Mike Vickers' Blog

December 24, 2014

Corporate Power and Our Information

Filed under: Business Development, economics, History in the making — derryvickers @ 9:11 pm

 

Corporate Power – Leader Guardian Weekly 19/12/14

‘Democracy can battle back

In this early 21st century, we are bedeviled by size. Economies of scale have allowed firms to grow until they straddle the globe like colossi, beneficiaries of the last century’s turbocharged capitalism. But it is the sheer expanse of those companies, how they consequently behave and how that affects the countries and continents in which they trade that cause disquiet. Of the top 175 economic entities in the world in 2011, whole nations included, 111 were giant corporates

Giant firms, reluctant to have their territo­rial ambitions or profit potential curbed, will deploy lobbying and sharp PR to persuade lawmakers to think otherwise. They make menacing virtue of their multinational struc­tures, threatening uncooperative states with taking their business elsewhere. The result is a source of power that has grown beyond democracy’s reach.

In the real-life face-off between the democratic David and the corporate Goliath, David can look puny indeed.

And yet – then as now – Goliath is not invincible. First, governments already possess many powers that they shrink from using. They could smash monopolies and force firms vying for public contracts to pay a living wage. They could, if they wanted, reform political funding and get a regulatory grip on the lobbying that leads to warped laws. Just as governments have imposed freedom of information on themselves, they could – in principle – shine a light behind the corporate veil. They could also, between them, agree that taxes will be calculated on where sales are made, not where profits are reported.

The status quo endures because there is, at present, too little incentive to assault a system that allows companies unquestioned freedom and unfettered prospects for enrichment. And then we come back to the intimidating scale and the accompanying complexity.

These forces for inaction may yet prevail, but let it no longer be said that alternatives do not exist.’

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I have picked up this Leader from the Guardian Weekly 19/12/14. It confirms my view that democracy is under threat from the Global Corporates. The Leader suggests that Countries may battle back. But as the Leader also suggests there has to be a will to do so. I attach a table of the top 10 global Corporates in the Fortune 500 and it is clear that half are petroleum companies; this does not auger well for cutting global emissions. Taking Royal Dutch Shell as an example; they spent $14m in 2011 and 2012 on lobbying although this has dropped to $6 m this year.

http://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/clientsum.php?id=D000042525&year=2014

I cannot comment on Walmart but ASDA is a very major player in the UK supermarket world and there are articles on the web referring to ASDA’s lobbying activities.

Likewise global Corporates are agile with moving their money around to minimize the tax they pay in any country; witness  the call to account by the UK Public Accounts Committee of Amazon, Google and Starbucks; not that any of their tax maneuvering were unlawful in the UK, rather there is still no agreed Global law sufficiently tight to constrain these Corporates from moving their revenue to countries where they pay less tax. Equally Apple affords itself of flexibility in the Eire business laws and funnels all its European revenue through a ‘cottage in Cork in the west of Ireland’

http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/may/29/apple-tax-profits-ireland-cork

For the Global revenue position of these Data Handling Corporates see the 2nd table below; comparing these with the top 10 Corporates, Apple is the biggest and is ranked 15 in the overall Fortune 500ranking.

However what the article does not tackle is the sheer volume of personal information that such global Corporates hold about all of us. Zuckerberg of Facebook has announced that he will not be satisfied until every citizen in the globe is registered on Facebook (TIME, Dexcember 16 , 2014). Equally concerning is the scope of data on our lives, our habits and our foibles handled by Google, Amazon and Microsoft.   This data now goes under the name of ‘Big Data’ and is apparently being trawled by the US National Security Agency (as disclosed by Edward Snowden) and I would suspect by the UK GCHK. These Global data information handlers say they the data is ‘secure with us’ but what guaranty do we have? On a much more minor scale Tesco know precisely what products I buy and targets me with personal savings on these products. I also noted that when I surfed the web for a new PC, for several days afterwards the sides of my screen were plastered with PC adverts from the companies I had looked at – I have now bought a new PC and the adverts have now abated.

For me the key point here is that these large data repositories are in the hands of global commercial Corporates and what guaranty is there that the information stored about me is not sold to other companies who may have fewer scruples about making commercial use of my data to my detriment. The watch word of course is be very careful as to what I make available about myself and my thoughts on the web.

