The enduring truth of Bertolt Brecht's aphorism that it is a far greater crime to own a bank than to rob one has never been more evident in the wake of the scandal involving HSBC. Its involvement in helping some very rich account holders evade tax, money laundering, and the extent to which both the current and previous government have enabled the rich to get away with 'it' all these years while treating the poor as fair game for exemplary punishment and persecution has exposed the corruption and venality that has poisoned the nation's democracy.
The sheer scale of tax evasion on the part of the rich in the UK is staggering. A report compiled last year on behalf of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), which represents staff at HMRC, calculated that in 2014 more than £80billion was lost to the Exchequer as a result of tax evasion in 2014. Tax avoidance, meanwhile, which unlike tax evasion is legal, if not moral, costs the Exchequer around £25billion each year.
At the other end of the social spectrum benefit fraud costs just over £1billion each year, yet considering the resources applied to detecting and prosecuting the latter compared to the former, you would automatically think that those figures were reversed.
Even when tax evaders have been caught the revelation that HMRC has been doing its utmost to avoid prosecuting them illustrates the fact that we have a two tier system of justice when it comes to defrauding the taxpayer. Those found guilty of benefit fraud are maligned, shamed, and demonised while their rich counterparts are allowed to avoid the inconvenience of prosecution and court in return for an undisclosed pay off to make the problem disappear.
Underpinning this issue and scandal is of course class. The top execs within HSBC and other major British banks and corporations go to the same private schools and are products of the same cultural, social, and economic values as most of those who occupy the green benches in the Commons. In fact, given the way that cabinet ministers and former prime ministers end up entering corporate boardrooms at the end of their parliamentary careers, the UK's political system has been reduced to nothing more than a transmission belt onto a lucrative career as a non executive director in a corporate boardroom somewhere. Some take advantage of the opportunities to cash in more than others. Tony Blair, for example, has morphed into a veritable Crassus since leaving office, and shows no evidence of letting up anytime soon when it comes to filling his boots.
It is a scandal on top of a scandal, which more than bringing our democracy into disrepute exposes it as a sham, with the conflict of interest that lies at its heart a festering sore that has gone untreated for far too long.
We have in Britain a government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich, the consequences of which are tangible. With the advent of the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, caused by the greed and recklessness of the banks, the government has effected the transference of wealth from the poor to the rich under the rubric of austerity, a process measured in food banks, payday loans, benefit sanctions, the bedroom tax, and zero hours contracts at one end of the social and economic spectrum, alongside an increase in the wealth of the country's 1000 richest people over the same period.
Further and even more damning evidence of the extent to which the rich are 'getting away with it' is provided by the fact that despite the mammoth difference in cost to the UK taxpayer the resources that have been deployed to crack down on benefit fraud are exponentially more than tax evasion.
In a just society, given the nature of this scandal, the board of HSBC would be placed under arrest and the bank taken into public ownership. Unfortunately, in 2015 we don't live in a just society.
We live in Britain.