Making it!

I had the great pleasure to be invited to spend World Wide Knit in Public Day at The Make It Shop in Chorlton, Manchester. You are much more likely to find me in a dedicated wool shop than a general craft shop, but this place was a treasure trove of interesting crafting supplies to tempt all but the strongest will. Fortunately I was distracted by the knitting all day otherwise I may well have come home with a significantly lighter wallet. As it was, the only thing that I did buy was a set of pompom makers… so expect bobble hats in the future. But just look at it…

I was delighted to visit Chorlton – a thriving town within Greater Manchester. The high street has lots of local shops, and spending the day sitting outside one of them, I came to realise that it is a thriving centre. I discovered that local shops are members  of a south Manchester loyalty card scheme called Tag and that there’s a very active traders’ association. All in all, a great model for supporting community.

I’ve written in the past about the importance of buying local and supporting producers and traders in your own area, but it’s worth saying again. According to the New Economics Foundation:

… every £1 spent with a local supplier is worth £1.76 to the local economy [compared to] only 36 pence if it is spent out of the area. That makes £1 spent locally worth almost 400 per cent more.

And that’s before you take into account the fact that shopping local is likely to support local  artisans, producers and crafts people, you can ask the retailer questions about the product and get advice, you can often try before you buy, you are enjoying a social experience and you are being part of a local community. So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and support your local retailers and producers…. and if you are in Manchester, pop into the Make It Shop and say hello…. and perhaps give in to temptation.


Now isn’t that just inviting you to go in?



Death and Taxes

In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes (Benjamin Franklin, 1706-90)

I have to create my own incentives to sort out my tax

I have to create my own incentives to sort out my tax

Fortunately I haven’t had to deal with the former this weekend, but have been collating all the information that precedes the latter, namely putting together my accounts. I don’t actually fill in my own tax return – there aren’t enough millionaire’s shortbreads (oh, the irony) in the world to numb the pain and and anyway, that’s what accountants are for. But I do have to dig out all the paperwork, and put it into a sensible order prior to handing it over… which is how I have spent much of today.

I don’t object to paying tax – I like the idea that if my house is burning down, a bunch of professionals will turn up to put the flames out and won’t ask me for my credit card (possibly melting in the conflagration) before they do so. I like the idea of healthcare that is open to all – rich or poor. I like the fact that we care for the most vulnerable in society. What I don’t like is that if Benjamin Franklin was writing today, he’d be adding ‘except Amazon and Starbucks’ to the end of that sentence.

Taxation is (generally) a good thing – not fun, I admit, but good*. But it should be equitable. I have no issue with paying taxes, I just have a problem with rich individuals being able to pay clever accountants to help them avoid paying their fair share and large corporations manipulating the system to avoid (in some cases) paying any of their share. Here in the UK our government is determined to have a ‘competitive’ tax system, i.e. one that encourages big business to come here because there are tax advantages. According to David Cameron, our Prime Minister:

Every country sets its own tax rates, but I think in a world of global capital, in a world where we’re competing with each other, in a world where we want to send a message that we want you to build businesses, grow businesses and invest, I think it’s wrong to have completely uncompetitive top rates of tax.

And so, we try to tempt business and the very wealthy with our ‘competitive’ taxes. Meaning that us little guys have to make up the shortfall. Our government would have us believe that it’s worth it: seducing big business is supposed to benefit us all – creating jobs and encouraging investment. But, in fact, it’s small local business who retain wealth within communities. With big business, profits disappear. Work by the New Economics foundation suggests that:

every £1 spent with a local supplier is worth £1.76 to the local economy, and only 36 pence if it is spent out of the area (NEF)

So, small businesses are more valuable to an area although they tend not to get tax breaks. And if we do give tax incentives to big business, does it help the country overall? Evidence suggests that we won’t lose big companies if we don’t have the lowest taxes. NEF analysis shows that

Dramatic differences in taxes as a share of the economy – from 29 percent in Japan to over 55 percent in Denmark – have no obvious impact on growth. As the FT’s Martin Wolf concludes: “Such a spread seems to have no effect on economic performance”

And, furthermore

High-tax countries have been more successful in achieving their social objectives than low-tax countries. They have done so with no economic penalty.

Even people involved in investment agree that a competitive tax system makes no difference. For example, Warren Buffett is quoted as saying:

I have worked with investors for 60 years and I have yet to see anyone — not even when capital gains rates were 39.9 percent in 1976-77 — shy away from a sensible investment because of the tax rate on the potential gain.

So, let’s celebrate the good things that we can achieve with taxes and lets apply them fairly. After all, corporations, not being alive, can avoid death, so they shouldn’t get away with the taxes too!


* I don’t always agree with what our taxes are spend on – but that’s a discussion for another post.



Civil disobedience is homemade pants!

A few months ago I read a post by my friend Seema about making her own pants (or underpants as you would say in the US I think) that prompted me to start writing this entry on my blog. Somehow I didn’t finish it and has taken me until now to get back to it, but finally here I am…

Now, you might be wondering how making your own underwear resulted in thoughts of civil disobedience…

Apparently my homemade socks could bring down the government!

Apparently my homemade socks could bring down the government!

Well, Seema mentioned something called ‘The Compact‘, which started out as an agreement between a group of friends in San Francisco not to buy anything new for a year, with the exception of a few things, including underwear. Seema felt that it should be possible to make your own pants and thus further reduce the purchase of new items. I have previously written about buying secondhand socks, but perhaps secondhand pants are a step too far! The answer, therefore, is to make your own, and Seema tells you how.

This still doesn’t really explain the link to civil disobedience, does it? But, stick with me, I’m getting there.

In researching The Compact I discovered that this attempt to reduce consumerism and do something to live more sustainably has been widely criticised, because it does nothing to support ‘the economy’. If you watch the news or read newspapers in the UK, US and probably any industrialised country, you will know that governments want ‘growth’. And by that they mean more manufacturing, more purchasing, more exports. For example an article in the Star Tribune states:

The American economy depends on consumers willing to buy the latest in fashions, furnishings and flat-screen TVs. Indeed, in the weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, shopping was cast as a patriotic duty, a way to help prevent the economy from tipping into a recession.

And that sums it up – if you don’t shop and buy more stuff, you are going to bring down your country… the whole of the economic system that many of our countries rely on will no longer function. What can be more civilly disobedient than that?

But, I hear you ask, do I really want to bring down the economy of my country, even if it is by making my own knickers and not buying that new mobile phone that will make my life worth living once more? Well, for many people, the current economy is not working well – there is a huge gulf between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ and this is becoming increasingly difficult to govern. In addition, common sense tells us that all economies cannot continue to grow indefinitely – surely we should be looking at stable, sustainable economies, where the needs of all can be met without constantly trying to exploit either groups of people or the planet? Buying new things is driven, to a great extent by large corporations wanting to make money (I direct you once again to The Story of Stuff – do watch it if you haven’t already) rather than their desire to make you happy!

I have to confess that, as an inveterate bibliophile, I can’t bring myself to promise not to buy anything new, but I think that we could all reduce, reuse and repair in order to make the world a better place… and if that means I’m bringing down our whole economic system, then I’m fine with that


If you are interested in The Compact, there is an online community

And if you want to find out more about economics and alternatives to constant consumption, you can do no better than to visit the website of the New Economics Foundation… sounds dull, but it really isn’t!

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