What socialists say
The rich, us and tax deductible charity donations
By Helen Shooter
SUPER-rich businesswoman Ann Gloag was splashed across the newspapers last week in articles praising her charity work. She is now a "nurse" for poverty-stricken children in Africa after resigning last year from Stagecoach, the transport empire she built with her brother Brian Souter.
Bill Gates, the US billionaire head of Microsoft, is also applauded for his donations to charity. He tossed another �3.5 billion into the charitable trust he runs last year. The poor need such generous rich people, we are told. If charitable foundations like those run by the giant Ford corporation or the Rockefellers didn't offer loans and grants to poor people across the world they would never break out of the poverty cycle.
Wealth at the top is supposed to trickle down to the rest of us. But such arguments that defend the gross wealth enjoyed by a tiny few don't hold up. Firstly poor people give far more proportionately to charity than the rich do. The Charities Aid foundation confirms this.
Many ordinary people feel a direct empathy with someone who is homeless or campaigners desperately raising money for a vital operation. When a bus driver buys the Big Issue for �1 or puts money into a collection tin for a disaster appeal, it is a sacrifice out of a small weekly income. Gloag shares the �565 million family fortune, owns mansions in the Scottish Highlands, Perth and Kenya, and drives a �150,000 Ferrari. A few million to a charity is loose change.
The key argument is, where do the rich get their money from in the first place? Their wealth is robbed from us. The rich own the means of producing wealth-the factories, offices, machines and raw materials. They employ workers in factories and offices, but pay them less than the value of the goods and services that workers create.
Karl Marx defined exploitation as this systematic gap between what workers get and what they produce. It is the source of the bosses' profits. Some of those profits are invested back into business for a further round of exploitation.
Some are used to fund lifestyles for the rich. And bosses are constantly trying to increase those profits by forcing workers to work harder, longer and for less. Ann Gloag and Brian Souter's millions came from building a transport empire that systematically drove rival firms out of business and savaged workers' wages and conditions.
Many of the "old money" businesses in Britain today are built on more brutal foundations-on the blood of African slaves. Sugar company Tate & Lyle, whose name is behind the Tate galleries, made its money on the back of the slave trade in the 18th century. One of the world's leading banks, Barclays, also built its empire out of ripping millions of Africans from the homelands and shipping them across the Atlantic to the US.
Barclays helped to destroy the economy of Africa. That has meant poverty and high death rates for the mass of people there ever since. Now Barclays is one of the powerful banks that continue to suck money out of Third World countries through high interest on loans the countries can never pay back.
Socialists are in favour of taking from the rich to give to the poor. This is not about giving the rich even more tax breaks for charitable donations to "encourage" them to give.
We argue for a radical redistribution of wealth, which includes levying heavy taxes on the income of the rich, their homes, their businesses, their shares and their inheritances. But ultimately we need a different society, one that puts an end to the exploitation of the majority of people by a tiny few.
That means challenging not only the money the rich have but also their ability to make more through their stranglehold over the means of producing goods. Socialists are for taking control of the factories, banks and offices, and organising production, not through exploitation for profit, but through cooperation to meet our needs.