Portmanteau Commentary: Why the law isn't always right

It really shouldn't have come as a surprise to me that the meager two page spread on White Collar Crime that I came across in my first year of Sociology within a, I distinctively remember, 60 page depiction of all forms of absurdly dated theories on street crime, made me very, very angry. Angry enough to kick start a now eight years openly personal anger, which at times can get irrationally obsessive.

The earliest memory I have of deep set moral outrage following the manipulation of numbers was when I was dragged as a ca. 10 year old to sit in the hallway while a certain family member, to whom I am no longer in contact, discussed how to best avoid tax with his accountant. The door was open, and they really should have known better.

Every fashion blogger I know also harbors an unspoken other, often more intellectual, entirely separate set of deeply rooted interest. This manifests itself in the form of their job, which is in many cases fully unrelated, or in their area of study. In my case, this is white collar crime. Throughout my childhood from before I was even in kindergarten to ca. sixth grade, I read three four books a day. But they weren't exactly children's books... they were mainly detective, spy (and fantasy) novels, most of which I wasn't allowed to read due to the ageist censoring system of my local library, which I managed to avoid merely by striking up a weird competitive friendship with the librarian as a result of making my rounds there daily.

Once I got to the teens, I had moved onto philosophy and bone dry published sections of the German bylaws and legal system. Yes, I was 13, 14, 15, 16 and quite frankly, some of it went straight over my head. But that didn't hinder me from carrying around a small version of Das Deutsche Grundgesetz (The German constitutional law) in my wallet for years, and I'm sure I still know some passages by heart. It was only much later that I realized how weird that was. In my environment, the fact that I was reading instead of smoking in a corner of the school yard looking bored and classified Leonardo DiCaprio as a wanker made me weird, so the technicalities and details of what exactly I was reading didn't really make me that much weirder. I just read whatever interested me, as one does.

After studying Sociology in college in Cambridge and then in Goldsmiths where I managed to find a way to include white collar crime in every essay I could chose a topic to, I worked as a content and marketing manager for an international accountant for two years, keen to see the other side and never ceasing to make notes as I went along. Needless to say, I despised my colleagues (with two, three exceptions) who embodied some of the worst traits of humanity I have come across in the five countries, eight cities and numerous boroughs I've lived in. And no, I was never secretive about what my intentions were, even my boss knew of my interests and in no way did this hinder any of them from speaking loudly and frankly about their views and doings.

Whenever I brought up the topic in any (appropriate) conversation, even with sociologists, I would receive reactions ranging from an amused, condescending smile to offhand silencing "I simply don't care". Trying to explain, to make people understand how big the impact of white collar crime really is and my utter despair at people simply not caring that a single white collar criminal had stolen more than the top fifteen most wanted at most any given year yet never make it onto the list was a lonely endeavor for ca. seven years until the downturn kicked the public in the head. My final year dissertation, in fact, focuses on the reaction of the public, in which I state that a moral panic would be most likely the only way to truly get the public to realize what was going on.

That same year, recession struck.

It had been building, but it truly struck a few weeks after I handed in my final year dissertation, after the summer months and I remember the day like yesterday that I first saw the replacement of B with W in "Banker". With mixed feelings as to the realization of my statement, I saw the effects of a moral panic slowly rippling through the media, yet still with an immense restraint of opposition oozing from the conflict of interest that had so rarely been in place for any of the previous relentless moral panic that the British media rid like two horny horses on Prozac and Viagra. In the last decade only can count, from the top of my head; teenage violence on the rise, pedophilia, and worst of all, islamophobia. A few decades ago it was Aids and homophobia, and the British media roots in moral panic, racism. How confused the British media must be, the white collar workers knowing that - truly - they have finally come across one of their own. Of course, that can't be. When you look closely, it's still very distinctively blamed on an OTHER. THE BANKER. We don't like to identify the inherent thirst for greed and trust exploiting advantage taking that is inherent in certain fields and areas of professions more than others.

Now, I am proud. I am glad. Because the single worst realization I have come across is the classification of crime, and that was also the sentence I heard most throughout my discussions with the accountants and sales consultants. "It's legal. What do you care what the impact is?" I care, because I know it SHOULD NOT BE LEGAL. And I also know that it is only legal because the only people who know of its legality are THOSE IT BENEFITS.

White collar crime is only a crime if the law defines it as such. IF THE LAW DOES NOT, it is NOT a crime. Sounds obvious, right? Well, it's not. May I refer to the expenses scandal? Just because it was LEGAL to claim thousands for a duck pond with public funding while the country is in debt, did not mean it was RIGHT. This has always been the most difficult point for me to bring across because quite rightly, it is difficult to set a limit if it is based on such an ambiguous and personal entity as "morality" and "common decency". To some of us, the implications and wider impact are immediately obvious.

