Archive for February, 2015|Monthly archive page

L&M go green. Literally

2015-02-09 07.28.04Not a great picture taken across a railway line at day break, but this poster is the only thing that appears green at the minute in Munich. L&M battle it out across that railway line with Pall Mall and Marlboro. Strapline rather curious: cigarettes for purists and delicious. In a way that asbestos in buildings is for purist architects, no doubt. Tödlich, as they say.

Petty people

There is a pub adjacent to the office I used to work in on the campus of the University of Sussex, England, that had more “do not…” signs on the wall than it had items on its food menu. I was waiting for the sign that would say “do not come in if you do not like ‘do not…’ signs”. But essentially, it was already there, I suppose.

One person who was not offended by the signs told me that he liked the pub because the barman – the owner – was able to calculate the bill in his head! Others told me just to ignore them. I was an infrequent visitor, in any case.

IMG_20150206_175403Here is an example of a series of friendly signs by someone in Hove, UK. They are laminated, as well, so the author has invested quite a bit in making clear his/her preferences. Though the technology clearly does not help with the grammar.

My response: I’ll park in your driveway and dump my rubbish on your front door.

Avoiding tax avoiders

Stefano_PessinaThe UK Labour Party is under pressure, apparently, because big business is not endorsing tax policies. The most recent criticism has come from Stefano Pessina (left) the boss of Boots, the iconic British pharmacy-cum-drug store. Boots was founded in Nottingham, England, in 1849. It is now privately owned and has its headquarters is in Zug, Switzerland, to avoid UK corporation tax.

Now out of the woodwork are the fickle Simon Woodroffe, he of Yo! Sushi fame, who has funded both Labour and the Conservatives simultaneously just to hedge his bets, and Charles Dunstone, founder of Carphone Warehouse, now part of the Dixons empire. Both of these supported Labour under Blair. Arguably, Labour under Blair was conservative, and hence not a risk. Actually it would have been a risk not to support them in the run up to the 1997 election. Even Murdoch did that.

Labour under Miliband has targeted inequality as a key economic factor much to the chagrin of so-called ‘business leaders’ who took us in to recession and are unwilling to contribute to the state infrastructure that enables them to trade in the country safely and predictably.PricewaterhouseCoopers_Logo

Enter Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) the accountancy firm has been chastised by the UK Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee, Chaired by Margaret Hodge, for its speciality in advising firms on tax avoidance strategies on an ‘industrial scale’. Denied, of course.

Which other firms offend? We know well about Starbucks, Facebook, Top Shop, Amazon, Google, Apple and Virgin. That said, it is ok for Richard Branson because he is a philanthropist. Maybe we can define a philanthropist as someone who gives away part of their fortune to rectify the ills caused by their own business practices?

Other tax avoiding firms include: Dyson and Wolseley UK, owners of Plumb, Pipe,  etc, Centers.

Celebrities have always moaned about tax. Michael Caine went off to the US, albeit when tax rates were somewhat higher than they are today (but even then, the high rate was a marginal rate).  Unfortunately, Paul Daniels did not go when he threatened to back in the 1990s, let us hope that the likes of Griff Rhys Jones and Ray Winstone do leave as they threaten. Gary Barlow, Anne Robinson, the Arctic Monkeys, Katie Melula, George Michael and comedian, Jimmy Carr (I could go on) have all been exposed as intentional tax avoiders.

Picture: Stefano Pessina – Alliance Boots, available through Wikipedia


Pall Mall and mature couples

2015-02-06 22.13.34-2Is this the new Pall Mall couple? The ageing hipster with his oh-so stylish beard. The 30 something woman with perfect teeth and nail-barred fingers wonderfully hosting a newly lit cigarette. And the strapline? Erm…more is not enough for us?

Is death not enough?

