Monday, March 11, 2019

The one trillion tax talk

Would you like to pay less tax? Less income tax on your earnings, less VAT on your purchases? Having 30% more money at the beginning of the month and paying 20% less on all things that can be bought? Sure you would – who wouldn't?

Unless your tax consultant is a genius though, or unless you're willing to fight a fierce David vs Goliath battle with the tax office, you won't be enjoying the benefits of less or no taxes. Or unless you are a powerful corporation.

I don't know about you, but I pay almost always the full tax. I don't mind doing it – I put something into the big pot and then the government takes money from this pot to finance hospitals, schools and roads, plus giving the really poor a helping hand. A good and sensible invention, this tax thing. Of course the government also does a lot of stupid things with that money, like subsidizing already profitable or even harmful businesses, fighting wars, building walls and so on. Enough material for 50 years of blogging, but let's ignore it this time.

A recent study estimates that 1,000,000,000,000 (one trillion) Euros are lost each year in the EU from both tax avoidance and tax evasion. Even if the estimate was bad and it came to only half of that, there'd be still 500 billion Euros lost each year. In other words, if everyone – individual people and corporations – paid the tax that corresponds to them, the EU would basically have no more financial problems. All public debt would be paid off within nine years and absolutely everyone would have their basic needs covered, such as education, healthcare, food and a home. No higher taxes needed – just pay your fair share. And yes, Amazon, you too!

Tax law should be enforced and all should be required to pay what is owed by them. If that is not done actual inequality arises: those who pay their taxes are worse off than those who do not. Resentment builds amongst taxpayers and non-compliance increases. More worryingly still, honest business is undermined by dishonest business. This means that honest businesses are more likely to fail.” (source)

So why is there such a huge tax gap? There are many reasons, but the underlying cause is probably human greed. Greed for money and greed for power. Just as a poor woman might steal a pen when she gets the opportunity, a middle class woman saves cash when paying a cleaner in black and a rich woman steals two million from the tax pot. In the same way, a corporation, guided by its shareholders, also grabs the opportunity for extra profit when it arises.

I don't like greed, but I can accept it. It's an ancient human weakness – wanting more, always more. However, given that the facts are so clear, that it's greed leading to tax theft leading to reduced public funds, there are other things that I can't accept. Like blaming immigrants for example.

The whole tax gap disaster needs to be solved, the sooner the better. That's where most attention should go. Instead, people go crazy when we open the borders to help those we've exploited in the first place; they say we can't afford more immigrants, so why should we rescue those sinking boats? Europe first – those black folks just want to steal our money.

Greed is causing inequality. Hence greed needs to be faced, addressed and, if not eliminated, at least it has to be tamed and controlled. Racing against immigrants is not only a sad human tragedy, but it's simply the wrong strategy. It will only worsen the problem, it will divide and breed hate and it definitely won't generate 1 trillion Euros...




And just because it fits so beautifully, here's Donald Trump: 
“The point is that you can't be too greedy.”
Any questions?


www.clausmikosch.com



Monday, February 11, 2019

How to bake a new world

I've got a new passion: bread making! My girlfriend even says it's already gone far beyond a passion and has become an obsession. Bowls and bags of flour are taking up all empty space in the kitchen and the oven is almost constantly on. I feel like I'm doing a master degree, I read books and articles and study videos on YouTube. Lots of videos! A couple of weeks ago I had one of my occasional down days and when a good friend heard about it she sent me a message, trying to cheer me up and telling me not to watch any doomsday videos online. I laughed out loud and sent her a message back: “You know the suggestions you get on your YouTube feed? All I get these days are videos of people making bread. There's no space left for doomsday stuff!”



Every bread has four basic ingredients: flour, water, salt and something that makes it rise, ie yeast or sourdough. But a really good bread needs a fifth ingredient. Something that most breads you find in shops nowadays lack. It's a very simple yet also incredibly precious and important ingredient: time.

Some of the breads I make take over 24 hours. However, the amount of work needed for mixing the ingredients, for kneading, forming and scoring is actually quite small – most of the time the dough just sits there and slowly develops and ferments. It made me think of writing: A book can be written very quickly, but a good book needs time. And just like with making bread, the time spent writing isn't that much – what takes so long is the slow fermentation of ideas.