When one major company can avoid to pay the majority of its taxes because it can afford not only to pay the equivalent of a dinner allowance to a strategist accountant but also to set up whatever the situation requires in order to avoid said taxes, do you really think THE GOVERNMENT suffers? Think again. With every SINGLE major company that can afford to not pay, the tax needs to be somehow found elsewhere, namely increased and spread across those who cannot even afford to pay for an accountant, let alone set up offshore accounts or ensure their wives live in Monaco. Spread like a sticky layer of dust over Ryveta, the single tax avoiding rich jerk gets extracted in far wider impact from those hundreds to whom the "few" quid actually matter.


For instance, as @Anticuts points out, "TAX DODGE BY OWNER OF OXFORD ST TOPSHOP WOULD HAVE PAID FEES OF 32K STUDENTS". That's thirty two thousand students. And that's merely a few billions, which that one specific individual would not even be able to grasp or ever spend but is merely shifting because HE CAN. It doesn't take a genius to realize this might be legal but is wrong.

To some of us, the implications and wider impact are immediately obvious, especially since more people have opened up their minds to see that just because it says "democracy" on the package doesn't mean the contents aren't fake meat. Does anyone else still remember that the original concept of democracy was based on the system of voting ON A SUBJECT? Voting for someone who coordinated the process was merely a means to an end, which, oh surprise, has been twisted into entailing more power. "We're here to represent you" is no longer good enough if it is clearly followed by "You fell for MY bluff, now deal with my decisions". In Switzerland the public still gets to vote on major subjects. The rise of student fees would have been one of the issues voted on. Yes, this system comes with complications but in essence, it holds the idea of democracy to its roots.

Now, unlike what many of us believe, Tories and accountants know exactly what they are doing. It's not a case of bad apples, they know what benefits those in power and those who are rich and are quite aware of which measurements need to be taken in order to make sure the system whereby this order is stamped upon remains. Make no mistake about it, and saying that "the bottom 25% get to go to uni" is a thinly veiled sack of crap for those who like to swallow easily. You really think they don't know the increased debt of the highest public university fees in the world will put "those 25%" off? Do you think it'll put off those who can afford it anyway, who also tend to be the ones who can afford to get drunk and stoned throughout university while everyone else is working? I can see so many say "Why can't they see... why can't they understand... why can't they realize..." Oh, they do. They just think it's totally OK. It's exactly what they want, to not have the university system be accessible to anyone but those who are either prepared to really suffer for it or are rich. Please don't tell me you believe the "it will benefit the poorest", because it does not.

Now, as I am writing this, I am starting to hear of those "condoning violence". In many ways, I am finding this very ironic because what is being done is in fact a very understandable response because the introduction of 80% fees increase for the second time within a decade can only be described as an extremely violent impact on many, many people's lives. Much like the "criminal" is only what is defined by law to be but does not mean is right, the violence debate applies. One of the issues I discuss in one of the many essays I wrote during the University degree I would not have been able to afford were I a few years younger, was the question of fear being disproportionate to the actual rate of violent crime. In fact, at the time of writing, violent street crime had decreased over the years while the fear of it had increased. Similarly, the fear (or dare I say ANGER) at having a banker round down the third decimal of any given transaction and hereby making millions while you barely notice, people just didn't care. Although I can understand that, I don't accept it.

After I got mugged on my street during which my head was repeatedly smashed onto concrete so that I passed out for the first and only time in my life and had to go to the hospital with a concussion I got asked whether I still thought white collar crime was worse than violent crime. You have to ask?! Of course it is! Violent crime is immediate, I know it's happening and the tangibility of it is by far less infuriating than knowing that merely because it is legalised by those who benefit from that act being legal, there are cuts where there shouldn't be and increases where they aren't afforded. I know from experience that I am alone in this, but these past few days have made me feel a lot less alone, and for that I am thankful.

There's one thing I still don't understand. Whatever happened to those who used to vote Labour that voted conservative this time round? Are your memories really THAT short? Is anybody really surprised at the fact that THIS happened? Of course we saw it coming. And the riots were only a matter of time, and as proud as I am, I am also frustrated and I don't think we should accept the decision that has been made. There must be a way to reverse it, and I'm sure we can achieve it if we continue or at least aim to have it reversed by the opposition when voted back, before it actually gets implemented.

If you're interested in this topic you should read Amelia's Magazine's Sir Philip Green and his Topshop billions get the UK Uncut treatment.