Corporate Imposed Taxes and How they Reduce Our Quality of Life

The word ‘markups’ does not arouse the same emotions as taxes and profits.  But markups are an important and little understood form of ‘taxation’.  When a business sells something, it takes the cost of either making it or buying it and adds a markup.  The markup can be low for high volume goods and services, or very high, even as high as 1000% or more.  The portion of the markup depends on what the market will bear.  For a life and death drug, the market will bear a lot.  The markup produces the company’s profit.

Taxes are almost always portrayed as evil.  Some say, ‘Government takes your hard earned money and wastes it.’  Others, myself included, see taxes as the source of many important goods and services in society – education, health care, roads, clean water supplies, regulations to protect us from the unscrupulous, to name just a few.  It may not be always perfectly spent but then again neither is my annual income.

Profits get a more mixed review.  Some see them as the just reward for wise investment decisions, hard work and a reward for superior intelligence and innovativeness.  They are portrayed as what drives progress.  Only when they are seen as excessive are they associated with greed.  Let us suspend the usual usage of the word tax, and think about markups and the profits they produce, as ‘taxes’ – corporation imposed taxes.  Let’s call them CITs.

When big corporations impose CITs on what we buy they use that tax for many purposes.  We are paying for the advertisements that manipulate us to buy more.  The ads are seldom informative and often deceptive and manipulative.  So we are paying a tax to be misled.  Perhaps, more starkly, we are taxed on what we buy so we can be lied to about what we bought.

Businesses also use their profits to lobby government.  For example oil industry profits go into massive lobbying campaigns that environmental groups could never afford.  They want tax breaks for finding more oil that we dare not use if we love our grandchildren.  They use CITs to pressure government to build more pipelines and get tax relief to do so.  Profits are used to hire tax lawyers and high powered accountants to design tax havens and other ways to avoid paying taxes.  More lawyers are used to defend tax cheats and corporations who have broken the law to defend themselves from prosecution.  Often governments simply back off prosecution or give a minor slap on the wrist, because they cannot afford the legal power to enforce the law.  SNC Lavalin was a clear example.

Profits go for big companies to buy up small companies.  In the US most of the recent huge tax cuts by their ‘billionaire in chief’ went to pay for buyouts, senior management bonuses, and to purchase company shares to drive up share values for wealthy shareholders.  Very little went into new investment that would result in more jobs or higher incomes for workers. 

Finally, most profits go to what are often referred to as the 1%.  That is the tiny group who globally own more than 50% of all the world’s wealth.  Their take from Canada’s and the world’s economy has steadily grown since 2008.  The share of the 99% has remained virtually unchanged.  CITs are powerful!

There is another way to compare government imposed taxes and CITs.  Governments face parliaments and legislatures, houses of representatives and ‘upper chambers’ elected by the people.  They can ask questions and demand answers.  Many countries have freedom of information laws and are served by enquiring journalists.  These may not be perfect, although the accountability of governments to their citizens in our ‘quasi democratic’ countries as to how tax dollars are spent is fairly high. 

How do corporations and the richest people account for how they use the CIT money they take from you?  They don’t.  When have we seen corporations report to citizens on how much they spend influencing elections, lobbying officials and politicians?  How often do they report on their expenditures creating tax havens, paying lawyers to intimidate people and governments?  How much was spent in the case of the oil industry, hiding vitally crucial information about climate change?  They seldom report any of that information, even to shareholders.  How often have citizens been told, “That is commercially sensitive information and cannot be made public”?

A final reflection.  Most people, including me, are hesitant about ‘excessively big’ governments.  What is even scarier is big corporations.  Yet we live in an age when corporations are growing very quickly.  Google bought almost 200 companies since 2008.  Microsoft acquired 100.  A handful control the internet and social media, the global food supply, broadcasting and news media, energy, etc.  When fewer and fewer control more and more, is it surprising that more and more people have less and less?  What kind of world will our grandchildren be left with?  Is this sustainable?

Climate Change Roulette

1 Metric Ton (MT) = 1000 kg
1 Metric megaton = 1 million MT
1 Metric Gigatonne = 1 billion MT
Measuring Carbon Dioxide

If we are to have a 66% chance of limiting global warming to 2C, the people of our planet have to have a limit on the amount of carbon dioxide pumped into the air we breathe.  Carbon dioxide emissions are measured in Mega tons and Giga Tons.  To have a 66% chance of success the 50 year global carbon budget would be 886 Giga Tons of carbon dioxide for a rate of 17.72 Giga Tons of carbon dioxide /year. [i]

Between 2000–2011 we emitted 321 Giga Tons of carbon dioxide or 29.18 Giga Tons of carbon dioxide /year.

