yet the same government offers an attractive portfolio of tropical and temperate islands in which pinstriped pirates can bury their treasure.
That comparison is unfair - to pirates. The freebooters who use these havens are responsible for thousands of times more deaths even than the notorious Abdul Hassan, known on the Somali coast as "the one who never sleeps". Because of the secrecy surrounding the treasure islands, no one knows how much money they divert from developing countries. Christian Aid's estimate - $160bn a year - is the lowest figure, though 60% greater than the international aid the poor world receives. The Pope suggests $255bn; the US research group Global Financial Integrity proposes $900bn. In all cases we're talking about the means by which hundreds of thousands of lives could have been preserved in the world's poorest countries. But Britain's network of tax havens permits multinational companies, dodgy businessmen and corrupt leaders to snatch money from the poor.
Gordon Brown wrings his hands over the plight of the poor, and urges impoverished countries to earn more money through trade. But by keeping our tax havens open for business, this mumbling Christian hypocrite ensures that even when the poor nations do trade successfully, they are unable to keep hold of the income.
This authorised theft, of course, affects us too. We are robbed twice by these gangsters: once when they avoid the taxes the rest of us have to pay, again when the tax havens' secret banking arrangements cause the crises which oblige us to rescue the banks. As the Tax Justice Network points out, the banking system collapsed because it became indecipherable. The banks lost confidence in each other when they could no longer tell who owns what or who owes whom, and could no longer trust each other's financial statements. Nothing has done more to promote this distrust than the lucrative secrecy the tax havens offer to their clients.
Organised crime also depends on tax havens. The OECD uses four criteria to determine that a place is a haven: it imposes no tax, there's a lack of transparency, it has laws preventing the effective exchange of information with other governments, and the money that changes hands bears no relation to the business done there. The last three criteria are all essential prerequisites for large-scale crime. In fact it's doubtful whether the traditional piracy now flourishing off the Horn of Africa would be possible without the more respectable piracy taking place in the English Channel, the Irish Sea and off the Spanish Main. Anyone who wanted to stamp out drug smuggling, kidnapping, gun-running and fraud would start by shutting down tax havens.
But the crime havens have become so respectable that even the British government is now depriving itself of revenue. It has become the major shareholder in the Royal Bank of Scotland, which has offshore subsidiaries in Jersey, Guernsey, the Isle of Man and Gibraltar. Have the bank's new owners, in return for our generosity in bailing it out, demanded that it shuts these operations? No. And that's not the worst of it. HM Revenue and Customs, responsible for collecting tax in this country, signed a private finance initiative deal transferring its buildings to a company called Mapeley Steps. Mapeley Steps, which is registered in one tax haven (Bermuda) is owned by Mapeley, registered in another (Guernsey). Mapeley has boasted of paying no income or corporation tax in any jurisdiction.