Novelist. Author of APSARAS and tales from the beautiful Saigh Valley. First person to quantify spiritual values.

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Thursday 2 June 2011

Big Business and the abuse of power.

I used to work in the hospitality industry. I ran pubs as a tenant and owned a hotel. During our time in the industry I was in a good position to monitor how it changed as local breweries gave way to bigger British concerns and eventually to multinationals. When I began there was hardly any lager sold. It started in the late seventies with the popularity of the 'diabetic' lager Holsten Pils. It contained little or no free sugar, it having been all converted to alcohol. This led to the trend for higher alcohol beers and lagers and the importation of foreign brands. Traditional British beers fell into decline and the breweries either closed or were taken over by foreign and larger companies.The move towards bigger breweries was matched by a decrease in the quality of the service as tenancies were replaced by managed houses in a move to increase profitabilty and the return on assets.

This process is not confined to the breweries. This growth of successful multinational companies has, I believe, brought us to the point where their owners are so wealthy they are bringing about a polarisation of the community- the super rich and the others. The owners of big companies, including the shareholders, are making their money, increasingly taking a greater share of the proceeds in a process of sharing that increasingly favours the bosses. Of course it does, because the rationing of profits, wages earned are 'signed off' by executive directors that belong to the same elite club of higher echelon officers.

The disparity of those who have and those who haven't is growing at an alarming rate. And it isn't only in the West. The same phenomenon can be seen in the far east with the rise of the so called 'tiger' economies. There has been a huge increase in the number of billionaires in India and China and oligarchs in Russia. With this money comes power and with this power comes political advantage which begets more power and eventually more money. It is not surprising that the political classes are in thrall of those who run these corporations. Indeed, some political parties depend for their existence on funds from these sources. The point is this. How far do we have to go before the working classes, for want of a better word, decide that enough is enough. While they suffer with diminished wages, if they work at all, and higher cost of living the bosses award themelves higher and higher salaries or preserve for themselves comfortable nest eggs in case of company collapse.

This polarisation is best seen in the financial industry, where investment bankers take (earn is too nice a word) huge amounts of money for doing nothing productive. Now we see that a hedge fund has managed to ruin a care home business through greed. They bought Southern Cross an Australian company with huge property assets. The hedge fund sold off the assets and rented the property back, thereby releasing huge amounts of cash. Now, in the recession, as councils rein in their 'care' expenditure, Southern Cross is in financial difficulties. When will somebody do something about these greedy financiers? Through their greed, elderly and vulnerable people are put at risk.

Cadbury's, the chocolate maker of Britain's favourite 'Dairy Milk', was sold to Kraft, a huge American multinational, amid much talk of jobs being preserved. Far from this, plants have been closed down and production moved abroad, particularly Poland where the labour is cheaper. How did the Government, let alone the shareholders allow this sale? Are they all in the greed game together? You bet they are, but for how much longer?

I'm not advocating a Communist style uprising of the peasants (For that is what the bankers must think of the ordinary person); everyone is entitled to profit from their hard work, invention and enterprise, but where companies and institutions are so large that markets are distorted and Governments cannot influence them, (Indeed, there are some companies, so large, that their turnover exceeds the GDP of some countries) there needs to be a new way of regulating incomes and curbing power.

Not likely you say!  What then is the so called 'Arab Spring'? Is it not people fed up with the disparity between the exhorbitant lifestyle led by the country leaders and the hopes and aspirations of the populace? What is it that has caused people in the UK to protest strongly about the siting of yet another huge Tesco supermarket? Are they not saying that they don't want all the small local businesses closed down as they inevitably will be as the giant behemoth crushes all opposition with artificial low prices? Why are thousands of protesters camped in the middle of Madrid for weeks on end, calling for an end to endemic Government corruption and the Capitalistic cause of the current recession.

I believe it is the start and if push comes to pull, will the Government be able to count on the Armed Forces to help them after treating them so shabbily. We are not so naive as to believe that Camerons weeping heart appeal to their conscience with a 'Forces charter' is nothing more than attempt to keep them 'on-side'.

Unless changes are made to the way countries are governed and to the way that Capitalism is allowed to run unchecked to the ultimate end of monopoly by a handful of supergiant companies, like commodities trading group, Glencore, I believe the future to be dark. The people's illusion of freedom will be just another form of serfdom, as the very few exploit the rest of the world's population and the earth's diminishing resources.

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