John Hick RIP

It is nearly two months since my last blog. I have had a very busy but fulfilling couple of months. But I must begin by honouring the memory of my dear friend John Hick, who died on 9 February, just a few weeks after a joyful celebration of his 90th birthday. He was a fine theologian and a lovely man. His great contribution was to teach that all the world’s great religions were equally valuable routes to God. He was also a good friend and enjoyed his life with twinkling good humour. I will miss him, but he shines out as an example of a life well lived.

Mining Indaba Cape Town

In early February, I attended the Indaba. We had a great meeting, jointly with the World Bank, It was attended by large numbers of African mining ministers, with their delegations. Many contributors said that they had found the EITI very useful in clarifying the revenues paid and received from mining. But there was a general demand, to extend EITI reporting so that there was greater transparency along the whole value chain, from the original contracting to mine closure. I stressed in my response, that as nearly 2/3 of the countries that were signed up to the EITI were in Africa, if they got together they could shape its future. In mid-February, the EITI Board met in Wilton Park in the UK to discuss future strategy. There was general agreement that the EITI should encourage countries to report beyond the minimum required by our rules, in order that transparency should lead to better accountability in accordance with our founding principles. It will be interesting to see if the coalition of companies, governments and civil society can hold together if fuller reporting is encouraged.

St Anthony’s College, Oxford

On 21st February, I joined a seminar at St Antony’s College, Oxford on the theme Global Companies–Enemies or Friends of Human Rights? This one one in a series that involve parliamentarians and is open to the public. The notes outlining my remarks are on this Web site. My conclusion was, that for all the talk of companies corporate social responsibility and respect for human rights, it is pressure from public opinion and working people that causes companies to reform. Left to themselves they are driven simply to maximise profit.

Ripon Cathedral

Towards the end of February I went to Ripon to give a lecture in the Cathedral as part of their St Wilfrid’s series ‘Questions of Right & Wrong:Faith and Ethics in Contemporary Society’. My title was ‘Aid – moral duty or national self-interest?’ My argument was that of course there is a moral duty to provide aid to the poorest and those suffering from flood and famine. But the moral questions do not stop there. How the aid is spent, what is our trade policy, our policy on arms sales and bribery, are all equally important. Development policy should be the guiding spirit of foreign and trade policy and not misused for national self-interest or to improve the country’s image when the foreign policy is cynical or immoral.

It was a truly lovely event, about 200 people seated in a beautiful old cathedral, and after the lecture we had a very open and interesting discussion. Over cups of tea afterwards, many people commented on the fact that in political meetings and in the media, there is little room for full discussion. I came away feeling that the was a great well of goodness in that meeting.

Sussex Conversation

Sussex University has organised a series of panel discussions to mark the 50th anniversary of its foundation. The session I was invited to participate in was on the theme of globalisation, climate change and the potential movement of people over the next 50 years. You can view the debate here. My conclusion is that the combination of population growth in the poorest countries, urbanisation and the disruption of weather patterns and agriculture resulting from climate change will produce massive disruption and catastrophe if we carry on as now. But we have the capital, technology and knowledge to develop the world more evenly, to ensure that all people have the basics that they need in income, education, health and dignity. We also have the technology to leave behind our reliance on fossil fuels and to move to new technologies for renewable energy. We would probably find life more enjoyable and fulfilling if we lived more sustainably. I expect things to get worse, and some pretty ugly right-wing forces to be unleashed, but then progressive people will come together and hopefully succeed in creating a new era that provides a chance for us all to live more morally and sustainably.

UK Politics

It really does seem as though the UK government and the whole of the Eurozone have forgotten the lessons of the 1930s and the importance of Keynes’s teaching. The banks have been bailed out at public expense, from the consequences of their excessive lending but are still merrily paying themselves enormous bonuses. Public expenditure is being slashed and thus pushing the Eurozone into decline, which will make the paying off of the debt extremely difficult. New Labour argues that the cuts are too extreme but does not offer a coherent alternative.

I have been reading Treasure Islands by Nicholas Shaxson and some of the writings of the Tax Justice Network, and am forced to conclude that with globalisation, and the growth of tax havens, excessive debt and excessive consumerism, we have generated a system where inequality is growing sharply everywhere. One of the reasons is that wealthy people and big corporations are paying a smaller and smaller contribution as they move their money around the world to avoid taxation. This means the tax burden on those in work and small businesses is growing and that rich people and big corporations are getting ever richer. It is a very unattractive economic and social model, and I expect as times get harder there will be more political contest and challenge. But as we agreed at a University of Birmingham Broad Left meeting last Friday, it is not clear whether Labour, the Green party, the left of the Liberal Democrats or some political formation we haven’t yet seen will represent the case for a new political and social settlement.


It started with Thatcher, intensified with New Labour and its being taken further by Michael Gove – this system of testing and testing children and creating markets competition between schools. And yet employers complain that the young people they recruit have weak maths, do not write well and have poor social skills. I’m afraid children have been taught to jump through hoops rather than develop their talents and love of learning. I think it’s time to say that the Emperor has no clothes.

Interesting facts

  • In 1993 the 400 wealthiest Americans paid 29.4% in tax; in 2008 it was 18.1% (Stephen Rattner FT 9/2/12).
  • “Capitalism is like an energetic small child who needs rules, boundaries and discipline. If a toddler accidentally sets the house on fire, it’s the parents who bear the blame” (Stephen Rattner ibid).
  • “The rise of multinational corporations and lack of a global taxation regime has given rise to a race to the bottom in corporate tax rates, another contribution to growing inequality. In the US, corporate taxes have dropped from 5% of GDP in the 1950s to 1.3% last year” (Stephen Rattner ibid).
  • In 1969 US was 36% of global income; 31% by 2000 ; 23.1% by 2010. China was barely one eighth of the US income in 2000, it is now 41%. If the rembini continues to appreciate, it will be more. China would surpass the US within 7 years, even it if its growth slowed to 7% and the US achieved an unlikely 3% per annum (Edward Luce FT 6/2/12).
  • In the wake of the Reformation 5,000 Europeans were condemned to death for unorthodox religious belief and religious wars produced millions of deaths (Prof Harold James FT 11/2/12).
  • The narcotics industry generates $500 billion in annual sales worldwide, twice the value of Saudi oil exports (Nicolas Shaxson Treasure Islands 2011).
  • In 1992 the 400 richest Americans declared 26% of their income as salaries and 36% as capital gains. By 2007 they recorded only 6% as income and 66% as capital gains. The same thing is happening across the OECD since the 1970s (Shaxson Ibid).
  • The tax rates have also fallen in low-income countries. The worst is in sub-Saharan Africa – from 1990 to 2001 corporate tax revenue fell by one quarter. The reason is a need to provide tax incentives to investment (Shaxson Ibid).

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