Syriza and the Greek response to austerity

Increasingly, it is clear that globalisation has globalised wealth in the hands of a number of elites – from Flag_of_Greece_svgoligarchs in Russia, bankers in the UK and land speculators in Bombay. When the crash came in 2008, the perpetrators – the financial services elites – ‘hoovered’ up the public money pumped into the system to obviate a capitalist meltdown. No one went to jail; but Europe’s people were handed down a dose of austerity in return for their support. What is perplexing is how any sane policy-maker can sustain an argument that austerity helps declining economies. In Greece, for example, something in the order of 70 per cent of the country’s under 25s are unemployed. They are neither economically active nor productive. In the UK, unemployment goes down not because the economy is growing and the demand for labour is increasing; rather because people are taking zero-hour jobs or, indeed, taking jobs for an hour through ‘freelancer’ websites. Or, most disturbingly, if unskilled – at the unconnected end of the labour market – ads in supermarkets and shop windows. Alexis_Tsipras3

Syriza’s victory in the Greek general election last week represents something positive. It is populist, but from the left rather than the right. The rhetoric is one of alternative, fairness and equality. It is a David and Goliath story in the making. The new Greek Prime minister, Alexis Tsipras (left), takes his secular oath, appoints radicals to his government (such as Yanis Varoufakis as Finance Minister), halts privatisations, reappoints the cleaners who were sacked from their jobs in the finance ministry, initiates tax reform and targets corruption. They have even put up all of the ministerial BMWs up for sale.

We learn that the first port of call is not the IMF, the European Commission or even the German government in Berlin, rather opposition parties in Italy and Spain – next up on Europe’s election merry-go-round. I wait and see what happens, but there is optimism about Europe’s prospects and the rightness of Syriza’s approach to the crippling debt that they have inherited. I trust the elites do not share my optimism.

Flag: Fry1989, Wikipedia

Photo: Lorenzo Gaudenzi

An outsource too far?

John_Lewis_fasciaI was casually scanning the pages of the Guardian newspaper yesterday and came across a link to a story that suggested that John Lewis, the co-operatively-owned department store with a reputation for excellent customer service, has been outsourcing some of this activity to decidedly dubious third parties with potentially disastrous results.

Firms outsource, ultimately, to save money. Listed firms to this to maximise the return to their shareholders. It is the logic of capitalist business. But John Lewis is supposed to be different. Its owners are its employees, though its management is most certainly professionalised (in contrast with the Co-operative group which is now in some financial difficulties after gross mismanagement by amateurs).

So, to which outsourcing companies has John Lewis entrusted its reputation? When I discovered the identities of said firms, I needed a sharp intake of breath. Wait for it…Hermes couriers, who pay between 45 and 55 pence – PENCE – per delivery to self-employed delivery people, and Capita who seem to handle John Lewis’ complaints.

I have already ceased trading with firms that use Hermes. The service is appalling, for sure. But it is the business model that stinks. Whilst it is possible to avoid this by picking up ordered items at John Lewis and Waitrose stores, handing over any money to these charlatans is bad for society. It legitimises them.

Finally some good advice from Marlboro

download_20150127_085338The Marlboro ‘Maybe’ campaign is back on the streets of Munich and presumably the rest of Germany. Much missed, I have to say. For once, it seems, the statement has something going for it. I am learning myself how to do this consistently. ‘Maybe’ it is a function of age? ‘Maybe’ a function of maturity?

Linking it with cigarette consumption, however, is not quite such a positive. ‘Maybe’ it will just be ignored. ‘Maybe’.

Apple’s cash mountain

2015-02-01 13.44.12I am not an Apple fan. I do not like the design. I do not even like the font they use on their iOS interface. I hate the hype. But the results announced last week suggest I am in a minority. Apple reported profits of $18bn for the third quarter of 2014 generated by selling 34,000 iPhones per hour for the whole of that quarter. Mind boggling.

Apple now sits on a $180bn cash pile, a good amount of it is stashed in a bank account in Ireland selected so as to avoid paying tax on it in the United States of America. Good citizenship if ever I saw it.

So how does Apple reward its shareholders – ultimately the owners of the company? Well, apparently, according to the BBC’s Ian Jack (his explanation can be heard below), Apple is borrowing money in order to buy back its own shares so that shareholders pay a lower tax rate – capital gains tax rather than income tax.

It has been pointed out by the likes of Mariana Mazzucato in her book The Entrepreneurial State that, notwithstanding the immorality of avoiding paying tax, buying back shares also diverts money away from investment in new products, processes and technologies. Essentially, these companies not only avoid paying tax in the countries where they trade and/or are based, but they also get subsidised by the public sector through universities that make up the shortfall in basic research that should be done by the firms that utilise that research for new products and services. A double injustice.