Bonuses: time for a windfall tax

Aren't you sick and tired of bankers ripping you off?

Can there be a more shameless, selfish, self-centred, navel-gazing bunch of bankers than the RBS board? How on earth can a failed bank, bailed out to the tune of billions of pounds by taxpayers, now try to blackmail those same taxpayers, ie, their new shareholders? Vince Cable is right -- call the bankers' bluff!

But not only has the government been outflanked by the Tories in recent months, in populist anti-bonus rhetoric, if not in concrete or workable proposals, but it still can't get its line straight. Harriet Harman says bonuses are "reckless" and "irresponsible" and Paul Myners says bankers need to "come back into the real world", but Peter Mandelson says that he understands "the point of view that RBS directors are expressing". He adds:

They say they have to remain competitive in the market in recruiting senior executives and that's why it's important that all the banks are equally restrained and that RBS is not singled out.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister has belatedly "waded in", saying:

Nobody is being discriminated against because every bank is having to follow these procedures.

Every country in the world is legislating to create new bonus policies where we restrict bonuses both in terms of the eligibility and also in terms of the conditions attached to bonuses.

But why has Brown only now spoken up about this? Back in September, when James and I interviewed him for the New Statesman, he said so little about bank bonuses that we didn't even bother to include this passing line from the PM in the final piece:

I think what we're all talking about is how you can reduce the proportion of bonuses in revenues and profits and how you can limit them in that way -- what you've got to do is find the international rules that everybody can implement. You don't want to go down to the last person in the last board in the last company . . . and I think that's why the agreement in Pittsburgh will be one that can be applied across every nation.

The tone has changed -- thankfully, if belatedly. It's time for Brown and Darling and Mandelson and Harman to crack down on excessive bonuses. And if RBS, as Mandelson says, feels it is being "singled out", then the simplest solution is a windfall tax on all bonuses, so that the boys at Barclays pay as much as the boys at RBS. In fact, back in August, I wrote that Brown should "impose a retrospective 90 per cent tax on all 2008/2009 UK bank bonuses". I'm pleased that others are catching up. Here is the FT's Martin Wolf this week:

Yet, regardless of the success of reforms of incentives in -- and regulation of -- the financial sector, it is reasonable to recoup not only the direct fiscal costs of saving banks but even some of the wider fiscal costs of the crisis. The time has come for some carefully judged populism. A one-off windfall tax on bonuses would make the pain ahead for society so very much more bearable. Try it: millions will love it.

Oh, and never forget the key statistic, revealed by the the National Audit Office this week: our glorious banks have received £850bn of taxpayer support to see them through the financial crisis. As the Metro points out:

The figure is more than the entire NHS budget, almost three times [in fact, it's almost 23 times] the annual defence budget and more than five times what Britain spends every year on transport.

Shame on them.

 

 

 

 

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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How the internet has democratised pornography

With people now free to circumvent the big studios, different bodies, tastes and even pubic hair styles are being represented online.

Our opinions and tastes are influenced by the media we consume: that much is obvious. But although it’s easy to have that conversation if the medium we are discussing is “safe for work”, pornography carries so much stigma that we only engage with it on simple terms. Porn is either “good” or “bad”: a magical tool for ­empowerment or a destructive influence on society. Many “pro-porn” campaigners shy away from nuanced critique, fearing it could lead to censorship. “Anti-porn” campaigners, convinced that porn is harmful by definition, need look no further than the mainstream tube sites – essentially, aggregators of clips from elsewhere – to gather examples that will back them up.

When we talk about the influence of porn, the emphasis is usually on a particular type of video – hardcore sex scenes featuring mostly slim, pubic-hairless women and faceless men: porn made for men about women. This kind of porn is credited with everything from the pornification of pop music to changing what we actually do in bed. Last year the UK government released a policy note that suggested porn was responsible for a rise in the number of young people trying anal sex. Although the original researcher, Cicely Marston, pointed out that there was no clear link between the two, the note prompted a broad debate about the impact of porn. But in doing so, we have already lost – by accepting a definition of “porn” shaped less by our desires than by the dominant players in the industry.