Looking at the world and the changes that are so desperately needed, perhaps it's a similar story as with bread making and writing. There are lots of ideas out there to make everything better, for people and the planet, and some of these ideas are already put into practice. Sometimes I get impatient though when I observe the slow progress, I get frustrated because I feel that everything should be changed today. It's hard to accept, but maybe certain changes simply need time too. Because just like you can't expect a good bread in one hour or a great book in one month, neither can you expect a perfect world in one year.

With all the accelerating environmental problems and social conflicts, the question is of course whether we have enough time to patiently wait for a better world. Perhaps it will be too late if we don't speed up our actions very soon, if we don't start to live in a sustainable and peaceful way latest by tomorrow. But even if we got our act together right now, it would still take time until we see major positive results. No matter how much we hurry, we still need to be patient and allow the changes to grow organically. Like watching ideas unfold into stories and a bit of flour and water turn into a beautiful, delicious bread.

Thoughts alone don't write any books though, just like time alone won't turn the bread ingredients into a tasty loaf. Ideas need to be put on paper and the dough needs to be kneaded and cared for. In other words: It requires time AND action to write a beautiful future and bake a new world.


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You can find this blog also on my new website, together with books, films and mix tapes – www.clausmikosch.com


Monday, January 14, 2019

Change of direction

I love Amazon. No matter what I want to buy – books, music, kitchen utensils, candles, toys, pens, electronic gadgets – finally there is one single place that has it all. Recently a friend of mine has even bought all the furniture for her new flat with just a few clicks. There's no need to waste time in countless different stores, it's not even necessary to leave the comfortable sofa. Delivery is fast, prices are competitive and thousands of reviews guide you to the best items. Furthermore, every time I had a problem – wrong size, a malfunctioning product or simply too much money spent – it was solved almost immediately and without any hassle. Even in the offline world it's hard to find equivalent customer service.

For people like me, who actually don't like going shopping, Amazon seems like paradise. A couple of months ago I was in a big shopping centre because I needed some things I couldn't get in any small local shops. At some point I ended up trying on some shoes. I wasn't totally convinced though and was about to leave when the shop assistant said in a persistent tone, 'just get them, you can always return them when you come back the next time.' My reply: 'But I don't want to come back!' To me, shopping malls are horrible and utterly depressing places, full of greedy, stressed and unhappy faces. Why would I want to come back? Amazon's website seems blissful in comparison.

However, I also hate Amazon. It's a perfect reflection of a world that puts consumerism above anything else. Buying has become the new praying and money the new God. And not surprisingly, without prayers and a loving God, ethical behaviour isn't the top priority (not that it ever was, but it seems to be getting worse). Amazon exploits producers, sellers and even its own staff; buyers are trapped into a hypnotizing shopping frenzy and so every day thousands of people end up buying more stuff they don't need, which leads to more feelings of emptiness and less happiness. Millions, if not billions of trees are cut down to produce all the packaging, most of which is destined to land in the bin and litter the land. A while ago I ordered seven items and received four separate, unnecessarily huge packets – logistically it might make sense, but environmentally it's an absolute nightmare.

Many other online giants do the same, but since Amazon is the mighty king of all giants, it's also the most visible one. And I think in a world which continues to be driven by profit and power, it's save to say that, in order to be the biggest, usually you have to be the most ruthless too. Empires are rarely built peacefully.

Amazon is cold. Digital. Impersonal. Many years ago I used to work in a record shop – it wasn't only a shop, but also a meeting point, a place to find both art and friends. It was a happy place because everyone who worked there was passionate about music and loved to be there. Customers often came with a sunken face and left with a smile. A melting pot of music and roaming souls, providing a meaningful and often joyous shopping experience. Online on Amazon I get the music too, but the vital second ingredient is missing: the human connection.

Long story short: When I saw the pile of Amazon packages that I had ordered just before Christmas, I felt slightly ashamed. It just got out of hand and needs to be changed. My first impulse was to stop buying online altogether. But is this realistic if you don't live in a big city where small, specialist shops still exist? And is it necessary to boycott Amazon 100%? Let's face it: Sometimes it's difficult to resist the temptation of convenience.