If we continue at that rate by 2050 we will have emitted 1,138 Giga Tons of carbon dioxide or 252 Giga Tons of carbon dioxide over the budget.  This does not count the increasing and unexpected rise in methane emissions resulting from permafrost melting in the arctic much faster than forecast.[ii]  What does that mean?  It means we will have less than a 50/50 chance of limiting the temperature increase to 2C.  And remember even 2C is a significant disaster!  1.5C is a far safer target.

Canada is one of the top ten greenhouse gas emitters in the world.  Canada signed the Paris Accord with great fanfare and back patting.  According to the Federal Government, Canada now produces .716 MT CO2/year in 2017.  Over 50 years that comes to 38.6 Giga Tons of carbon dioxide.  If we accept every possible argument in our favour, our fair share would be below 24 Giga Tons of carbon dioxide /year or less.[iii]   24 Giga Tons is at least 1.6 times more than our fair share!  More likely we are producing 2 or 3 times our fair share.

That is the context in which Canada is increasing its heavy oil production capacity and subsidizing new oil exploration.  We allow seismic testing in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence risking extinction of the Right Whales.  We even subsidize super risky offshore drilling.  When we buy pipelines to speed the flow of some of the world’s dirtiest oil to market we are fueling and accelerating the sixth great extinction of species in 650 million years of life on this planet.  This is like playing Russian roulette with a handgun with chambers for six bullets and three full.  Instead of taking bullets out our plan is to look for more bullets. 

That is the chance we are taking with our children’s future.  The reality is that we have no realistic transition plan for the next crucial ten years.  The government is still using Stephen Harper’s targets and like Harper, not meeting them.   Our plan seems to be to stimulate oil patch jobs no matter what the cost is to our grandchildren, and say ‘yes’ to the oil companies that just like the tobacco companies, spent many millions lying to us with fake science.    But oil company science will kill millions, perhaps hundreds of millions.

Is the solution for each of us to change our habits?  Yes we need to do that but is that sufficient? The main drivers of our economy and climate change are corporations seeking profits.  Oil companies will ask for subsidies and push sales as long as there is a profit from it.  That is why they spent tens of millions spreading disinformation about climate change.  Auto manufacturers will spend millions selling SUVs and big trucks as long as they can make a profit.   How many ads can you buy today?

In a democracy, the interests of the 90% need the protection of government.  Has our democracy been captured by big oil, big auto, big pharmaceuticals?  Are we paralyzed by their power to throw millions out of work if government does not do what they want?

It is an agonizing dilemma.  We cannot just throw tens of thousands of people in oil linked industries out of work?  We are told we must sacrifice them or doom our children and grandchildren to an increasing catastrophe with more and worse killer wild fires, floods, droughts, heat waves, crop failures, dead oceans and hurricanes?  Do we doom our grandchildren to wildly escalating costs for infrastructure, exploding insurance rates, food system collapses and eventual economic collapse? 

This is just not good enough!  We do have alternatives.  Let us start a planned winding down of our fossil fuel and high carbon emitting industries and seriously build our renewable energy capacity.  Let us identify and invest in every possible green industry opportunity.  Let us spend billions to develop renewable energy industries and green industries in Alberta.  Let us pledge to leave no one behind.  Doing this will lead to a period of transition and turmoil in Alberta but climate change will lead to a longer more disastrous period of turmoil across Canada and around the world.  Let us start taking the bullets out of the fossil fuel roulette gun.  Our grandchildren deserve something better than climate roulette.

[i] The numbers for the carbon budget are drawn from Carbon Tracker, an independent financial think tank that carries out in-depth analysis on the impact of the energy transition on capital markets and the potential investment in high-cost, carbon-intensive fossil fuels.

[ii] National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, US Department of Commerce,


Why Do Our Governments Act Like Subsidiaries of the Oil Companies?

What happens to a society when a commodity and those who have been made rich by it takes control of economic and political decision making?  What happens when commercial benefit tops the interest of the vast majority of citizens?  The result is that rational evidence based decision making is thrown out the window.  Decisions get made based on ensuring the share value of securities held by the wealthy elite are protected and their flow of profits is maintained or increased.  Short term commercial benefit becomes the compelling rationale that ‘trumps’ science. It trumps logic and the public good.  Bizarre, irrational positions are ferociously adopted as absolute truth by business and political leaders and usually by the media as well.  Even suggesting a rational evidence based approach will be ridiculed as naïve and unrealistic and result in being angrily denounced and even portrayed as a form of treason.

