Saturday, 29 June 2013

Jersey - Tax us if you can!

Taxation has been in the UK news a lot in recent weeks - whether in relation to the proposed clampdown on 'tax havens' or the fact that Starbucks has just paid corporation tax in the UK (to the tune of £5 million) for the first time in almost four years.  Whilst people in Jersey would hotly dispute the idea that their island is a 'tax haven', it's commonly perceived as such by taxpayers in the UK.  Jersey has long had its own system of taxation and islanders will maintain that their laws on taxation are every bit as robust, even more so, than in the UK, where many loopholes facilitate cases of tax avoidance. 

Tax evasion or avoidance?

There's a very simple difference between tax evasion and tax avoidance - evasion is illegal, ie. when you don't pay your taxes or you're involved in illegal activities such as smuggling.  Tax avoidance on the other hand is legal - any individual or company with a good accountant can figure out ways of keeping their tax bill at a minimum amount, which might include registering elements of your business in one of the world's 73 'tax havens' or simply setting up an offshore account, where you can transfer your money to a place where it won't be heavily taxed.

Why do we pay taxes in the first place?

Jersey pound note by David Holt London
Well, it's very simple - taxation is the collection of communal funds that provide the infrastructure that a society needs.  Every worker in society produces something - whether it's a more traditional scenario of a farmer growing vegetables which he will then sell in the market, or a modern scenario of a call-centre worker providing customer service via telephone or email, infrastructure (roads, telecommunications) is vital to connect the producer of goods with his/her market.  Not to mention the provision of health care, education, social welfare, defense etc. that anyone who lives in a 'civilised' society should expect to have access to.

The link between civilisation and taxation is an important one and, in the current economic climate, individual nations, such as the UK (but also the US, Germany etc) are feeling less tolerant towards individuals or companies that engage in tax non-compliance and avoid making a full contribution to the country where they live/work/use the infrastructure and resources.  After all, why should someone enjoy the benefits of a civilised society, when they don't pay for it?

Tax as a global issue

In the olden days, before globalisation, the relationship between a tax-payer and his government was a lot clearer.  Most goods were physically produced locally, therefore it was more obvious to which authority the tax-payer should pay his/her taxes.  Nowadays, with many goods being 'services' more than physical things - it's sometimes not so clear as to where the goods are produced and where they are sold.

There is no international taxation system, therefore each country (or tax-independent jurisdictions, like Jersey) is free to decide its own rates of taxation.  This is completely legal and, unless tax-independent jurisdictions deliberately use 'harmful tax competition', they aren't doing anything wrong.

Jersey - VAT and banking

Jersey coin by tigerweet
Jersey has never adopted Value Added Tax (VAT) on goods, a taxation which is common elsewhere in Europe.  This means that the price of luxury goods, in particular, is much lower than elsewhere in Europe and, therefore, those who can afford it, will buy their luxury goods in Jersey, where there is no VAT, rather than in England and France, where VAT adds around 20% to the original price.

With a population of around 97,000, Jersey has 32,000 registered companies and 46 banks - at any given time, it's estimated that there are £189 billion pounds deposited in the island's banks (around £2 million for each of Jersey's inhabitants) - even with the estimated 250 millionaires who live in Jersey, something just doesn't quite add up!  

It's clear that, with the independence of tax systems in places like Jersey and the relative ease of moving people, goods and services internationally in the 21st century, countries with higher taxes are going to lose out on vital revenue that equips the society where these goods and services might be making a profit for the individual or company who is moving their financial assets elsewhere.  In the case of Starbucks - it's easy to compare the number of coffee sales to the amount of the company's taxation - but what about less tangible products, such as the branding, advertisement or even the raw materials used to produce their goods?

International tax Watchdogs

Sailing at Mont Orgeuil by Alex Fearn
The main international watchdogs on taxation are: UNESCO, the EU, individual governments and civil society organisations.  One of these civil society organisations, the Tax Justice network has published an interesting paper called Tax us if you can which is well worth a read, in terms of the background of international tax avoidance and how this has a wider impact on the Developing World. 

