How we can make globalisation fairer

We need international action to halt the slide on corporation tax.

The world's wealthy and powerful have convened in the small Swiss town of Davos this week with income disparity high on the agenda. But although it tops the list of CEO risks, no one here appears clear about how to deal with the problem.

The global financial crash should have been the left's moment but now in the fifth year of the crisis, which unpicked many of the principal assumptions of neoliberalism and the Washington Consensus, social democrats and progressives are no closer to having an analysis about how to make the global economy work more equitably and sustainably.

The occupy movement have done much to raise awareness of the issue - spooking company bosses along the way - but they have been largely silent on alternatives, passing the buck to politicians. In the UK our elected representatives have fallen over one another to call for a more popular, responsible or mutualist form of capitalism but suggest micro measures at the domestic level. They miss the point that global fairness in a global economy starts at the global level.

A new report by IPPR, launched today in Davos, takes an analytical and historical look at globalisation to break it down into component parts and understand what has delivered progressive outcomes and what has failed. On the BBC's Today programme this morning, Lord Mandelson - who led our Globalisation project and wrote a foreword to the report - spoke of how markets, while indispensable, can become volatile and need to be regulated, and that globalisation creates income inequalities. Unlike the laissez faire approach to globalisation of the 1990s which appeared to see globalisation as an end in itself, we see that globalisation has the potential to lift people out of poverty and expand the global middle class, as it has most dramatically in China, but that it comes with risks too.

Chief among the risks are the prospect of a downward spiral on corporation tax and the excessive volatility inherent in some forms of capital mobility. The first has moved the tax burden away from global corporations towards individual income, consumption and domestic firms; the latter is part of a wider problem in the financial services sector where pay and performance have become unhinged with all the incentives geared at the short term gains rather than long term value.

Our report recommends concerted international action to halt the slide on corporation tax by making profits across Europe contingent on where sales, staff and production is actually based rather than where the head office is registered. We also push for a more widespread understanding that capital controls, which the IMF now advocate but other organizations like the WTO still oppose, are a legitimate policy in certain circumstances.

In surplus countries like China, health, unemployment and retirement insurance systems are key to reducing savings rates and increasing domestic demand. Conditional cash transfers, like, for example, former President Lula's 'bolsa familia' policy of giving poor families incentives to vaccinate their kids and send them to school, are also a good way of lifting living standards.

In current account deficit countries like the UK and US, the challenge is to increase levels of trade. The projected increases in the global middle class create huge export opportunities for Britain in educational services, higher education, medical devices,green technology, the creative industries and tourism as well as our more traditional comparative advantages such as financial services, aerospace and pharmaceuticals.

In addition we must ensure that consumption is based not on debt but on rising wages. Efforts to broaden the living wage is key to this but so too should countries like Britain reorient their welfare policies towards the crisis points that globalisation can cause like unemployment. Wage loss insurance, which would mean higher benefits when people lose their job but a requirement to pay it back when they return to employment, is another idea worth exploring. Ensuring that Britain

Meeting the concerns of citizens everywhere who feel anger at the growing disparities in society at a time of austerity is by no means easy. But it is essential if governments and CEOs are to avoid an even bigger populist backlash.

Will Straw is Associate Director at IPPR

Will Straw is Director of Britain Stronger In Europe, the cross-party campaign to keep Britain in the European Union. 

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The government has admitted it can curb drugs without criminalising users

Under the Psychoactive Substances Act it will not be a criminal offence for someone to possess for their own consumption recreational drugs too dangerous to be legally sold to the public.

From Thursday, it may be illegal for churches to use incense. They should be safe from prosecution though, because, as the policing minister was forced to clarify, the mind-altering effects of holy smells aren’t the intended target of the Psychoactive Substances Act, which comes into force this week.

Incense-wafters aren’t the only ones wondering whether they will be criminalised by the Act. Its loose definition of psychoactive substances has been ridiculed for apparently banning, among other things, flowers, perfume and vaping.

Anyone writing about drugs can save time by creating a shortcut to insert the words “the government has ignored its advisors” and this Act was no exception. The advisory council repeatedly warned the government that its definition would both ban things that it didn’t mean to prohibit and could, at the same time, be unenforcable. You can guess how much difference these interventions made.

But, bad though the definition is – not a small problem when the entire law rests on it – the Act is actually much better than is usually admitted.

Under the law, it will not be a criminal offence for someone to possess, for their own consumption, recreational drugs that are considered too dangerous to be legally sold to the public.

That sounds like a mess, and it is. But it’s a mess that many reformers have long advocated for other drugs. Portugal decriminalised drug possession in 2001 while keeping supply illegal, and its approach is well-regarded by reformers, including the Liberal Democrats, who pledged to adopt this model in their last manifesto.

This fudge is the best option out of what was politically possible for dealing with what, until this week, were called legal highs.

Before the Act, high-street shops were free to display new drugs in their windows. With 335 head shops in the UK, the drugs were visible in everyday places – giving the impression that they couldn’t be that dangerous. As far as the data can be trusted, it’s likely that dozens of people are now dying each year after taking the drugs.

Since legal highs were being openly sold and people were thought to be dying from them, it was obvious that the government would have to act. Until it did, every death would be blamed on its inaction, even if the death rate for users of some newly banned drugs may be lower than it is for those who take part in still-legal activities like football. The only question was what the government would do.

The most exciting option would have been for it to incentivise manufacturers to come up with mind-altering drugs that are safe to take. New Zealand is allowing drug makers to run trials of psychoactive drugs, which could eventually – if proved safe enough – be sold legally. One day, this might change the world of drug-taking, but this kind of excitement was never going to appeal to Theresa May’s Home Office.

What was far more plausible was that the government would decide to treat new drugs like old ones. Just as anyone caught with cocaine or ecstasy faces a criminal record, so users of new drugs could have been hit with the same. This was how legal highs have been treated up until now when one was considered serious enough to require a ban.

But instead, the government has recognised that its aim – getting new drugs out of high-street shop windows so they don’t seem so normal – didn’t depend on criminalising users. A similar law in Ireland achieved precisely this. To its credit, the government realised it would be disproportionate to make it a criminal offence to possess the now-illegal highs.

The reality of the law will look chaotic. Users will still be able to buy new drugs online – which could open them to prosecution for import – and the law will do nothing to make drugs any safer. Some users might now be exposed to dealers who also want to sell them more dangerous other drugs. There will be few prosecutions and some head shop owners might try to pick holes in the law: the government seems to have recognised that it needed a better definition to have any chance of making the law stick.

But, most importantly for those of us who think the UK’s drug laws should be better at reducing the damage drugs cause, the government, for the first time, has decided that a class of recreational drugs are too dangerous to be sold but that it shouldn’t be a crime to possess them. The pressure on the government to act on legal highs has been relieved, without ordinary users being criminalised. For all the problems with the new law, it’s a step in the right direction.

Leo Barasi is a former Head of Communications at the UK Drug Policy Commission. He writes in a personal capacity