Make a Difference

Making a difference is something I would say is the common desire of most of humankind. And that is not only because it has been a primary motivation for my own life and career. Extensive research, summarised brilliantly by Dan Pink in his book “Drive”, identifies Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose as the 3 innate primary motivational forces. Replace ‘Purpose’ with ‘Determination’ and change the order to M(astery), A(utonomy) and D(etermination) and you can readily see how, at the personal level, they together encapsulate the need to “Make a Difference.”

You may consider this to be ingenuous, and only a mental gymnastic exercise, but there is more to it. Our survival as a species has depended, and actually still depends, on our ability to collaborate and work as part of a group. This is hard-wired into the way we are made and, this physiological fact, means that we all derive our sense of well-being and hence our psychological sense of self-worth from our contribution to something outside of ourselves. The desire to make a difference is therefore a very real phenomenon.  

Interconnectedness 24339389_sUnfortunately it is not an easy goal to realize. As a species we are part of a great, inter-connected whole. In order to understand the world around us, however, we tend to simplify things by isolating them, categorising them – usually by means of arbitrary definitions, convenient boundaries and clear labels – and then studying them in isolation. This means that, all too often, we tend to overlook or misrepresent these inter-connections. National boundaries are a perfect example of this, where historical, cultural and even geographical factors, have been totally ignored.

Politics, sociology and economics are all fields – often even referred to as sciences – where this short-coming is particularly prevalent. The division of government administration into ministries such as health, education, justice etc. for example, creates silos of special interests and lack of “joined-up thinking” that leads to sub-optimal results for all as the result of limited perspectives, conflicting ideologies, restricted resources and bitter competition for what resources are available.

“The Democracy Delusion” is my attempt to illustrate how so many of society’s current woes stem from this failure to recognise the inter-connectedness of things. In doing so I have also attempted to offer solutions that take more account of this inter-connectedness and thereby to make a difference myself – at least as far as any one individual can. My hope is that you also feel a strong need to make a difference and that together we can create a shift in thinking that compels action and therefore that actually makes a difference.

Accordingly, I invite you to get hold of, and read, “The Democracy Delusion” and encourage others to do so too, and then to stimulate dialogue, discussion and debate around the ideas in it, that lead to action. That way we can ensure that together we do make a difference.

Overdue: Tax Review Calls

What good news to hear that the Labour Party is proposing to review the complete tax system. It is one of the first sensible ideas I have heard in ages and long, long overdue.

Taxation is the primary means of funding government. It is also an integral part of both our financial and economic systems, and helps shape the running of our economy. It therefore seems logical that the financial crisis should have instigated a review of the taxation system. But alas that seems to be too much to have hoped for.

Unfortunately, all too often, efforts to fund government administration and drive policy invoke the law of unintended consequences, sometimes to disastrous effect. The 2008 financial crisis itself is likely an example. It was fueled in part by a complete contempt for government and governance. You need look no further than “Dieselgate” to see this in action. This shameful episode epitomizes the type of malicious myopia, even willful blindness, of large organisations. It certainly illustrates their attitude to government

Who's runningoff with all the money?

Who’s running off with all the money?

regulations.

And even though there may be no direct link, this same attitude applies to tax. Industrial scale tax avoidance unquestionably plays a significant role in our economy. The lack of taxes paid by corporations such as Starbucks and Amazon, (to name two that have recently been in the news) inevitably increases the strain on government, adding to the demand for more debt and/or making debt repayment more difficult and driving “austerity.” 

This is a natural and inevitable consequence of the fact that corporations are also required to pay tax. Efforts to reduce tax thus become a leading factor in business strategy and tactics. In turn this has played a massive part in tax advisory services and tax avoidance becoming an industry in its own right.

Recent events in Cyprus and Greece, where foreign bankers now effectively run the country, show that, at the end of the day it is always the man in the street who ends up paying the bill. Austerity is, alas, the inevitable outcome of failures to curb past excesses. It may be avoidable, but only if we fix the systems that allowed it to happen.

It is therefore imperative that any review of the tax system takes a wide view and goes beyond just the levying of tax and looks at the financial system as a whole. We must:

  • Move beyond adding further layers of complexity to an already over-complicated subject;
  • Look to principle rather than policy to form the basis of a new tax regime
  • Avoid perpetuating the ideological divides of the past (which hopefully a principle based approach will enable.)
  • Endeavour to separate commercial enterprise and tax planning
  • Cater better for global operations and make business domicile irrelevant.

Any review that fails to do this, will ultimately be a failure and let the people and the country down, badly.  It is a matter of national economic survival, not just party survival.