UNESCO has pushed for the signing of bilateral Tax Information Exchange Agreements (TIEAs) between countries in the Developed world and those countries most often considered to be tax havens.  These agreements provide a framework for collaboration so countries can find out whether or not their citizens are avoiding paying tax by putting their money in offshore accounts.  I read an interesting article about a recent case between Norway and Jersey, where the Royal Court of Jersey has rejected an appeal on behalf of Berge Gerdt Larse, a Norwegian businessman, regarding an information request the Norwegian government has made under the TIEA signed with Jersey in 2008.  It's thought that this case could set an important precedent for the implementation of other TIEAs around the world.

International co-operation on taxation

Being branded as a tax haven could, ultimately, be bad for business and places like Jersey have been co-operating with the international community, vis-a-vis regularising the situation of international investments in the island.  The case of Starbucks in the UK shows that there is increasing pressure for companies to be 'ethical' when it comes to paying their taxes - ultimately they could lose a lot of business, if customers perceive an unacceptable level of tax injustice.  The Larse/Norwegian case shows increased transparency for wealthy individuals also and, perhaps, signals the beginning of the end of 'banking secrecy' that epitomises many of the world's banking havens.

By contrast, Switzerland, which prides itself on 'discretion' has yet to sign any TIEAs and the Swiss parliament's lower house has recently rejected proposed amendments to the country's secrecy laws, which could see Swiss banks being prosecuted by the US for aiding tax evasion.  The US is one of only two countries in the world (the other is Eritrea) which obliges its citizens to pay taxes, regardless of where they actually live. 

Image credits:

All images have been shared by flickr members, David Holt London, tigerweet and Alex Fearn - thanks to David, Sarah and Alex for sharing these images with us using the Creative Commons license. 

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Jersey - Pâl'-ou l'Jèrriais?

Something I didn't know about Jersey and, indeed, the other Channel Islands, is that they have their own languages, which are considered to be dialects of Norman French and, therefore, not closely related to English.  In Jersey, the Norman language is known as Jèrriais and this was regularly spoken in Jersey until the 1950's, when the last monolingual speakers died and English finally took over.  It's now estimated that less than 2,000 people speak Jèrriais as a native language - although it still has an important ceremonial role in Jersey's political and legal systems.

The World's 'big' languages

Unfortunately, the experience of Jersey is pretty typical in a constantly globalising world.  The reality of the early 21st century is that more than 50% of the world's population speaks one of the top 24 languages (ie. those with more than 50 million speakers).  We've met some of these already when I blogged about Chinese linguistics in December last year: Mandarin, Wu and Yue (Cantonese) have around 987 million speakers between them.  Then there are the big languages of South Asia: Hindi, Bengali, Lanhda (which I'd never heard of), Telugu, Marathi, Tamil and Urdu.  The other big East Asian languages include: Japanese, Javanese, Vietnamese, Korean, and Malay.  The big languages of the Middle East are: Arabic, Persian and Turkish.  Finally, the big European languages are: Spanish, English, Portuguese, Russian, German and French.

Sign in English and Jèrriais by Man Vyi
Interestingly, not a single language originating in sub-Saharan Africa, Australia/Pacific or the Americas has made it onto this list and I think this says a lot about the role language has to play in colonisation.  The biggest language from sub-Saharan Africa is probably Hausa, which has 40 million native speakers - you can read more about African linguistics in my blog post from 2010.  The biggest American language is Quechua, which has about 7 million native speakers in Peru and Bolivia.  Most Australian languages are endangered or extinct and you'll probably find more Russian or Mandarin speakers in Australia, than speakers of native Australian languages!

Countries with the greatest number of 'endangered' languages

For most other languages, survival into the 21st century and beyond will be something of a challenge.  UNESCO has published an interesting online map of endangered languages including Jèrriais, which you can visit by clicking on the following link.  I looked at the 'hotspots' for endangered languages around the world and it's surely no coincidence that the countries where languages are most in danger of extinction are also those where the 'big' languages listed above are spoken - according to UNESCO's map, the ten countries with most endangered languages are:

India (197)
The United States (191)
Brazil (190)
Indonesia (146)
China (144)
Many sign posts are written in Jèrriais, photo from Man vyi
Mexico (143)
Russian Federation (131)
Australia (108)
Papua New Guinea (98)
Columbia (68)

Exactly how endangered?

