2 BEACH BOY BLUES
Pandora had a box and she looked like Ava Gardner. Eve had an apple and looks-wise was not much of an improvement on Margaret Thatcher. Different dames but similar stories. Whether Pandora opened the box or Eve munched the apple, what was left was evil, greed and the rest. Considering what was in the box, it is a shame that someone forgot to put a decent lock on the lid. Pandora was poor at keys, and algorithms have hackers. Pandora’s Papers part two is more of the same revelations, numbers of dollars that are impossible to comprehend and the usual gallery of po-faced rogues that have just stepped off red carpets. No discernible bulges in the pockets of those tailored suits. The current estimate is that $7.6 trillion dollars have found their way to obscure islands. Although these trillions began their life as humble cash in the hands of ordinary folk the assorted treasure is right now nothing more than potent numbers in anonymous bank accounts and the ledgers of shell companies. The islands where these accounts exist would sink to the ocean bed if the dollars were ever converted to paper currency.
When the numbers strain human comprehension, old-fashioned fractions can help. Well, it worked in school anyway. Right now a third of global GDP is stashed away in tax havens where it can do no harm like building hospitals and alleviating world hunger. In the last five years this hidden money has increased by a quarter. No need to worry about reducing inequality for the moment. Providing we keep the poor underfoot and do not worry too much about world hunger and increasing homelessness these are good times. Life expectancy for the British people may be falling and the retirement age increasing, pause to think through that contradiction, but in the last year the number of proud to be British billionaires increased by 7%. There are now 171 British masters of the universe.
In the same week as the latest revelations from the Pandora Papers appeared the NatWest bank was found guilty of money laundering £365m on behalf of Bradford jewellers Fowler and Oldfield, a company whose boss was as early as 2016 pleading hard times and anticipating closure of a shop that is about the size of the local newsagents. £365m is obviously not worth what it used to be. There has been speculation that someone in NatWest would have to go to prison but the talk around punishment soon changed to fines. No point in being punitive with decent chaps. The figure quoted for a fine began at £340m but that has already dropped to £240m, a mere drop in your average tax haven. Not much sticks to these people.
Talking of mud or whatever lands on the well-dressed not sticking has echoes of Pfeffel. This is the man that in the same week of these sordid revelations was proclaiming the virtues of unfettered capitalism and, to use his words, ‘backing bankers’. But first some applause. Despite his reputation for deceit and untruths Pfefell in response to Pandora’s Papers has managed to utter a truth. He claimed that he had not read any of the details in the latest revelations. We know he was being honest because Pfeffel, as weary civil servants have testified, never reads the details in anything. His friends claim that Pfeffel is a prolific reader. Right now the blonde hulk may be on a sun lounger but his eyes will not be closed, they say. Boris does like to read but only if there are plenty of metaphors and similes to prop up his limited attention span. His weakness with dry analysis might explain what previous Thatcherite friends this week have described as his economic illiteracy.
Even in 2008 when the banks would have crashed capitalism if it had not been for the interventions of governments Pfeffel was reminding us that he would never waive in his loyalty to money lenders and venture capitalists. Most were being gloomy about bankruptcies, excessive leverage and bank-runs but Pfeffel kept his warm-hearted optimism intact. Pfeffel has a taste for high culture. Zeus, Hephaestus, Pandora and the rest are like mates to Pfeffel. It might have helped him understand how banks really operate if he had watched the movie ‘Mary Poppins’.
Pfeffel, though, is not so generous with businessmen, people whose economic concerns he famously dismissed with one of his favourite expletives. Pfeffel prefers wealthy dilettante conquerors to the industrious. And they appear to like him. Zac Goldsmith has let Pfeffel stay for free in a villa that most weeks rents for £25,000. No danger of the blonde hulk coming to a sun lounger near you, and no need for Pfeffel to worry about towels and Germans. In his conference speech this year Pfeffel claimed that without capitalism there would have been no Covid vaccine to save lives.
More pause for thinking is required. No one should be too critical of the addictions of others but the dependency of Pfeffel on oratorical exaltation can become wearing, especially as governments have already been warned of the need to prepare for the arrival of more viruses. Because of the global cost cutting interdependence that provides the funds for those tax havens, more infections will appear and spread. We should also hesitate before assuming that it was old-fashioned greed and competitive individualism that motivated those that developed the vaccine. Self-interest played its inevitable part, most of us would rather not die just yet, but so far the impact of greed has been limited to the stumbles that have occurred in rolling out the vaccine worldwide. The initial research was inspired by the kind of decent motives that Thatcher, Hayek, Rand and Friedman were all too keen to dismiss as inconsequential.
