One of they key ideas of Marxist criminologists is that the Law is made by the property owning Capitalist class and serves their interests.
(NB You might like to review the perspective by reading this long-form post on the Marxist theory of crime more generally before continuing…)
The issue of tax avoidance, which means legally bending the rules to avoid paying tax, is one of the best examples of how the legal system surrounding tax is structured in such a way that allows the wealthy to set up ‘shell companies’ in tax-havens to avoid paying tax on their income and investments….
Such methods can only ever benefit the rich as you need to be quite wealthy to be able to afford the legal and accountancy fees associated with doing this, so these methods are not really available to average, or even moderately high income individuals.
To my mind, the most notorious example of a tax avoider from 2017 was Lewis Hamilton, who used the ‘off shore’ method to get a £3 million VAT rebate on his £16 million private jet.
The Lewis Hamilton story was revealed as part of the ‘Paradise Papers’ leak – which consists of 13.4 million documents from offshore legal service providers such as Appleby covering seven decades, from 1950 to 2016. Tax-dodging is a very common practice by the wealthy!
Focussing on Corporate Tax Dodgers rather than individuals…
Corporate Tax Dodgers: the UK’s Worst Offenders – This article lists Google and Gary Barlow (or rather the Corporate entity ‘Take That’ as among the UK’s worst tax-dodgers, although it doesn’t distinguish between tax evasion (which is illegal) and tax avoidance (which isn’t)… I especially love the fact that it was put together (as basically an advert) by an accountancy firm in the North East of England – one of England’s poorest regions and thus the most likely to suffer from lower government revenue to tax dodging.
On a similar theme this Daily Mail article outlines with more clarity the Corporations avoiding Tax – including some very big names such as Café Nero and Vodafone, and LOTS more!
So, you’re a multi-billionaire, you have $450 million kicking about, but your’re bored of all the usual gaudy bling bullshit…
This poll was inspired by today’s news that Leonardo Da Vinci’s ‘Salvator Mundi’, painting sold for $400m at auction today, with a grand total of $450 million once Christie’s auction house had added on its $50 million commission.
Now we may never actually know who bought this painting, but assuming it’s an individual (although it may have been bought by a company or conglomerate), this raises the question of how much wealth you must have to be able to spend this much money on a painting!
Surly we must be looking at someone worth over $10 billion, so probably someone from the top 100 or so wealthiest people, possibly one of these from Forbe’s rich list, given that it’s unlikely that anyone’s going to risk more than 5% of their TNW on one investment, unless they really LOVE renaissance art or of course.
Anyway, whoever the anonymous buyer is, all mega-purchases like this do for me is remind of the existence of the global super-rich – that handful of billionaires that make up the top 0.00001% of the world’s population – domains like Christie’s auction house are their’s, and purchases of items in the several millions of dollars a regular occurrence.
This event is just a painful reminder of how much of a toss the global elite don’t give about global poverty. Between them, those present at that auction house yesterday could have transformed the lives of so many. NB I know it’s not THAT simple – money for development often gets misspent, it has unintended consequences etc etc… so I am being a bit idealistic, all I’m trying to do here is get some perspective on the enormous sum spent on that painting.
I don’t know about you, but I’m really not comfortable with the co-existence of global problems such as lack of access to clean water and a global Eloi jet setting around the world buying high status items at luxury auction houses.
What is social class? Outlining the Registrar General’s Scale, and the New British Class Survey.
Social Class refers to divisions in society based on economic and social status. People in the same social class typically share a similar level of wealth, educational achievement, type of job and income.
Social Class is one of the most important concepts within AS and A Level Sociology because of the relationship between social class background and life chances (or lack of them) and the debate over the extent to which social class background determines an individual’s life chances.
The concept of social class is certainly relevant today – according to the latest 2022 data from YouGov 68% of young people think that their life chances are ‘broadly determined’ by their parents socioeconomic backgrounds…
Many people in the United Kingdom have an idea of what social class is, but Sociologists define the concept in more precise terms.
Below I look at ‘common conceptions’ of social class before moving on to look at two ways of measuring social class – The Registrar General’s Social Class Scale and The New British Class Survey
Common Conceptions of Social Class
The classic formulation of social class in Britain is to see Britain as being divided into three classes: working, middle and upper class. Social Class, is however, open to change, and most agree that the last two decades have seen the emergence of an underclass, with little prospect of full time employment. These four terms are in common usage and we have to start somewhere, so here are some starting definitions which you should aim to move beyond.
Definition/ Defining Features
Those individuals engaged in manual work, often having low levels of educational achievement. The classic, traditional working class jobs include heavy labouring and factory based work.
Those individuals engaged in non-manual work, often having higher levels of educational achievement. Classic middle class jobs include everything from doctors and lawyers to clerical workers.
The elite class that controls the majority of wealth and power in British society.
According to the UK government’s 2021 Social Mobility Barometer 48% of respondents defined themselves as working class, 36% as middle class and 0% as upper class. 79% of people said they felt there was a large gap between social classes today.