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Global Companies

1 Walmart  United States Retail $476.3 billion
2 Royal Dutch Shell  Netherlands  United Kingdom Petroleum $459.6 billion
3 Sinopec  China Petroleum $457.2 billion
4 China National Petroleum Corporation  China Petroleum $432.0 billion
5 ExxonMobil  United States Petroleum $407.7 billion
6 BP  United Kingdom Petroleum $396.2 billion
7 State Grid Corporation of China  China Power $333.4 billion
8 Volkswagen  Germany Automobiles $261.5 billion
9 Toyota  Japan Automobiles $256.5 billion
10 Glencore   Switzerland Commodities $

 

 

Largest Computer Companies – Many handle our data

Company name       Sales (US$ million)

Samsung 212,680
Apple 170,910
Foxconn 132,070
HP (Hewlett-Packard) 112,300
IBM 99,750
Hitachi 87,510
Microsoft 86,830
Amazon 74,450
Sony 72,340
Panasonic 70,830
Google 59,820
Dell 56,940
Toshiba 56,200
LG 54,750

December 19, 2014

Michael Ignatieff – Liberal Democracy and Authoritarian Capitalism

Filed under: economics, Politics, World Class — derryvickers @ 4:30 pm

Liberal Democracy and Authoritarian Capitalism at the Royal Society of Edinburgh

Ignatieff is now a Harvard Professor but has been the leader of the Canadian Liberal party and very briefly the Canadian Prime Minister and his grandparents came out of Russia.

Primarily he talked about the Authoritarian Capitalism in both China and Russia.

His thesis is that both now provide Capital Freedom but not Political Freedom; but both allow a degree of Private Freedom ie the people have, for instance, freedom of movement to other countries – this is new; neither have any longer the brutal mass gulags.

Because there is no political freedom both potentially suffer from corruption; the Chinese in particular recognise this – the current President, Xi Jinping, on coming to power made the eradication of corruption his first priority.

Both retain their ruling position by the stability of their Capital success – the Chinese Government in particular needs to be successful in the global capital markets to keep its burgeoning middle class politically content. In this respect both China and Russia have no desire for the Global Capitalist system to falter. Putin despite threats to do so cannot cut off gas to Europe. A new Cold War is unlikely. BTW Russia is a signatory to the European Court of Human Rights.

Both countries feel they are being encircled and losing their sphere of influence. Both are failing back on their religious history – China to Confucianism and Russia to the Greek Orthodox Church.

So what about the Liberal Democracies – they are still popular destinations for immigrants – no one immigrates to either Russia or China. Open societies are more innovative. We have the Rule of Law – private property is honoured.

To the Questions

China is a meritocracy, its leaders are very intelligent – is fast at doing things – such high speed rail yet are not innovative (neither is Russia). Power is transferred very 10 years with little revolution – transition is the key to legitimacy.

Neither Russia nor China exercise the Rule of Law – it will be interesting to see whether China moves to instigate the Rule of Law during this century.

Africa could be a breeding ground for Chinese Capitalism

Putin has not got over the loss of the Russian empire in 1989 – hence his incursion into the Ukraine.

The fall in the Rubble is not good either for Russia or the West.

December 4, 2014

Education policy and Scottish autonomy: the end of a common British tradition?

Filed under: Education, Left Politics, Lesley Riddoch, Scotland, Scottish Independence — derryvickers @ 11:26 am

I attended this Royal Society of Edinburgh event on Monday (1 Dec 14) to hear Professor Lindsay Paterson give an excellent lecture followed by very good questions and apposite answers.

Paterson prefaced his lecture by stating that he wanted to cover three topics: free tertiary education, secondary schooling and the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence.

Starting with free tertiary education whilst the tuition fees are free in Scotland and continue to saw in England, as bursaries are available in each country he considered the difference is more than it is cracked up to be.

To Secondary education he pointed out that the difference between Scotland and England is one of degree – Scotland introduced what were grammar schools first; these took in many who were unable to pay their fees; these have become half of the private schools in Scotland. The later ones such as Fetters are the equivalent of the English public schools. But most children continue to be educated by council funded schools.

To the Curriculum of Excellence again Scotland has stuck to its old tradition of providing a broad education through schooling whilst England has moved to specialisation much earlier in the school life time. Scottish education follows more closely the broad base while English education is now more capitalist oriented.

Paterson relates education to the welfare state which dates back to 1948. Education has changed since then but it remains largely democratic and in this respect Paterson considers ‘democracy’ works pretty well.

In summary Paterson felt that if education between Scotland and England was ideologically different then Scotland would have been right to become independent; in contrast he considers that education between the two states is one of degree. Scotland and England are both party to European Liberalism.

