Sam Wilkin (2015) Wealth Secrets of the 1%. How the Super Rich Made Their Way to the Top.

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Roll up. Roll up. You too could become one of the super-rich. The kind of person that if they won a couple of million on the National Lottery would hand the winnings to their son or daughter and advise their child to buy lunch and keep the change, but don’t give any to some poor bastard, because they’ll probably spend it  on drink and drugs.

SECRET #1. DON’T BE THE BEST. BE THE ONLY.

I’ve been reading the Sunday Mail’s sly propaganda campaign against Abellio who run the train network in Scotland. It has focused on things that many of us would be familiar with from the days of British Rail. Trains overcrowded and late. The use of rolling stock that is antiquated and dirty. A relatively recent innovation has been to criticise the pay the director running such service gets (I can’t be bothered googling who that is, and does it really matter?) British Rail was a monopoly. Scot Rail a branch of that monopoly had to put its operations out to tender. Are we any better off? The answer is no. And my concern isn’t solely with our poor, dilapidated, rail network. James Meek Private Island: Why Britain Now Belongs to Someone Else shows that in rail, we subsidize other nation’s taxpayers, in this case Holland. Energy companies, water companies, postal services and council housing there has been that old cliché winners and losers. The winners have been the rich and losers the poor, with a regressive tax system taking away the institutions we built and giving them to the rich. Then taxing us again, because they aren’t efficient enough.  The big beast (or elephant) in the room is our NHS. Scotland and England have different systems but both use around a third of our taxation budget to fund the NHS. This is a beneficent monopoly system under siege. And as Nicholas Timmins a biographer of the welfare state observes, post-war America used to come over here looking for ideas on how to run a health service. We’ve flipped that now and look increasingly likely to sell out in the interest or dogma of efficiency savings, that mantra of the rich that penalises the poor and blames them for being poor.

For every Rockefeller rolling up and eating up competition as with Standard Oil in a series of horizontal and vertical acquisitions and mergers there’s a Carlos Slim, who won the right to operate a monopoly in fixed-line telephone services. That might not sound that great. Certainly nowhere near the value of our NHS, but a 2012 OECD report suggested he was the richest man in the world. How did this happen? Simple. Meek touched on it. We can do it or we can let someone else do it for us. Think of the stupidity of not building schools, letting someone else do it, paying them economic rent over an extended period, then complaining later because the walls to schools fall down.   Like cheap and nasty food we always pay more in the long run. Someone eats for free.

 

SECRET #2. BIGGER IS STILL BETTER. The argument goes that diseconomies of scale set in when a business, such as healthcare gets too big. Or the US military, the biggest user of oil in the world. Nobody much argues with the US military. Or Amazon. Or Walmart. Or Microsoft. This reminded me of Philip Green, that former -or is he still-  darling of the Conservative Party. Green whom they asked for advice, gave him a knighthood. Green notorious diddler of  pensioners, whom like everyone else, he ripped off to fund his extravagant life style in a tax haven. Try this trick at home.  One of his regular suppliers was told she was getting x price, then when she fulfilled her quota was taken aside and told she’d need to take y price. Why? Because Green, like Walmart, Amazon or the US military has the big stick, or leverage. A valid argument here is that the NHS, for example, doesn’t use its leverage to ensure profits for drug companies are not excessive. But for the super wealthy, there’s no such thing as excessive.

SECRET #3. THE WORST PLACE TO DO BUSINESS IS REALLY THE BEST. Perhaps not North Korea. But perhaps soon it may be. Bill Browder Red Notice showed that after the fall of the Berlin Wall, when the USSR economy contracted by 50% and the average return on capital was 5% his company, Hermitage Capital, generated returns of 1500%. What’s not to like? Hans Chung’s mantra that economics is politics applies here. The workshop of the world is China, but he reminds us that like his country, South Korea, these used to be considered economic basket cases. The African continent would be a good bet, but with the moron’s moron as President of the richest country in the world and the likelihood of nuclear war ratcheted up, if fallout doesn’t get us, global warming will. Place your bets.

SECRET #4. WHEN LENDERS CAN’T LOSE. YOU WIN.

That old favourite if we give you money we must have a reasonable expectation that we will get it back ( a return on our investment). Unless of course, you’re a too-big-to-fail bank. Let me put that into perspective. Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) losses since 2008, £50 billion. RBS loss this financial year, around £7 billion. Chancellor of Exchequer Philip Hammond’s budget giveaway to Scotland under the Barnett formula, £350 million, a figure disputed by the Scottish National Party. That’s one bank. Rich people don’t get punished for not paying their way.