Basic Facts

Fact one:  15,000 scientists from around the world are agreed that the continued use of fossil fuels, will drive climate change and cause increasingly frequent and more powerful weather events.   They also agree it will have devastating effects on the ocean’s ability to support life.  The Munich RE (a leading global insurance company ‘reinsurer’ and risk analyst) chart below tells a clear story.  The scientists are right.  Climate change is leading to huge costs and severe damage to the economy.


But the oil and energy lobby and government argue that we need to ensure we have a growing economy.  At the same time their actions hit at the heart of the economy destroying lives and infrastructure.   As the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration notes, “More notable than the high frequency of these events is the cumulative cost, which exceeds $300 billion in 2017a new U.S. annual record.”  That is in the US only.  The annual global cost is in excess of a trillion dollars and rising.  The biggest threat to our economy in the long run is using oil.

Fact two:  The continued use of fossil fuels will rain enormous hardship on our children and grandchildren over the next five decades and cost many trillions of dollars more in damage to our economy and society.  It will happen unless we have the wisdom to leave a significant percentage of our known oil and gas and coal reserves in the ground.

Fact three:  The Scotian Shelf off the coast of Nova Scotia is close to one of the richest fisheries in the world and washed over by daily tidal flows in and out of the Bay of Fundy with the world’s highest tides. It is one of the riskiest places on earth to drill for oil and gas.

Fact four:  The bitumen that comes from Alberta’s tar sands can be very difficult to clean up in waters with a lot of sediments if a pipeline ruptures or an oil tanker sinks or leaks.  Most people in British Columbia do not want this toxic substance flowing across their land and rivers or floating on their beautiful coastal waters, sinking to the bottom or coating the shores.

Fact five:  In 2007 there were 34 pipeline leaks in the United States and 8 so far in 2018.  Pipelines leak with regularity.  Since 2005 there have been five oil spills from Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline and since the mid-1950s six in the Jasper National Park.  An estimated 400 tankers a year will be going from Burrard inlet in Vancouver to the open sea.  The question is not if there will be a pipeline leak or a tanker accident.  The honest question is how often.

Fact six:  Permission to drill on the Scotian Shelf includes acceptance that in the case of a well blowout (like the one in the Gulf of Mexico) it would take two weeks to get the equipment in place to stop the massive flow of oil and another week or two to get the flow to stop.

Fact seven:  Abandoned or orphan oil wells could end up costing Albertans billions of dollars.  The oil was found, extracted and the profits pocketed but the funds put aside to clean up the enormous mess are only a fraction of what will be needed.  The people who made the profits can walk away from the mess.

The above facts are based on statements by the Canadian government, the government of Alberta, respected organizations and Kinder Morgan.

So what decisions have the government/oil industry consortium made?

  • BP, the company whose drilling rig blew up in the Gulf of Mexico killing 11 workers and creating the largest marine oil spill in world history, has been authorized by the governments of Nova Scotia and Canada to drill on the high risk Scotian Shelf with a high probability of an accident and massive fishery losses.  Presumably gambling with the fishery is not much of a problem.
  • Kinder Morgan’s Trans mountain pipeline expansion has been approved by the government of Canada with strong support for the Government of Alberta.
  • Tax payers are subsidizing BP and Kinder Morgan. We are compelled to subsidize what amounts to an attack on our children and grandchildren so that the superrich owners of the giant oil companies can make greater returns on their investments with lower risk.
  • The governments of Canada and Alberta are saying they have a right to force the people of British Columbia to accept whatever they put in a pipeline or ships no matter: how toxic the substance; how certain the spills and shipping accidents; how difficult the cleanup; how devastating the environmental damage. The people of BC have no right to even have a say.   If the people of BC refuse to accept the pollution of their land and water ways, they are attacking the national interest of Canada.

So now the questions.

So is the question who do the democratic governments of Nova Scotia, Alberta and Canada work for or is it which oil company do they represent best?   Is this a democracy, a quasi-democracy or a so called democracy?

Alberta is a special case.  Is it possible for a government in Alberta to get elected if they do not do what the oil companies want?  Is that a sort of democracy?  One might argue that selling out the interests of Alberta’s grandchildren indeed has the support of the majority of Albertans.  It is deemed to be in the interests of Albertans to export huge quantities of toxic bitumen rather than refining it in Alberta to provide jobs for Albertans.  Indigenous peoples are left with the terrible environmental mess and the corporations get the profits.