In support of this view Paterson reviewed the differences the recent surveys have shown between Scotland and England and concludes that while Scotland is to the left of England it is hardly statistically significant.

However Paterson recognises that such academic views as his, had little to do with the outcome of the Referendum and he was happy to quote Hume to a RSE audience ‘reason is the slave of passion’.

More specifically to the Referendum Paterson is scathing about the quality of debate; the No campaign was bereft of any substance while the Yes campaign was intellectually dishonest. The only politicians he had any time for were Nicola Sturgeon and Gordon Brown – in his view if you were to transport them back in time to 1948 they would both have been on the same side. If there is to be another Referendum then he quotes Pat Kane as saying there must be some hard thinking.

To some of questions he felt that

  • nationalism was inculcated pre-school
  • knowledge is education
  • gender equality is good in education and the public office but less so in private industry. It will take 50 years to really become a reality and then only if it is globally acceptable
  • Scotland never gave up its educational stance following 1707 and has always recognised there is a path from the parish school to the university
  • Oh and there was a quote from Lesley Riddoch but I didn’t take it down.
  • We tell ourselves that we are fundamentally different from England even if we aren’t.

But please note that Paterson spoke at a machine run pace and I may well have missed some points or misheard others. There is to be an audio recording on the web in due course so I will try and update the above when it becomes available.

December 1, 2014

Changin’ Scotland

Filed under: Personal, Politics, Scotland, Scottish Independence — derryvickers @ 12:31 pm

This is our second attendance – both times in Ullapool – March and now November. What did strike me:

  1. The Referendum is past; the Smith Commission has set out its recommendations. Adam Tomkins, a member of the Smith Committee representing the Conservatives in conversation with Gerry Hassan said that Scotland, assuming the Smith recommendations get into law, will have more powers that any other devolved government in the world. Well looking at today’s Scotsman you wouldn’t think so. Anyway he gave a valiant defence of the Union position to an audience who you might expect was not entirely sympathetic! There was a clear ground swell – It’s not England we object to its Westminster. BTW what will happen to the Scotland 2012 Act due to be implemented next year
  2. Matt Qvortrup, a world expert on referendums, felt that referendums only achieve ‘yes’ when things are going well. Don’t repeat them too often, even the people in Quebec are fed up with them.
  3. Douglas Fraser in conversation with Madeleine Bunting ex of the Guardian and Kathleen Jamie author of a couple of good books of essays in and around Scotland, one Findings. Madeleine – if you think poverty is bad in Scotland then come to London.
  4. David Greig, playwright, Dunsinane, wanted to harness the grassroots political groundswell rather than let it be dissipated. What Scotland now needs a public space to explore views and the way forward –We need to push ourselves harder. The problem dear Brutus!
  5. Gender equality- Jean Freeman – inequality is the men’s problem; they need to sought themselves out
  6. Tom Smith of a wee company Lateral North, thinking way outside the Scottish Box. They have produced a lovely book on the subject. You can find details at http://lateralnorth.com/gallery/publication-an-atlas-of-productivity/
  7. Jim Hunter, professor emeritus at the University of the Highland and Islands and advocate par excellence on them considered that Holyrood needs to recognise that ‘one size does not fit all’; the Highlands and Islands are different from the Central Belt. The financial difficulties of Gigha are no more than we all suffer with paying our mortgages. This book ‘The making of the Crofting Community’ is seminal. Surprisingly he quotes Michael Forsyth as a great friend of the Highlands. Andy Wightman in the chair thanked Jim for his work on Land Reform – there may yet be a bill before the Scottish Parliament
  8. What will happen to Radical Scotland? Common Weal represented by ?, National Collective by Ross Colquhoun, Radical Independence Campaign by Cat Boyd and Women for Independence by Susan Stewart chaired by Kathy Galloway all trying to find a way forward towards a more gender equal, more radical Scotland but trying not to look back.
  9. Where to for Changin’ Scotland, Gerry Hassan and Jean Urquhart. Jean off to Shetland. General support from the audience for continuing some sort of mix. Changin’ Scotland is a small participatory but relaxed group who welcome being away from the big Fora of the Central Belt. OK we tend to be older but a good smattering of young people at this meeting – may be we are a second chamber. Anyway Jean Urquhart’s son is very keen to pick up the challenge so it could be Ullapool next spring for Risin’ Scotland
  10. And the meeting finished with a rendition by four ladies of The Freedom Come All-Ye in fine tune
  11. Finally a nice touch, the coffee money is for the Linda Norgrove Foundations and if you want to know more go to http://www.lindanorgrovefoundation.org/

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