 

SECRET #5. YOU’VE GOT TO OWN IT, BABY, OWN IT.

If you live in a council house you are scum. If you rent your house from someone else you’re a sucker, throwing away good money after bad. If you own your own house, outright, you’ve got a revenue stream and money to burn, or borrow. But, of course, to be truly rich you don’t just own property. For example, only around 130 of the 1600 fortunes listed in Forbes Global Rich List are in real estate. You own a portfolio of wealth because you own the people on the land and they create wealth for you. In the post-Soviet collapse billionaires mushroomed overnight.

SECRET #6. SPIN LAWS INTO GOLD.

Britain is a good place to live if you’re rich. It’s a county that keeps giving. The United States advisers, such as Steve Bannon’s aim is, like Lenin’s, to destroy the state. A simple formula: give money to the rich in tax breaks and it will trickle down. It doesn’t. Get rid of red tape. That sounds great. What it means is displacing costs onto the poor for things like health care and to everyone else for necessities such as clean air and water. Simple solutions to complex problems always work for the rich. To borrow a phrase it’s ‘dictatorship by tedium’. Nobody pays much attention to Phil Hammond’s budget speech. We’ve heard it all before. Yawn, more tax on whisky. I don’t drink whisky. Less welfare spending. Serves them right.

SECRET #7. IF YOU WANT TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS, NETWORK, NETWORK, NETWORK.

Sam Wilkes uses the example of Cornelus Vanderbilt in the 1860s taking over the New York & Harlem Railroad. The incestuous banking network J.P. Morgan created described in a report to U.S Supreme Court sounds very Putinish or indeed Trumpish, or both together:

J.P. Morgan (or a partner), a director of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad, causes the company to sell to J.P.Morgan and Company an issue of bonds. J.P.Morgan and Company borrow the money to pay the bonds from the Guarantee Trust Company, of which Mr Morgan (or a partner) is a director. The New Haven spends the proceeds of the bonds in purchasing steel rails from the United States Steel Corporation, of which Mr Morgan (or a partner) is a director. United States Steel Corporation spends the proceeds of the rails in purchasing electrical supplies from the General Electric Company of which Mr Morgan (or partner) is a director…[and so on].

Good luck making those billions. Just remember to love money more than your friends, because you won’t have any. Not really. You’ll have servants and shape-shifting alliances. I could quote Jimmy Reid’s rat-race polemic here, it still stands true. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/still-irresistible-a-working-class-heros-finest-speech-2051285.html

I’m not with the rats. I’m with the common working man. We find secrets in strange place and, funnily enough, I’m quoting here from a character in another Scottish writer, William McIlvanney’s ‘Laidlaw’ novel, Strange Loyalties:

Any social contract is a two-way agreement. It’s one thing to make the people serve the economy. But the economy must also serve the people. If we disadvantage the present of one section of society, we disadvantage the future of all society. The children of the well-off will not just inherit the wealth of their parents. They will also inherit the poverty of the parents of others. Even self-interest, if it is wise, will concern itself with the welfare of all. Not just the poor will inherit the bad places. All of us will.

One in five children in Scotland are classified as living in poverty. My loyalty is with these people, not the pampered rich, super-rich or mega-rich. Whatever way you want to put it, they haven’t been paying their way. The problem is ours.  Rat race. You better believe it.

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great Scottish writers – William McIlvanney

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I was out watching the fitba yesterday, having a couple of pints and old Lawrie was trying to explain what pub he’d been in, years ago, not by telling us where it was, rather by telling us who’d once owned it and who’d given him the money to buy the pub, but he couldn’t remember that either. ‘It was a great Scottish author.’ That was the clue to unravelling the mystery.

‘William McIlvanney,’ I said.

‘No,’ he said, shaking his head. ‘A great Scottish author’.

Let me tell you a wee secret, William McIlvanney is a great Scottish author and like Spike Milligan with Hitler, I’ll explain my part in his downfall. I’m going to read Docherty again just to prove that point to myself again. If you’re Scottish and you’re of a certain age and generation you’ll remember Taggart.  You might even remember it if you’re not Scottish. And if you’re drunk and want to overdose in nostalgia Taggart is still part of STV broadcasts in the same way that Dad’s Army still pops up on BBC (too frequently). The classic line in Taggart, ‘There’s been a murder,’ was so recognisable that talk show hosts used to mouth it cast members and smile, inviting the audience to laugh at them. Taggart became a cliché, to be mocked and so Laidlaw and Scottish noir also became something to be looked down on.

