Pitchforks or Pens.

The extreme importance of engaging in the fight for better societies.

I must warn you that today’s post is nothing about dogs. Unless, as with me, you see dogs as well as being the most gorgeous of creatures as being critically important metaphors for what societies need now! Or as I present elsewhere in this place:

Because of this closeness between dogs and man, we (as in man!) have the ability to observe the way they live.  Now I’m sure that scientists would cringe with the idea that the way that a dog lives his life sets an example for us humans, well cringe in the scientific sense.  But man seems to be at one of those defining stages in mankind’s evolution where the forces bearing down on the species homo sapiens have the potential to cause very great harm.  If the example of dogs can provide a beacon of hope, an incentive to change at a deep cultural level, then the quicker we ‘get the message’, the better it will be.


  • are integrous ( a score of 210) according to Dr David Hawkins
  • don’t cheat or lie
  • don’t have hidden agendas
  • are loyal and faithful
  • forgive
  • love unconditionally
  • value and cherish the ‘present’ in a way that humans can only dream of achieving
  • are, by eons of time, a more successful species than man.

richard-murphySo what’s this all leading up to!

Regular followers of this place (and you are always appreciated – never forget that) will know that previously I have mentioned Professor Richard Murphy. I have been following and reading his blog Tax Research UK for some time.

Many of the good Professor’s posts are specific to what is going on in the UK and, inevitably, Europe and the EU referendum.

But on the wider horizon these seem to be such terrible times. Here’s a comment I left to another of Richard’s posts that opened with the sentence, I am so bored by the EU referendum campaign.

My comment being:

It’s coming up to 5:30 am here in Southern Oregon and, as per usual, I have dipped into the latest postings from Tax Research. Part of me, a large part of me, is sickened by what seems to be going on in this world with the EU referendum and the US Presidential election being the two most glaringly terrible examples. But this old Brit (London-born in 1944) has this sense that the way that Richard and so many of his supporters can now ‘shout’ out the truth will, in the end, deliver a better future. Indeed, my own blog post today is called The Power of Open Opinions.

So keep on banging your truthful drum, Richard!

However, last Tuesday Richard published a post that seemed to speak to me, and presumably countless others, about the dilemma as to whether to be active in speaking up about what is right or wrong, or to just huddle up with one of your dogs on a nice (oversized) dog bed!

In my estimation that post from Richard should be widely circulated and it is republished in full now with Richard’s kind permission.


To engage or not; that is the question

Posted on7:57 am May 31 2016

It would seem I have touched a raw nerve for some regular commentators by suggesting that I welcome the IMF article, recently published, that appeared to recognise the failure of neoliberalism to tackle inequality and the inappropriateness of much of the austerity agenda.

It now seems that this article has attracted a vicious backlash from the FT, which clearly sees it as touching on neoliberal heresy. In that case to suggest, as some do, that this article is inconsequential is, in my opinion, wrong.  If nothing else, it has revealed the true opinion of the FT, and the sharp divide between its editorial stance and the opinion of its lead economic  columnist, Martin Wolf.

It is also safe to assume that if this has been the response outside the organisation then the debate within it has been at least as heated,  and all this on an article which says it can find merit in some parts of the neoliberal agenda.

Why come back to the issue then?  I think there are three good reasons for doing so.

First, how to respond to such an article from such an organisation opens up one of the more difficult questions in campaigning, which is whether to engage or not with those organisations that you criticise?  It is not possible to be a tax justice campaigner and to not have been critical of the IMF and its approach over the last few decades.  I have been of the IMF, the World Bank and, of course, of the Washington Consensus  that they have promoted.  But, a long time ago I decided that the only viable way  in which I could help deliver tax justice was by engaging with those people and organisations whose opinions I wished to change.

Over the years I’ve been criticised for this, and  been told that the policy would undermine my chances of success.  So, variously,  I was told that it was a mistake to serve on George Osborne’s General Anti-Abuse Rule  committee.  Likewise, engaging with the  OECD BEPS  process was described as a mistake by some because the terms of engagement were clearly biased against developing countries.  Others have also suggested that it was a mistake not to object to Jeremy Corbyn  using some of my policy ideas.   I suspect some would also criticise the fact that I went to the World Bank last week  and there were definitely those who suggested that I should not accept an appointment at City University, precisely because it has got links to the City of London. As for the Fair Tax Mark; some say that is a sell out.

In all cases I disagree.  It is my job to  create ideas  that might effect change.  My purpose for doing so is, I hope clear:  my aim is to create a more  genuinely prosperous, more equal, more democratic, more accountable, more sustainable,  more tolerant  and so more enjoyable world in which we might live.  More is an important word in that sentence:  it could be prefaced with ‘much’  in many cases but I do not think we will ever create  utopia.  I want better because I doubt that the best I believe possible is actually achievable within the necessary compromises that human society requires, not just now but ever.

That, then, brings me to my second point.  I am not seeking a revolution, but an evolution.  I respect those who wish to be perpetual outsiders because they believe that the only way forward is to sweep away all that is in their path to create an entirely new society, but their’s is not a path I would ever choose.  There is good reason for that: I believe that the cost of such change is too high, and the uncertainty of the outcome too great for any such risk to be taken.  The chance  that what we have will be replaced by tyranny is also too significant to justify this approach, in my opinion.

But, perhaps, most of all,  and thirdly, I believe that the power of an idea at the right time is sufficiently strong to ensure that such a revolutionary approach is wholly unnecessary.  I stress, I am not claiming that my ideas are in this category;  I am suggesting that ideas can be.  Neoliberalism arose because it was an idea in the right place at the right time, even if I fundamentally disagree with the prescription that it offered.  The post-war consensus was similarly created in this way.

I regret that as yet we have not reached a point where a similar replacement idea has been sufficiently developed to capture, unambiguously, the common political narrative.  Discussion of sustainability is become mainstream, but not in reality commonplace.  Disquiet with austerity is deep-rooted, but has not yet displaced the obsession with balanced budgets.  Debate on inequality  in its many egregious forms is taking place, but is not yet reversing trends. Some  political developments  now arising are deeply  antagonistic to democracy. But, and I stress the point,  the fact that all these things are happening is, in itself, indication that something really important is going on and that we may, in my opinion, be reaching a point where real change is possible.

I stress, in the context the IMF article is, in my opinion  important even though it is not  as radical as that  which many people would wish to read.  But that is how change takes place: very few of us are really capable of embracing giant leaps. Most of us have to, inevitably, partake in incremental steps on the way to a bigger goal.

I accept, and embrace that fact,  which I perceive to be a reality.  That is not to say there is no place for the campaigner who demands, with reason, more radical change.  Whilst I see many of the attractions of being a ‘no compromiser’  that is not the path I have chosen to follow, even with tax havens (as my Plan B for Jersey made clear).  If the choice is between a pitchfork and a pen, then I choose the pen,  believing that at the end of the day this is the way to  create real change. But as a result I also choose to engage, without apology.


We must never forget that the pen is mightier than the sword! And we must never stop engaging!

2 thoughts on “Pitchforks or Pens.

  1. I think there are those meant to brandish pitchforks, and those who are best with pens. I am among the latter, being a person who would be dimished by the aggressive energies needed to physically advocate for change. So we do what we can, eh? 😉


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