UNESCO employs a useful system of categorisation, to describe exactly how endangered a language is considered to be.  They define the following five main categories:

Vulnerable - most children speak the language, but it may be restricted to certain domains (e.g., home)
Definitely endangered - children no longer learn the language as mother tongue in the home
Severely endangered - the language is spoken by grandparents and older generations; while the parent generation may understand it, they do not speak it to children or among themselves
Critically endangered - the youngest speakers are grandparents and older, and they speak the language partially and infrequently
Extinct - there are no native speakers left

Under this categorisation, Jèrriais is considered to be severely endangered, as is the language of Guernsey, DgernesiaisAuregnais, the language of Alderney, is already considered to be extinct.

So what can we do about it?

Coming from Ireland, I feel quite passionate about language revitalisation.  There have been some successful attempts to revitalise languages, probably the most famous example being Modern Hebrew as well as the Celtic languages, which are receiving a lot of government-level support.

Unfortunately, despite all of the hard work people having been doing to revive the Irish language, it seems to be constantly in decline and is considered by UNESCO to be definitely endangered, whereas neighbouring Welsh is merely vulnerable and the revitalisation of Welsh in recent years has been fairly successful. 

Losing a language means losing part of the cultural richness of the human experience and it's a real shame to see the world's big languages take over, even if one of them, English, is my mother tongue.  My partner's mother tongue is Russian, but his people speak Kalmyk, which is definitely endangered, just like Irish, so we are very much part of this shift in language use.  I can't help but wonder how many of these languages will be left in 100 years time?

On a more positive note, I'm going to leave you with a link for the Endangered Languages project - it's great to know that there are people out there who are willing to advocate for linguistic diversity in the 21st century.

I'll also leave you with a video of Jersey poet Michael Vaûtchi, reading a poem in his native Jèrriais


Image credits:

Both images have been released into the public domain by Man vyi, who has shared lots of images of Jersey on Wikimedia Commons - thanks Man vyi for sharing these images with us. 

Monday, 17 June 2013

Jersey - what's in a name?

There is quite a contrast between Jamaica, the last place I blogged about beginning with the letter 'J', and Jersey, the place I have chosen to blog about next.  Jamaica is a parliamentary democracy with almost 3 million people - GDP per capita is around $9,000.  Jersey is a crown dependency with vestiges of feudal rule - it has a population of around 98,000 people, the GDP per capita is $57,000 (more than 6 times that of Jamaica).

One the other hand, they both have Elizabeth II as the Head of State (she's known as the 'Duke of Normandy' in Jersey and 'the Queen of Jamaica' in Jamaica), they both have a complicated history with the UK and they both have English-speaking populations.  Like Jamaica, Jersey is divided into parishes, many of which are named after saints - eg. St Ouen, St John, St Clement in Jersey and St Andrew, St Elizabeth, St Catherine in Jamaica. 

Jersey - part of the UK?

Elizabeth Castle, St Helier by paulafunnell
It might surprise many people in Britain to learn that Jersey isn't actually part of the UK.  It's a crown dependency which means that, although Elizabeth II is the Head of State and the UK has constitutional responsibilities for Jersey, it's a self-governing island and retains many rights and privileges that go back to the time of the Norman conquest of England. This also means that Jersey is not part of the European Union, although it has a special relationship with the EU. 

Likewise, it might surprise people to know that the other Channel islands are not part of the UK, nor is the Isle of Man, which is located in the Irish Sea.  Just this week, the UK Prime Minister had a special meeting with representatives of the crown dependencies, as well as British Overseas territories, such as Bermuda and the Cayman Islands, the so-called 'tax havens', to discuss a clamp-down on tax regulation in these British territories that aren't part of the UK.

Channel Islands or Îles Anglo-Normandes?

In France, the Channel Islands are called les Îles Anglo-Normandes or the 'Anglo-Norman islands', which is, perhaps, an even more accurate description of what they are, than the term 'Channel Islands' - the first thing I've learned during my research is that these islands aren't actually in the English Channel at all, but are in the Gulf of St Malo!

Okay, the Gulf of St Malo is, arguably, part of the English Channel (which, by the way, has no real meaning to the French, who call this body of water La Manche or 'the sleeve'), but the term Channel Islands is quite a political one, as it makes it sound as though they are just off the coast of Kent when, in fact, they are many miles south of England, off the coast of France.

Channel Islands around the world

Corbiere lighthouse in Jersey by paulafunnell
Interestingly, Slavic languages have followed the French example, eg. Russian (Нормандские острова - Normandskie ostrova) and Polish (Wyspy Normandzkie) .  Most Germanic languages use the term, Channel islands - German (Kanalinseln) and Norwegian (Kanaløyane) - Latin languages often, quite diplomatically, offer two alternatives, eg. Spanish (islas del Canal or islas Anglonormandas).