You probably don’t remember me being in Taggart, but at one point in time everybody in Glasgow featured in Taggart. You may have saw me featured in a bar chatting to someone, or walking past Taggart (Mick McManus) and looking very much like me, with the wrong coat on. I did also feature in a tracking shot as the back of Dr Finley’s head. A J Cronin is another of Scotland’s writers greatly neglected.

William McIlvanney allegedly tried to sell a series to STV featuring a straight talking Glasgow detective. But they didn’t fancy the idea. The next thing Taggart appears. Ahem. Do the maths. One-word detectives, that human aphorism, with the answer to a question you don’t know, in the title. Taggart. Laidlaw. Taggart is an older dour detective inspective showing a fresh-faced new start behind the ears the ropes. There’s been a murder. No son, there’s been a theft, the stealing of a body of work from an author. Detective Inspector Laidlaw is an older, dour detective, much given to philosophising and doing what he’s got to do, even though it’s not in the handbook, but because it’s the right thing to do and there is no handbook. Just life.  His sidekick Detective Constable Harkness, a fresh-faced new start has been appointed the higher-up heid yins to keep an eye on Laidlaw, and also, incidentally to help him in the murder of Jennifer Lawson.  That line – there’s been a murder – appears in the first of McIlvanney’s Laidlaw trilogy, Laidlaw, followed by The Papers of Tony Veitch and Strange Loyalties.  Laidlaw doesn’t attempt to solve murders, he attempts to understand them and does so by wrestling to the ground Glasgow punter’s prejudices and inhumanity to humanity. Murder comes in many forms, in hopes and dreams.

The reader already knows who the killer is in Laidlaw’s first case, when the reader meets the detective. It’s the guy running away from the scene and we know he’s a poof and we know somebody is protecting him and we know why, because they love each other, or once did. But Jennifer Lawrence is not just another wee lassie that was in the wrong place at the wrong time, her da is a Glasgow hardman that lives in Drumchapel. Laidlaw has a soft spot for hardmen, he speaks their language and knows how their arcane rules work, and he knows where to find them in their natural element, Glasgow’s pubs.

Poppies was in a court behind Buchanan Street, along with a couple of abstruse businesses and an anonymous second-hand bookshop. It was the most recent example in Glasgow of a pub with adjoining disco, recent enough for Harkness not to know it. He knew The Griffin and Joanna’s in Bath Street, Waves and Spankies at Custom House Quay. The pub here, the Mavrick, was closed just now but the door to Poppies was open.

An open door is always an invitation. Laidlaw and Harkness need to find the murderer of Jennifer Lawrence before his poofter pal helps him to escape, or the Glasgow underworld help Lawrence’s dad find him first and bring the Old Testament eye for an eye vision of justice into view. The smart money is always on Laidlaw, but if you think it’s about solving a murder you’re missing the point. It’s about the writing. It’s about Laidlaw’s epigrams for living and way of seeing the world.

The Papers of Tony Veitch is a case in point. Laidlaw gets a tip off from a reporter, who talked to a porter in The Victoria Infirmary. ‘Old bloke brought in. Chin like a Brillo-pad. Smelling like a grape harvest. Just about conscious. But he kept asking for Jack Laidlaw’.

A doctor explains their predicament to Laidlaw.  ‘Having trouble with his airwaves. They had him in E. God he was filthy. Didn’t know whether to dialyse or cauterise. A walking Bubonic.’

Laidlaw does know the old bloke, he appears in his first part of the trilogy, an alky and a tout who no longer had his finger on Glasgow’s underworld pulse, because he doesn’t have a pulse. But Eck Adamson leaves Laidlaw a cryptic message. ‘The wine wasnae really wine.’

For colleagues such as Laidlaw’s nemesis Milligan it’s an open and shut case. An alky dies the world applauds, one less problem to worry about. The same wipe-your-eye principles apply, another thug, Paddy Collins, who died of stab wounds in the Victoria Infirmary at around the same time. But Paddy Collins is connected, his wife’s brother is one of the dons of the Glasgow underworld and he insists on finding the killer, before the police. Characters from the first Laidlaw novel bleed into the second. And Laidlaw applies the same detective methods, he solves crimes by osmosis. One clue lies in the deranged idealism of a potential murderer, with connections of a different kind, into Scotland’s elite society. Tony Veitch like Laidlaw has dropped out of the University of Glasgow because he believes it cannot give him the education he requires. None of these things, in isolation matter, but for McIlvanney and Laidlaw nothing ever happens in isolation.

In Strange Loyalties Laidlaw’s brother Scott is killed in a car accident. Nothing is ever an accident in Laidlaw-land. McIlvanney and Laidlaw’s strength is in documenting the social nuances between people. Here, for example, he goes to meet Scott’s father-in-law and his mother-in-law, Martin and Alice.