Call it churlish but there is also an obligation to mention the support of governments in this great capitalist triumph. 97% of the Oxford vaccination research was funded by the British taxpayer, the same people that coughed up £37bn for a private sector test and trace scheme that would have put a smile on the face of Pandora. The vaccination rollout in the UK, which is NHS managed and supported by non-remunerated volunteers, has been a success. Almost 50 million Brits have received 95m jabs although those numbers are now mirrored in other European countries. The CEOs of the capitalist companies that own the patents, though, are not quite so enthusiastic about saving human lives worldwide. In fact, they soon remembered their number one priority is to make money, the kind that inspires accountants with in-depth knowledge of tax havens. Pleas from Joe Biden have been resisted, and patents have not been waived by the pharmaceutical companies. This has prevented low income countries from manufacturing the vaccine cheaply and distributing Covid relief in large numbers. 95% of people in low income countries are yet to receive their first Covid jab.
Pfeffel was last seen relaxing away from the sun lounger and dabbing the canvas with a paintbrush in imitation of his hero Winston Churchill. Landscapes were the preferred choice of Churchill. One subject that Pfeffel will sidestep in Marbella is Lake Windermere, the largest lake in England. Sewage from the private septic tanks of tourists and the local sewage plant is destroying foliage and bird and animal life. The dumping is not continuous but in 2020 sewage flowed into the lake for 1,719 hours, an average of almost five hours per day. If this sounds like something from a horror movie, it is. The environmental destruction in the Lake District replays what happened in ‘The Bay’, an accomplished apocalyptic horror from director Barry Levinson.
But who needs regulations when there is fun to be had. Swimming in Windermere may require a nose peg but life for those in the Tory party is going very swimmingly. In 2019 the chairperson of the Tory Party, Ben Elliott, through jolly hard work managed to raise £37m for the Tory party election campaign. It is a pity, though, that the Tory Party refuses to publish the membership lists of the secretive clubs of donors that give at least £250,000 per year. These donations allow the donors to have regular meetings with the prime minister and chancellor or the people in government that make the really important decisions. Three names that no longer raise eyebrows and are also in the Pandora Papers are Mohamed Amersi, Lubov Chernukin and Victor Fedutov. All have been accused of corruption and all, despite not being native Brits, donate to the Tory Party. The going rate for these three showing concern for the future of Britain is around £700,000. But for some that is chicken feed or poultry sewage if you prefer to think that way.
The online magazine Open Democracy revealed that one elite Tory dining club has given more than £130m to the Tory Party since 2010. We know that Pfeffel enjoys dinner with these fine folk because he has attended the club so often. Move over the oligarchy and say hello to a plutocracy. Actually, these days nice to meet you might be more appropriate. The members of the donors in the elite clubs are said to be worth £45.7bn. In the first week of the 2019 election campaign the Tory Party raised £5.6m from their big donors, much of it from foreign chaps that take time out of their busy schedules to be reassured about the fate of their British neighbours. In the same week in 2019 the Labour Party raised £220,000. If all this feels a little unfair then have a think about the poor Lib Dems and the Green Party. The rich not only like to gamble, they understand the importance of loaded dice.
But there are ripples besides those that arrive at the corroded banks of Lake Windermere. Industrialists that remember Pfeffel expletives are now fretting over the rising energy prices. The CEO of British Steel claims these increased costs make it impossible for the company to be competitive with firms located in other countries. Recessions have a nasty habit of following increases in energy prices. The countries most likely to avoid recessions will have contingency plans that minimise price increases. Not only does the UK have high energy prices, contingency plans are anathema or bad form to liberterian dilettantes. The latest parliamentary report has criticised the government for its handling of the Covid pandemic. Without contingency plans lives were lost unnecessarily. Right now the guilty have not been named. How long that will last is something for the Pfeffel to think about on his sun lounger. Parliamentary reports are not the equivalent of Pandora’s box but this particular one could be the start of something.
Howard Jackson has had eleven books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories, travel books and collections of film criticism. His latest book Offended Shadows is now available here.