It might not be quite as glamourous or important as a certain ongoing bout of democratic pugilism, but nevertheless even small dots in the ocean have the occasion to decide who their leaders should be, and today is that day for us - I’ll heading to our local polling station later on in fact to help elect our next government. A last tiny bastion of feudalism may still exist a few short miles away, some of the candidates may be less than impressive, and the non-partisan system may often result in what seems like 45 people pulling in 45 different directions, but hey, it could be worse.
Chances are most of you reading this couldn’t give a flying monkeys about the issues involved in this election, so I wouldn’t blame you if you stopped reading at this point - I live here and it sometimes takes a concerted mental effort to summon up the requisite interest. But for those who want to read on, the current political hot potatoes here are the enduring combinations of economy, environment, education and social policy you’ll find everywhere. In particular, we recently underwent a major tax change that means that except for deposit taking banks, no company registered over here will pay a bean of tax on their profits, so long as they don’t distribute money to local shareholders. Prior to this only certain classes of company benefitted from a zero rate of tax, used by trusts and similar ‘vehicles’ to avoid paying tax in other juristictions, but that was frowned upon by the OECD for being unequal - so the only viable choice was to apply it to everyone. Anyway, the long and the short of it is that companies get to avoid paying tax - and that includes my company, unless I take the profit out - and the shortfall has to be made up in efficiencies and raising funds from other sources - mostly employment tax on the people, unless a sales tax is needed beyond that.
So, much of the debate is about whether this was the right decision. Personally, the reliance on the finance industry over here has always been a tad uncomfortable - although I’m fully aware that as a tiny juristiction with few natural resources, finance is one of the few routes to any significant economic success, and as such is necessary for the continued prosperity of what would otherwise be a tiny backwater. At the same time, I’m also aware that the business of international finance largely fails to ‘speak’ to me at any spiritual level - I don’t resent it, I have a pension fund too - but it’s not the kind of industry I feel ‘aligned’ with, if you follow my meaning. Over the years I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved several times in projects that I felt meant something, either to me personally or in a wider context (e.g. systems supporting a badly needed social policy, promoting a certain open source rendering engine to let people be creative more easily, running my own company), and those experiences have meant that now, if at all possible I want to at least feel some level of kinship with the goals of whatever organisation I’m working for, rather than it being a strictly employer/employee transaction, and I’m not sure I could ever find that in the finance industry. It’s a little self-indulgent I know, and certainly I know I could just do a job in my given field regardless of employer if the need arose and probably enjoy it well enough - but there’s no denying that once you’ve been in a position where you feel the objectives of the company / organisation are also your own (even partially), it’s very hard to envisage going back to a more mercenary setup.
Beyond the basic dominance, our government also seems increasingly willing to do whatever the finance industry wants it to do, under the consistent and now barely veiled threat that the industry will disappear to some other juristiction if it doesn’t get its way, and leaving us all destitute (except me perhaps, since all my income originates from completely unrelated sources - I could be king!! ahem.). I’m all for being supportive of the industry in the interests of the huge number of people & service industries that rely on it, but there has to be a line - the transformation of certain parts of our town into glass-and-steel business parks, the changes to the tax burden, pressure on population and services - there is a balance point present here, regardless of what the lobbyists would like us to think. These lobbyists have constantly been pulling out the ‘fear’ card here to indicate there is no practical choice but ‘total compliance or total financial ruin’ - but personally I think that’s a gross oversimplification and besides, I don’t like to be threatened.
So, despite all this I won’t be voting for any of the nutjobs who rail against the industry entirely (and we have one of those running in our constituency - which I’m oddly glad about even if I won’t vote for them, since it lends something of a balance to the proceedings); instead I’m interested in candidates who have practical views on managing the situation sustainably, while promoting and supporting as much diversification as is realistically possible within that environment. After all, both Specsavers and Healthspan started here, two very big companies who are entirely unrelated to finance - there’s no reason this cannot be repeated. Of course now that the tax system has been re-jigged, only highly paid employees (rather than profitable companies) feed funds back into the wider economy, which itself introduces an inherent bias which may make diversification harder by limiting it to companies with small resource requirements but high wages; like software development maybe, particularly service-driven open source companies 😉 It’s not impossible - baby steps. So I’m for the candidates who are positive about those kinds of prospects, as well as sensibly balancing our rather agreeable environment here with the needs of business. There is a line to be walked I believe, one that doesn’t involve veering dangerously towards either rampant socialism or total capitulation to the finance business.
Congratulations if you made it this far. To reward you, I’ll give you my astute and detailed political analysis of something you might actually be interested in, the US democrat primaries:- Obama rocks. 😀