Their togetherness looked as cosy as an advertisement for an endowment policy…Martin had been a building contractor and a friend of many local councillors. The word was that the two aspects of his life hadn’t been always kept effectively apart…Martin was one of the smiling ruthless. Self-interest and callousness had been so effectively subsumed in his nature that they emerged as a form of politeness. He never raised his voice because he hadn’t enough self-doubt to make it necessary. He could listen calmly to opinions violently opposed to his own because he never took them seriously. He offered the conventional forms of sympathy effortlessly because there was no personal content to mean they might not fit…How long does it take to analyse a vacuum?

Alice, Martin’s wife, is beautiful enough to think the world is beautiful too, but that allows her to be empathetic, in the way that Martin is pathetic.  In Laidlaw-land the perpetrators aren’t all locked safely behind bars. They are pillars of society. Everybody is in some ways culpable and knows something, even if they don’t understand what it means. Neither does Laidlaw, but by the end of his book the reader might. That’s why McIlvanney is a great writer.

Harry Ballantyne RIP.

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Funerals are more modern now. A Celebration of the Life of Henry Ballantyne. I always knew him as Harry. I’d have never have guessed he was a Henry.  Instead of some dirge of a hymn, Neil Diamond for the Entrance Music and America as the first track, and for the Retiral Music (that’s when they shut the curtains in the crematorium and usher you outside) Crackling Rosie  (Cracklin’ Rosie) also by Neil Diamond. When we were standing outside the crematorium the joke was the first hymn would be the Sash and the last hymn would be the Sash. I recognised many familiar faces. All getting older. All nearer being the next one measured for the sliding box and hiding behind the curtains. A game nobody wants to win.

In the middle we had a Christian service and the hymn Abide With Me. That’s the boring bit. You wait for the vicar to tell you something new. That Harry was really Henry and all those years of supporting Rangers was a ploy to hide his deep love for Celtic. He did tell me a few things I didn’t know. A good story always starts at the beginning. Jesus and the wise men following the star and saying to them don’t go there, that’s where Harry lives in Trafalgar Street. Harry managed the Park Bar. Don’t go there. I never knew that. He was born in Townhead in November 1942, when the German Luftwaffe were blitzkrieging Clydebank. Harry would have told you they were after him. He might have been right. Harry worked in John Brown’s shipyard as a sheet-metal worker. Odds on that’s where he got asbestosis. Asbestos was cheaper than worker’s wages, fire resistant and easily cut into any pattern. Great for boats, not good for lungs or hearts. I didn’t know Harry then. I only knew young Harry his son and Callum (deceased).

Abide with me. Harry (senior) would be around the age, mid-fifties, when I met him. He favoured the purple shell suit and tartan bunnet. I think he dragged it into fashion. Over the years that look didn’t change much or grow old. You probably remember films such as the Mean Machine, with Burt Reynolds, when the grizzled old coach comes up to Burt and, out of the side of his mouth, says something like: ‘we’re putting a team together that’s going to beat the prison guards.’ Then came the big question. ‘You in or out?’ You’d ask a daft question like is Tam Scanlon in the team? And when you found out not only was he in the team, but was assistant manager, there could only be one answer and that was ‘Naw, Harry, are you fuckin’ mad?’

Daft question. For the record, the prison guards won almost every game. Our pub team specialised in glorious defeat. Harry would shake his head and smile and blame the ref, even if he was the ref. He’d blame the park. Too big. Too small. They’ve played on grass before. And who could forget Harry and the magic sponge. One bucket. One sponge and a spray of Ralgex to cure everything from gravel rash, broken leg to baldness. When Harry ran on with his bucket, anybody with a brain, and let’s face it, there weren’t many of us that way inclined, would roll off the park and start running. The best thing about playing for Dalmuir, apart from Harry, was our fans. They were legendary and a lot better than the team. Who can forgot the cup final or semi-final where everybody played at being wrecked, probably Terry Ross was the worst (RIP) and nobody been fit enough to drive the coach home and nobody could remember the score. Harry would, because Harry remembered everything. All he had to do was tweek his tactics. We’d get it right next week. We had a pint and relived those days often. Rest in peace Harry, we had a blast.

Under Lock and Key

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http://www.channel4.com/programmes/under-lock-and-key

Under Lock and Key highlights many of the problems discussed in caring for vulnerable people with complex needs. This shows how ‘total institutions’ work. I tackled this theme directly in my unpublished novel Hut’s and more indirectly (I like to think in a Hitchcock fashion) in my novel Lily Poole. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lily-Poole-Jack-ODonnell/dp/1783522356