On the day you read this, one single site, PornHub, will get somewhere between four and five million visits from within the UK. Millions more will visit YouPorn, Tube8, Redtube or similar sites. It’s clear that they’re influential. Perhaps less clear is that they are not unbiased aggregators: they don’t just reflect our tastes, they shape what we think and how we live. We can see this even in simple editorial decisions such as categorisation: PornHub offers 14 categories by default, including anal, threesome and milf (“mum I’d like to f***”), and then “For Women” as a separate category. So standard is it for mainstream sites to assume their audience is straight and male that “point of view” porn has become synonymous with “top-down view of a man getting a blow job”. Tropes that have entered everyday life – such as shaved pubic hair – abound here.

Alongside categories and tags, tube sites also decide what you see at the top of their results and on the home page. Hence the videos you see at the top tend towards escalation to get clicks: biggest gang bang ever. Dirtiest slut. Horniest milf. To find porn that doesn’t fit this mould you must go out of your way to search for it. Few people do, of course, so the clickbait gets promoted more frequently, and this in turn shapes what we click on next time. Is it any wonder we’ve ended up with such a narrow definition of porn? In reality, the front page of PornHub reflects our desires about as accurately as the Daily Mail “sidebar of shame” reflects Kim Kardashian.

Perhaps what we need is more competition? All the sites I have mentioned are owned by the same company – MindGeek. Besides porn tube sites, MindGeek has a stake in other adult websites and production companies: Brazzers, Digital Playground, Twistys, PornMD and many more. Even tube sites not owned by MindGeek, such as Xhamster, usually follow the same model: lots of free content, plus algorithms that chase page views aggressively, so tending towards hardcore clickbait.

Because porn is increasingly defined by these sites, steps taken to tackle its spread often end up doing the opposite of what was intended. For instance, the British government’s Digital Economy Bill aims to reduce the influence of porn on young people by forcing porn sites to age-verify users, but will in fact hand more power to large companies. The big players have the resources to implement age verification easily, and even to use legislation as a way to expand further into the market. MindGeek is already developing age-verification software that can be licensed to other websites; so it’s likely that, when the bill’s rules come in, small porn producers will either go out of business or be compelled to license software from the big players.

There are glimmers of hope for the ethical porn consumer. Tube sites may dominate search results, but the internet has also helped revolutionise porn production. Aspiring producers and performers no longer need a contract with a studio – all that’s required is a camera and a platform to distribute their work. That platform might be their own website, a dedicated cam site, or even something as simple as Snapchat.

This democratisation of porn has had positive effects. There’s more diversity of body shape, sexual taste and even pubic hair style on a cam site than on the home page of PornHub. Pleasure takes a more central role, too: one of the most popular “games” on the webcam site Chaturbate is for performers to hook up sex toys to the website, with users paying to try to give them an orgasm. Crucially, without a studio, performers can set their own boundaries.

Kelly Pierce, a performer who now works mostly on cam, told me that one of the main benefits of working independently is a sense of security. “As long as you put time in you know you are going to make money doing it,” she said. “You don’t spend your time searching for shoots, but actually working towards monetary gain.” She also has more freedom in her work: “You have nobody to answer to but yourself, and obviously your fans. Sometimes politics comes into play when you work for others than yourself.”

Cam sites are also big business, and the next logical step in the trickle-down of power is for performers to have their own distribution platforms. Unfortunately, no matter how well-meaning your indie porn project, the “Adult” label makes it most likely you’ll fail. Mainstream payment providers won’t work with adult businesses, and specialist providers take a huge cut of revenue. Major ad networks avoid porn, so the only advertising option is to sign up to an “adult” network, which is probably owned by a large porn company and will fill your site with bouncing-boob gifs and hot milfs “in your area”: exactly the kind of thing you’re trying to fight against. Those who are trying to take on the might of Big Porn need not just to change what we watch, but challenge what we think porn is, too.

The internet has given the porn industry a huge boost – cheaper production and distribution, the potential for more variety, and an influence that it would be ridiculous to ignore. But in our failure properly to analyse the industry, we are accepting a definition of porn that has been handed to us by the dominant players in the market.

Girl on the Net writes one of the UK’s most popular sex blogs: girlonthenet.com

This article first appeared in the 16 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times