This means that 84% of respondents were prepared to identify themselves with a particular social class background, which suggests that these broad ‘class divisions’ have meaning for people.
The disadvantages of common conceptions of social class is that they lack clarity – although most of us have heard of social class and have some idea of what it means to be a member of a social class, exactly what constitutes middle or working class, for example, is subjective and varies from person to person.
This is precisely why socologists have striven to develop more objective classifications of social class – and below I look at two of these – The registrar General’s Social Class Scale and the New British Class Survey
The Registrar General’s Social Class Scale (1911)
Sociologists use more nuanced categories of social class, than the common sense conceptions above. The way in which sociologists group people into social classes has changed considerably over time, mainly because of the changing occupational structure. To illustrate this just two examples are provided below.
For most of the 20th Century social class was measured using the Registrar General’s Scale. When this was originally conceived in 1911 it was based on the alleged standing in the community of the different occupational groups.
Occupations were divided into the following:
Manual occupations – those that involve a fair amount of physical effort. These are also known as blue collar occupations and are seen as working class.
Non-manual occupations – those that involve more mental effort, such as professions and office work. These are also known as white collar occupations and are seen as middle class.
Registrar General’s Scale: 1911-Present Day
Examples of occupation
I Professional and managerial
III Non-manual – skilled occupations
Police officer, sales representative
III Manual – skilled occupations
Electrician, bus driver
IV Semi-skilled manual
Farm worker, postman/woman
V Unskilled manual
Strengths and Limitations of the Registrar General’s Social Class Scale
The problems with the above scale is that the occupational structure in the UK has moved on – there are many more unskilled non manual jobs – in call-centres for example, and there is no room for the long-term or intermittently unemployed in the above scale either.
However, even today the majority of occupations fit pretty unambiguously into one of the categories, and six categories broadly organised along educational achievement and income is very easy to manage if we wish to make comparisons, and if we stick to these six simple categories, there does appear to be a historical relationship between these social class groupings and life chances – especially where life expectancy is concerned.
The New British Class Survey
The New British Class Survey was an attempt to update the Registrar General’s Social Class Scale and make it more relevant to contemporary Britain.
The survey was conducted by the BBC in 2011, in conjunction with The London School of Economics, recently conducted an online survey of 161 000 people. The survey measured three aspects of social class – economic capital, cultural capital and social capital.
Economic Capital – Measured by a combination of household income, household savings and the value of house owned.
Cultural Capital – The level of engagement in ‘highbrow’ and ’emerging’ culture. The amount of ‘Highbrow’ culture people consumed was measured by scoring how engaged they were with classical music, attending stately homes and so on. How much ’emerging’ cultural capital people owned was measured by scoring engagement with video games, a preference for hip-hop etc.
Social Capital – Measured using the average status or importance of people’s social contacts and the number of occupations people said they knew.
According to this survey, there are now 7 new classes in the United Kingdom…..
Elite (6% of the population) – The most privileged class in Great Britain who have high levels of all three capitals. Their high amount of economic capital sets them apart from everyone else.
Established Middle Class (25% of the population) Members of this class have high levels of all three capitals although not as high as the Elite. They are a gregarious and culturally engaged class.
Technical Middle Class (6%) – A new, small class with high economic capital but seem less culturally engaged. They have relatively few social contacts and so are less socially engaged.
New Affluent Workers (14%) – This class has medium levels of economic capital and higher levels of cultural and social capital. They are a young and active group.
Emergent Service Workers (15%) This new class has low economic capital but has high levels of ‘emerging’ cultural capital and high social capital. This group are young and often found in urban areas.
Traditional Working Class (19%) – This class scores low on all forms of the three capitals although they are not the poorest group. The average age of this class is older than the others.
Precariat (15%) – The most deprived class of all with low levels of economic, cultural and social capital. The everyday lives of members of this class are precarious.
Strengths and Limitations of the New British Class Survey
This seems to be a clear improvement on previous class scales – it seems to describe social class divisions as they actually are in the UK (you might say it’s a more valid measurement of social class) – and the inclusion of ‘lowest’ class – the precariat reflects the important fact that many people are in low-paid work are in poverty because of the precarious nature of their flexible and/ or part-time employment. It also includes more indicators (or aspects of class) and reflects the importance of property ownership which only typically comes with age.
However, because it includes more aspects of class and because it is more subjective, it is simply harder to ‘get your head around’ – the divisions aren’t as clear cut, and it’s more difficult to make comparisons – of which there are few available because this is such a new measurement. Still, these aren’t necessarily weaknesses if that’s the way social class really does manifest itself in reality in contemporary Britain.
Research Task –Use this link to do the survey and find out more about your class background (you could either enter your parents‘ details, if you know them, or think about where you think you will be in 5-10 years time and enter those details.
Discussion Question: To what extent do you believe someone’s social class background affects their life chances in Modern Britain today?