I asked myself a question: How much Amazon in the world would I be willing to tolerate? In the US, almost half of all online sales are already done on this one platform. That's 5% of all retail sales, on- and offline. Is that acceptable for me? Would I accept more? 10%? 30? Even half of all sales?

Personally, I think it should be less than it is now. Or at least it shouldn't grow more, otherwise one day we won't have a choice any more. For now, there are still plenty of other, more ethical and independent online shops out there. Also, I don't really fancy a world without unique small shops, where real people stand behind the counter. Shops with a shining soul! So whenever possible, these should be my priority.

Should...

Maybe it's this word SHOULD that will kill us. Because should equals lack of action. I should eat less meat, I should buy only organic food, I should fly less often, I should make it all better. I should slow down, I should live in the Now.

How can I get rid of SHOULD?

Usually I use SHOULD when I talk about something which, to me, at the present moment, seems out of reach. A utopian fairy tale goal, unrealistic and too much hard work. Others might be able to do it, but not me. I'm too weak, too lazy and also too small. What difference can I make anyway?

A beautiful and comfortable excuse. The problem is, excuses don't change anything.

So why not breaking up the utopian goal into smaller pieces? If I'm heading towards hell but want to get to heaven, I can't simply beam myself there. I have to turn around and start walking towards it. Once I've changed the direction, each step will bring me closer to where I want to be.

Regarding my Amazon dilemma, it means to put the focus not on eliminating but on reducing. First step: Whenever I don't get something in a local shop and need to go online, I will check if there's a good alternative to Amazon. If there is, I go there. If not, and only then, Amazon is acceptable. In one year from now I will tell you how it went.

In the meantime, feel inspired for your own changes by José, the sailor of ANICCA:






Thursday, December 6, 2018

Jamaica vacation

How many artists do you know who make a living from what they are doing? Not many, right? I am one of the lucky ones. And although I know a lot of other amazing and dedicated artists, only very few get by without one or two other jobs. Isn't that strange? We are surrounded by so much art, by words and songs and photos, we consume more films and stories than ever before – and yet, financially speaking, it still sucks to be an artist.

One reason for this is that we've gotten used to the weird idea that art is and should be available for free. YouTube, Spotify, Facebook – why would you pay for a new song when there are at least three ways to listen to it for free? Same with films, articles and blogs – same with pretty much anything that can be distributed online.
In a way it's great that it's like this – even people with very low budgets can enjoy the finest and most diverse selection of art that has ever existed. But what will happen to our culturally-rich world if the average person continues to spend more money at Burger King and Primark than in record and book shops?

Another reason why so many artists are poor is that the profits are incredibly badly distributed. It's the same as anywhere else in the economic world: A few take most pieces of the cake and leave the many to fight over whatever is left. Netflix, Spotify and some big publishing houses get rich, while the vast majority of independent artists struggle to survive. And even those who 'make it', well, ask a musician how much he gets for the thousands of clicks his songs get on Spotify. Ask a filmmaker whether films on YouTube cover her expenses of time and money. Or ask me how much I earn per book. I'll tell you: per sold copy, I get between 16 and 84 cents. Minus taxes, social security, traveling costs, work equipment, etc. Means you gotta sell a lot of books to make ends meet... Here's a few more numbers: 90% of all published books are sold between 1000 and 5000 times. If you wrote a book every 3-4 weeks, it would be okay. But how many people do you know who write 12 books per year?

Most artists do what they do because they want to. For me it's the same: I write blogs and books because I enjoy it and because it helps me deal with this bizarre world; I make films because it's great fun and because I learn a lot; and I make the mix tapes because I love to listen to them myself. If everyone around me died and I were the last person on Earth, I'd probably write a book about it, or I'd do a special doom mix called The empty world.

However, artists also pay rent. Most don't own three villas.