What would happen if the government of Canada stopped subsidizing the oil companies and instead, in partnership with Alberta, poured a couple billion dollars into renewable energy jobs and renewable energy development?   What if the renewable energy companies were created as co-operatives less likely to pollute, unlikely to relocate, with the gap between highest and lowest salaries being 15 to 1 or less, with work available for women as well as men and equal pay for equal work?  We could do that!  If oil wells were owned by the people and communities who lived around them would we have the orphan well mess?  What if refining co-operatives owned by Albertans were encouraged (like Peter Lougheed did with gas co-operatives)?  What if common sense ruled instead of the oil industry?  What if energy production and distribution was co-operatively owned rather than being owned by huge corporations whose purpose is not to supply us with energy but to further enrich the 1% regardless of the consequences.

Could I, as a Nova Scotian, support that massive expenditure to spur a world leading renewable energy industry in Alberta just so my grandchildren could live reasonable lives in a stable climate with less pollution?  Not sure about all Nova Scotians but it sure looks a lot better to me than continuing with the irresponsible madness we are now witnessing.   Does our society and economy really care about our children and grandchildren?  The evidence says no.  Could we care about them?  Sure we can.

Are Co-operatives Likely to Build a Better World? (1)

The trends sketched out In Chapter 1 of From Corporate Globalization to Global Co-operation: We owe it to our grandchildren are daunting.  That said, the co-operative business model offers a healthier alternative.  It does not drive the worst trends.  Credit unions did not create the bad mortgages and worthless derivatives that caused to 2008 collapse nor did they need a multi-trillion dollar bailout.   Its different purpose, values and principles, lack of need for a growth economy, bottom up nature and ability to put people and nature before profits, are an enormous opportunity in this troubled time.   People in co-operatives can choose to do evil but they are in a business model that not only allows them to do the right thing but encourages them to do it.  An investor owned business management or board that does the right thing is to be deeply admired because the pressure on them is always to make sure shareholders get the greatest possible profit.  A co-operative business, board or management, who does the wrong thing have very little excuse.

A co-operative’s purpose is not to maximize the return to shareholders but to meet the needs of the members who own it and the community.  Based on one member one vote, its democratic base makes it possible for members to raise concerns at annual or special membership meetings.  The people who use it get the opportunity to question its policies and practices.  Does that mean co-operatives are always responsive?  No but it means members can challenge them and change them.  It means they are more likely to listen and act in a responsible way toward members and the community.

It also means they are less likely to pollute or treat workers abusively.  They generally have smaller gaps between highest paid manager and lowest paid staff member.  It means that in terms of  the trends noted in Chapter 1 of From Corporate Globalization to Global Co-operation: We owe it to our grandchildren, co-operatives are less likely to make things worse and more likely to take actions to make things better.  For example, the credit union on whose board I sit, LaHave River Credit Union, has a ‘Green Loan” program to encourage members to shrink their negative environmental foot print.

If we care about our grandchildren and have a choice we can become part of a co-operative and have a say in how it operates in our community.

Building a Co-operative Economy

Some people react to the idea of creating a new economy to replace capitalism as pure naive optimism.  It is just too big a task they believe.  The reality is that if we all believe that, the new economy will never be built.  The realty also is if enough people decide to make something happen it will.  Take you money out of investor owned banks and get all you financial services from a credit union or co-operative bank or co-operative insurance company.  I did it more than 25 years ago and am free of any financial services whose purpose is to make someone else rich at my expense.

Does your community or neighborhood need a service or source of goods?  Create a co-operative to provide them.  Ar you tired of working for someone else just because they have the money to buy your services.  Need to find rewarding meaningful work?  Find a few others with the same need and start a worker owned co-operative.   Find buying ‘stuff’ from cars to food confusing because you cannot trust the information you are given?  Start up a consumers co-operative whose information you can trust and let the workers be members so you can solve problems around the board table based on your shared objectives.  Think about what you buy and find a family business or co-operative to supply it.

Want to see an example from Maine in the USA.  Check out: Rock City Cafe  This video is courtesy of the Co-operative Development Institute

In the weeks ahead visit the website to learn of more examples.


Everyone Welcome – March 15

With Author Tom Webb

Thursday 15 March 2018, 7:00PM to 8:30PM –

Room 132, Beveridge Arts Center (BAC) Acadia University

10 Highland Ave., Wolfville, N.S.

Exploring Public Policy – Hosted by the Kings South NDP


From Corporate Globalization to Global Co-operation explores some of the interconnected and disturbing trends facing our world and the links between them.  It then looks at the neoclassical economic thinking developed to explain and justify why our world should be heading in these directions and the problems with that thinking.  It also explores various business models and how neoclassical economics is fundamentally supportive of only one business model in spite of its increasingly destructive track record.  It examines why capitalism is great for the very wealthy but bad for the planet, human society, communities and democracy

The book then explores alternative business models with a special focus on co-operatives.  It suggests one healthy response to our challenging times is to shift our economy to one that is aligned with nature and focused on meeting human need without destroying the natural world.  The potential of the co-operative business model to facilitate change is explored – its strengths and potential for improvement.