In Welsh, they're, quite patriotically, known as Ynysoedd y Sianel and in Breton they are, equally patriotically, called Inizi Angl-ha-Norman.  In Irish they are known, bizarrely, as Oileáin Mhuir nIocht which means 'Islands in the (Isle of ) Wight Sea'!  The rest of the world seems to conform with the English name - eg. Thai (หมู่เกาะแชนเนล - H̄mū̀ keāa chæ nnel) and Bahasa Indonesia (Kepulauan Channel).

The meaning of Jersey

Adding to the Anglo-Norman mix is a good deal of Scandinavian!  The Channel Islands were frequently raided by Vikings, back in the day, and the three main islands Jersey, Guernsey and Alderney all have the -ey ending, which is similar to the -øy ending, meaning 'island' in modern Norwegian.  The Romans called Jersey Caesarea and I can't help but wonder whether or not the modern name of this island is a combination of Latin Caesarea and Scandinavian -ey. 

Channel Islands from Wikimedia Commons
Home from home?

Like many people who live in Britain or Ireland, I've had a very vague awareness of Jersey and the Channel Islands.  In my mind, it has been a picture not unlike the Isle of Wight or Dorset in the 1950's.  The first thing I've learned is that it's a lot more complicated than that.  The Channel Islands are only miles from the French coast and the influence of French culture means that the islands (whatever you want to call them) are a very unique blend of English, Norman, French and Viking.  Some people still speak the Norman language Jerriais on Jersey and, despite their obvious Britishness, the Channel Islands retain a strong local identity, which I'm already intrigued by.

Over the next few weeks, I intend to learn about the food, music, history and culture of Jersey - why not join me on this virtual journey and we can learn about Jersey together!

Image credits:

The map of the Channel Islands is taken from Wikimedia Commons and you can see the file information there.  

The images of Jersey are from Flickr member paulafunnell - Paula has created a whole set of photos taken in Jersey, which you can see in her photostream.  Thanks to Paula for sharing these images with us using the Creative Commons license. 

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Indiana - The Final Word

As well as being my final word on Indiana, this blog post marks my 200th entry on Learning about the World!  It's been almost four years since I started writing this blog and I sense that that is a reasonable amount of time in blog years.  With almost 26,000 page views from 141 countries, I'm quite happy with the way this blog has developed.  The 141st country the blog got a hit from, in April of this year, was Guatemala, which also happens to be the very first country I blogged about in September 2009.

A summary of the themes

It's taken a while to research and blog about Indiana - mostly because myself and my partner moved to a new flat at the end of April, so we were busy packing, unpacking and setting up our new home.  Nevertheless, I somehow found time to learn about Indiana being the Crossroads of America.  I learned about the Jackson 5 and Dr Kinsey's ground-breaking research on human sexuality.  I read Slaughterhouse 5 by one of Indiana's most famous writers, Kurt Vonnegut.  The very first meal I cooked in our new home was the Indiana dish - Pork Tenderloin sandwich

Tools for research

I read three books as part of my research about Indiana:

Research for Indiana blog posts
Slaughterhouse-Five, or the Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death (1969) Kurt Vonnegut

You Are Not Alone: Michael, Through a Brother's Eyes (2011) Jermaine Jackson

Alfred C. Kinsey: Sex - the Measure of All Things - A Biography (1999) Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy

I also watched quite a few movies set in Indiana, including:

Breaking Away (1979) directed by Peter Yates - I'd seen this incredibly poignant and funny movie when I was in my early teens and I remember trying to teach myself Italian after seeing this movie.  It was a real joy to see it again through adult eyes. 

A History of Violence (2005) directed by David Cronenberg - East Coast gangsters arrive in small town Indiana determined to make life hell for coffee-shop owner Tom Stall (played by Viggo Mortensen).  I quite enjoyed this thriller and probably wouldn't have watched it, if I wasn't blogging about Indiana.

Slaughterhouse-Five (1972) directed by George Roy Hill - I'm really glad they made a film version in the '70's, as I think it would be impossible nowadays to make this movie, in the way Hill did - I loved this interpretation of the book - it's quite odd and psychedelic and I think it complements the novel well. 

