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What have they got against Fortnum & Mason, Vodafone, HMV, Boots, TopShop, Santander, etc?

On 26th March 2011, during a peaceful left-wing protest by 250,000 people, a much smaller group of extremist protesters attacked some notable places in London. Places directly attacked or indirectly protested about included Fortnum and Mason, The Ritz, HMV, Santander, Vodafone, TopShop, Boots the Chemists, and Starbucks. The news media described the protesters as "Anarchists", but this is obviously inaccurate because Anarchists generally take an anti-authoritarian line whereas the protesters were trying to enforce some sort of perceived tax law.

The main complaint of the protesters seemed to be that the places were either rich, or catering to the tastes of the rich, or were running their accountancy in a tax-efficient way involving Tax Avoidance. (Note: Tax Avoidance is legal, whereas Tax Evasion is illegal).

I was surprised to see anyone taking direct action against Fortnum and Mason. I can see why people might feel aggrieved against the government and might attack government buildings and symbols of authority, but to attack a tea shop seems ridiculous, and then it leaves us wondering "What have they got against Fortnum and Mason?".

Well let's look into this a bit further. Fortunately there is some free speech, and one of the protesters said "a picnic hamper costs 25,000". This raises two questions: Firstly, is this true? And secondly, is this grounds for a protest? (Note: Freedom is such that it is possible to say things that aren't necessarily true). Well if you are rich enough and you have 25,000 which you wish to spend on a picnic hamper, you could visit Fortnum and Mason and see if they have something that fits with what you want. However, a quick browse around by the price-conscious folk will reveal that picnic hampers start at about 20 at Fortnum and Mason, and they have quite a good mid-range at about 250, as well as more expensive items. (You don't have to take my word for it; you can visit the place online and have a look around. Their prices are on show to all).

Now supposing there's a shop and some of the things they are are expensive, does that mean it's grounds for a protest? Here's an interesting analogy. Supposing there are two pubs. One of them sells only beer and has a Poundland-style promise "No drink costs over 5/pint here!". The other pub has a wide range of booze on sale, and they sell beer and wine and spirits as is expected, but as is often the case with such a licensed premises there's a connoisseur's shelf where some rare and specialist items are available, because every now-and-then someone is going to ask for a Strega (or similar fine reserve item) even if it's quite expensive! The question is: Would it be fair to have a protest outside the place and wave placards saying "Don't drink here! Drink is 50 a bottle" (or similar wording, depending on how much the most expensive drink is)? The thing is, such a message would be misleading, as can be told by regular drinkers at both establishments. They are already aware that the beer is about the same price at both places. The fact that one place has a connoisseur's shelf with expensive items does not affect the price of beer.

Note that Fortnum and Mason cater for the connoisseur's market and are most appealing to rich customers, but they have no prejudicial pseudo-apartheid sign to ban poor people from the place, and their pricing is not such that everything is beyond the financial reach of the average person.

So, it is unfair that Fortnum and Mason were attacked.

Yes, but aren't they involved in tax avoidance? Probably, but so are most sensibly-run companies. It's like this: Supposing you borrowed a book from the library a while ago, and you realised that there was only a day to go before it was due to be stamped by the librarians. Would you choose to take the book back to the library to be renewed, or would you choose to pay a library fine? Well, supposing you decided you'd rather not pay a library fine, would it be fair for your neighbour to say you were involved in "library fine avoidance"? Of course not! It would be absurd! It is reasonable to minimise the penalties that you pay, whether they be library fines on overdue books, parking fines, tax payments, or unnecessary charges of a variety of types.

So, if a few companies including Fortnum and Mason, HMV, Vodafone, and TopShop have avoided paying tax, well done to them! We should congratulate them on their good sense, and understand that the efficient running of a business tends to mean the deals they offer the customers are improved, as well as the wages they pay to the staff.

Anyway, what about Santander? Why would the protesters smash their window? It might be understandable if it were customers smashing the window to protest about bank charges or poor interest rates, but it doesn't appear to be that. Or, if bank robbers were smashing the window to try to steal any cash that might be stashed in the building, it would at least be a motive. However, this is almost certainly not why the protesters smashed the glass. More likely that the protesters who were putting graffiti on the walls saying "smash the banks" were attacking banks and financial places generally, as if they were to blame for the sorry state of the economy (credit crunch). Well admittedly some banks have been found to be gambling with other people's money, but some are worse than others, and it seems unlikely that the expanding Spanish bank Santander are more guilty than others. Blaming all banks would be about as silly as banks blaming all customers for the credit crunch on the basis that people have been borrowing more money than they can afford to pay back. Can you imagine banks saying it's poor people who are to blame for the credit crunch, because of poor people's poor financial planning!?

Incidentally, we should be supporting the banks in this time of credit crunch, so... open a bank account! Choose your bank according to how well it's been run, so it fits with your own ethics.

Now here's another thought about tax avoidance, and how it could improve the British economy. At the time of the problem, corporation tax in the UK is 28%, which was higher than the European average of 25%. Therefore, companies such as TopShop would prefer to be taxed in different European countries in comparison to the high taxation UK. However, what if the British government decided to reduce the British corporation tax to, say, 18%? What would happen then is the tax-avoiding companies would choose to avoid tax by moving to the British tax regime. In effect, the UK would become a tax haven. This would mean the UK tax office would get 18% of the profit of a much larger set of companies, who would be keen to move to Britain, instead of getting 28% of only those companies that can't escape. As a side-point, this would also mean that there'd be no need to tax poor people at all, and so fewer people would live in tax-poverty

If you think it's odd to suggest that the country would get more money in by reducing tax, consider this: Some countries are tax havens and they often do very considerably better than the UK in terms of the profitability of their economy.

There is a much more telling point in the observation of 26th March 2011 extremist protests, which is seen in the flags that the protesters were carrying. If they'd been anarchists they'd have carried black flags, or flags with a letter A in a circle, or a capitalist-anarchist flag which is sometimes diagonally gold and black. However, when you look at the actual flags in photos on the day, you can see they are generally red flags, some of which say "Communist Party" with a Soviet motif, and some of which say "Globalise Resistance", and there are also "Class War" symbols. It's therefore reasonable to conclude it's an anti-capitalist protest. This would also explain the attacks on luxury shops, banks, and companies that showed success in the international business of capitalism.

Whether you agree with the philosophy is something for you to decide. I don't agree with it myself, but I do believe people should have freedom to live the way they want. So, if there's enough people who would like to set up an anti-capitalist homeland, there should surely be some part of the world where that could be tried?

Meanwhile the world moves on and laisez-faire capitalism seems to be quite popular. People like to have a free choice. There is a considerable deep mistrust of bad government of whatever political hue. In the futuristic anarchistic world of The Internet, your freedom of choice is respected. So, if you'd like to shop at Fortnum and Mason, then DO! And if you don't want to, then don't.

Shops that are interested in having shop windows that can't be kicked-in, broken with a battering ram, or shattered might be interested in looking at this idea: Shop windows that can't be smashed-in

Incidentally, this grudging envy of the rich is something peculiar to Britain and only a few other places.