The author will touch on the key themes explored by the book and some additional insights on the congruence of co-operative organizational models with all life on the planet and especially human life.  Questions and comments are welcome.

Tom Webb has served as an advisor to a prime minister and cabinet ministers, a senior manager in a large co-operative, Director of the St. F.X. Extension Dept., Manager of Co-operative Management Education at Saint Mary’s Sobey School of Business and has lectured across North America, Europe and Oceania.


Our Search For Meaning

In a world that some mornings seems to have gone mad, it is all too easy to give up hope.  I once gave a talk at Oxford University and a man in the front row asked, after I was finished talking about co-operatives, “But Mr Webb I liked much of what you said but surely you must realize that capitalist corporations have already won.  They dominate the world.  Why do you not just give up and go home?”  I responded that,  “I had five children and that when I went home I might have had to explain to them why I did nothing while inequality exploded, their environment was destroyed and democracy and freedom were undermined.  That would be much harder than speaking truth to power.”

My thinking on this was shaped by Viktor Frankl in his wonderful book “Man’s Search for Meaning.”  Frankl was a psychiatrist from Vienna who lost his whole family when he and they were sent to the Nazi death camps.  He lost his life’s work when his manuscript and notes for a book he was writing was taken from him and destroyed.  He endured years of torture and humiliation but emerged a loving, compassionate human being while some others  emerged filled with hatred and revenge.  He grew as a human being because he never lost sight of the knowledge that while others may take away your freedom and do horrible things to you they can never take away your freedom to respond in a way consistent with your values and beliefs –  to think as your values shape your thoughts. Only you can choose to love or hate.

It is a book about the capacity of the human spirit for decency, compassion and love.  A book to keep by your bedside.

Co-operation More Powerful Than Competition

An excerpt from: From Corporate Globalization to Global Co-operation, Page 90

“Neoclassical economics and right wing philosophy would tell us that the most powerful driver in human nature IS individual self-interest in the rational pursuit of maximum wealth for minimal effort. Wouldn’t that mean that co-operatives were just utopian dreams
out of touch with what drives “economic man” and destined to remain on the fringe
of the economy? Are people social and co-operative by nature, or competitive and
self centred? These are questions that need to be responded to by both heart and
head because they go to the very core of what it means to be human.
In considering scientific answers to these questions we begin with a reflection
on the emergence of life on our planet. In his 2012 book The Super Cooperators,
Martin Nowak, one of the world’s leading theorists on evolution, points out that
for life to move beyond single-cell organisms cells needed to co-operate. As life
became more and more complex, it was an explosion of co-operation that made it
possible. If the cells in your eyes did not co-operate you would not see this line of
words. If the cells in your brain did not work together you would not understand
anything. All complex life is based on cell co-operation, without which there is no
intelligence and no emotion.5 When cells cease to co-operate and begin to multiply,
simply reproducing themselves, it is called cancer. The absence of co-operation in
cells leads to death.”

This is the foundation of co-operation in life.  As life advanced so did co-operation.  As the book argues the success of humanity owes more to cooperation than to competition.  Humanity has now reached the stage where it must choose between the positive constructive forces of humanity – caring, sharing, compassion, empathy and love – and the dark forces of human nature – competition, greed, hyper individualism and selfishness.  Will our future be win-win-win or win-lose-lose- lose?  Will we choose life or destruction?  Climate change or sustainable, ecological co-operation?  Me first or us together?

Let us choose life.


Searching for Meaning

In our own lives, what is more important, what we consumed today or what we contributed to our families, our communities and our world?  What would leave us more dissatisfied, knowing that we acquired a less than perfect automobile, didn’t have the latest electronic gadget or that an idea we had failed to make the world a better place for our children because we did not have the authority or legitimacy or power to accomplish it?  Is our reality as consumers the most important part of our beings or is it the part that is most likely to destroy the world around us through the consumption of wants rather than needs?  Let me suggest that unleashing the creative, caring and loving parts of our humanity is the most powerful source of meaning for human beings.

Imagine a world where we owned and controlled our work spaces, co-operating with colleagues to help each other be the best we can be.  Where we focused on using our talents and gifts to improve the lives of our families, communities and world.  We can build that world bit by bit, workplace by workplace.  We can replace capitalism and a world focused on money with economic democracy and meeting human need.