Hoosiers (1986) directed by David Anspaugh and starring Gene Hackman and Dennis Hopper.  It's also a movie of its era - an enjoyable 'underdog' story about a basketball team from a small town in Indiana who make it to the state championship finals.  A real feel-good movie, perfect for whiling away a rainy Sunday afternoon!

Bloomington (2010) directed by Fernanda Cardoso - a mediocre 'coming of age' story about a young celebrity who tries to escape the pressures of California by studying at Bloomington university in Indiana - she falls in love with one of her professors and they have a fraught relationship that I found very unbelievable - still, all in the name of research!

As well as listening to lots of Jackson 5 and Michael Jackson albums, I listened to three of Indiana's most famous musical artists; John Mellencamp, Axl Rose from Guns'N'Roses and Cole Porter

Mellencamp was a name I'd heard of, but this was the first time I listened to his music - it's definitely enjoyable and reminded me a lot of Bob Dylan. 

Guns N'Roses are a band that I grew up with, although I've never been much of a fan - Guns N'Roses fans in my school tended to be homophobic, right-wing bullies and there used to be quite a bit of rivalry between the rockers and Goths (like me) who listened to The Cure.  Having said that, with the distance of time and adulthood, I was surprised to find that I know their music quite well and - guilty pleasure - I've enjoyed re-discovering their greatest hits (although I'll be loyal to The Cure until the end!)

And I absolutely adore Cole Porter's music - he was such a prolific and talented artist.  I'd no idea that he was born in Indiana and only found out towards the end of my initial research, otherwise I would definitely have spent more time researching his eccentric and wildly artistic life!

It's fair to say that I've been spoilt for choice this time, with lots to read, listen to and watch. 

Other themes

If I'd had more time, I would have looked into the following additional themes:

Algonquian languages
Ghost legends of the Mid-West
Former Indian names for US cities
The Ku Klux Klan, who had their first headquarters in Indiana
Private Slovik
Great inventors

Dinner party trivia

And I learned some trivia which will come in handy for dinner parties:

People from Indiana are called Hoosiers which comes from the dialect of English spoken in Cumbria and is believed to mean 'hill folk'
Fort Wayne was built on the site of the (Native-American) Miami capital, called Kekionga
The fridge, calculator and jukebox were all invented in Indiana
Fort Wayne has the US's highest population of Burmese-Americans
The first professional basketball game was played in Fort Wayne in 1871
There are more than 1,000 lakes in Indiana
The pharmaceutical giant, Eli Lilly and Company is based in Indianapolis
The largest coal mine in the US is in Indiana
Indianapolis is the least segregated city in the northern US

In the News

Whilst Oklahoma has been recovering from a terrible series of tornadoes, I've noticed the following news stories related to Indiana:

Sullivan High school traditional prom bans gay students

Gunman scare at Indianapolis university

Extreme weather conditions (blizzards and floods) in the state

School voucher system upheld by Supreme Court

Indianapolis voted as one of the worst-dressed cities in the US

45 years since the death of Martin Luther King - Indianapolis the only major city not to break out in riots at the news

Paul McCartney to play Indianapolis

Death of Otis R. Bowen, 44th Governor of Indiana

The Final word in Underdogs

One thing I learnt about Indiana (and the Mid-West in general) is that people there love a good underdog story.  Whether it's the cyclists in Breaking Away or the basketball players in Hoosiers - the story of small town athletes making it big touches on something that seems to run deep in the mid-Western psyche.  I guess it's a bit like 'middle-child syndrome' - the mid-Western states live in the shadow of their more famous east-coast (New England) and west-coast (California) compatriots.  I've noticed a similar theme in the popular TV show Glee, although this is set in neighbouring Ohio. 

I guess then Hoosiers will be happy with the outcome of last weekend's Indy 500 car race.  It's hard to blog about Indiana and not acknowledge the importance of the Indy 500 - the World's Greatest Spectacle in Racing.  Every year racing drivers from all over the world compete in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway - driving 500 miles in 200 laps of the speedway - it sounds fast, furious and exciting!

This year's winner was Tony Kanaan who is Brazilian, of Lebanese descent.  It took 12 attempts at the Indy 500 before Tony could claim the title - a true underdog story, if ever I heard one!

Well, here's to the next 200 blog posts - up next, J . . .

Image credits

The image of the book covers was taken by me.

The Hoosiers trailer and Guns 'N'Roses videos are from YouTube.