Sunday 30th August
When the Greek Crisis was in the news (it is of course continuing and will not get resolved for a very long time – if ever) many commentators looked wisely over their glasses and tut-tutted that of course the main problem in Greece was that corruption was rife. Many people did not pay their taxes, or at the very least under-declared their income; taxes went unpaid by businesses, house-owners paid no tax if the house remained uncompleted etc: etc: And it was probably all true – more or less.
Africa is a basket-case, we all know that. Most of the aid money goes in bribes or is actually stolen, or so we are led to believe – and what did you expect, they are all corrupt. Chinese officials in the Communist Party are enriching themselves at the expense of the poor; they too are apparently all corrupt. German and French Politicians are receiving bribes, or large unrecorded donations to their political parties, but we all know that those Europeans are corrupt. You cannot get elected as President of America without spending billions, and why are these billionaires supporting candidates if not for favours later on; so the Americans too are corrupt. So is everyone else corrupt except us? Well yes. And no.
We live in a society where corruption is rife, but where nothing is admitted. Here is Britain most (and I say this purely from my own observations, having done accounts for many small companies – and from conversations with self-employed businessmen) owners of small businesses are breaking the law, mostly by under-declaring their income; we all know that if you pay cash it will be cheaper because cash is easy to hide and there will be no paper trail. Many small company bosses will have work done on their houses and the work invoiced to the company and put through as legitimate business expenses. Sometimes the amounts are very small but sometimes they are very large too. And this, my friends, is also corruption. It is theft from me and you, ordinary taxpayers who have no choice, whose tax is deducted directly from their wages. We have all heard of the large companies like Amazon and Google and Vodafone who do not pay much tax here, of Mr. Green who owns Arcadia but pays no tax as all his income is paid to his wife residing in Monaco. But believe me there are armies of Accountants who are trying to reduce companies’ tax bills. Much of this will be technically legal – but in a way it too is corruption. And the Government turns a blind eye because to admit that the problem is rife would not only be a headache to sort out, but an admittance that for decades we have let it go on. Corruption is almost inherent in Capitalism; greed is the motor, so whatever maximizes your profit is sort-of okay. And almost all of us, if we had the chance would become corrupt too, though we would all justify it as just the way things are and we would be stupid not to go along with it. As Abraham Lincoln said – “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” I just don’t see much vigilance going on at present.