Getting to the point of this little rant: Recently I’ve been thinking about how I could generate some additional income with my creative activities, and a very simple answer came to mind: to ask for it! Because that's something else many artists have in common: we are shit at asking for money. A defect that seems to come with the job. It was time to fix it, so:

I made a website (you're already on it) where all my creative work is displayed in one place – the monthly blog, books, films and mix tapes. If you enjoy some of the stuff I do, and feel like supporting an independent artist financially – helping to pay for paper, some new songs, a better microphone for the next film or, if you're feeling extra generous, a two week holiday in Jamaica – there's a donation button at the bottom of the homepage. Anything is appreciated. Thank you!





What else? In 2019 two (possibly even three) of my books will be published in English, plus a new one in German; there will be twelve new blog entries with my reflections on changing times, and at least a handful of new mixes to sweeten your days. A new full-feature documentary is planned for 2020. Not sure where to fit in that Jamaica vacation, but I'll swing it one way or the other.

PS: My 15-year-old daughter told me she discovered Bob Marley last week. I bet she'd love to join me on that trip...

"I think people have been obsessed with the wrong question, which is 'how do we MAKE people pay for art?' What if we started asking, 'how do we LET people pay for art?'" (Amanda Palmer)



Monday, November 12, 2018

Ethical honesty

Last week I ordered 20kg of organic flour, several litres of olive oil, plus a few kilos of oats, rice, sugar, almonds and lentils. If our economic system were to collapse tomorrow, I'd be prepared!

However, this blog post isn't about doom and gloom. In total, the amount of my order came to 130 Euros. I purchased everything on the website of RINCÓN DEL SEGURA, a small company which grows most of its products on local land in southern Spain. I didn't have to pay a single cent upfront – 'just wait until you receive the order', it said, 'and then you can pay by bank transfer within a month'. I was impressed.




Now, try to do the same when shopping on Amazon, or when going to any supermarket or outlet store. Surely, they'd laugh at you if you asked to pay later.

I called someone at Sierra Segura, the flour place, and was told they've been doing it like this for many years already. They have never had any problems with unpaid bills.

So, I wonder if honesty and ethical shopping might be related? Perhaps people who buy sustainable and fair products know that dishonesty is exactly the opposite: neither sustainable nor fair. And when there are consciousness and a sound attitude on both sides, the company can trust clients with paying the invoice, just as the clients can trust the quality of the products.

Honesty and ethical shopping – both need to grow. Looking at the miserable state of the world, lies and mindless consumerism are definitely not the solution.


Monday, October 22, 2018

A different perspective on time

Do you feel how time is slipping through our hands? The older we get, as indiviual people and as an universal ecosystem, the more we feel the acceleration of passing moments. Every hour is suddenly shorter, every day passes quicker and even the clocks seem to be ticking faster. We're rushing around, a million thoughts running through our heads – memories, dreams, hopes and fears. And worst of all: We feel how our time is running out. Moving closer to the end, second by second.

A while ago I stumbled across a little video where a different perspective on time is offered. It's a bit spacy, perhaps even trippy. Deep and mind-blowing. I like it.

Here's a spaghetti. A spaghetti representing our linear time model.




There's a beginning and an end. The past is gone, the present is now and the future will be tomorrow. It's a very useful model to organize our busy days, our lifes and of course our minds. However, there is another way of looking at the spaghetti. All you have to do is change your perspective.




Suddenly everything happens at once. It's the same spaghetti but past, present and future have fused together into one big NOW. No beginning and no end – a parallel reality of memories and dreams, of inhalations and exhalations. A circular model of time.

What does this mean?

It means that it doesn't matter whether time is accelerating or not. If suddenly every hour feels shorter, and every day seems to pass quicker, then every moment becomes more and more important. And that's all there is anyway. Just this moment. Now.


Monday, September 10, 2018

Kings and Queens

The other day I talked to a friend who works for the Red Cross in the area of Tarifa, Southern Spain. He's responsible for giving first care to people arriving on boats from Africa. You know, those rich fellows in their luxurious pateras. Some days 200 arrive, other days 50 or as much as 500. Most days, some make it. And yes, most have mobile phones – even in Africa, cave-life is a thing of the past.

In the meantime, in Germany fascists chase immigrants along the streets and the Minister of the Interior thinks it's a funny coincidence that 69 refugees were sent back to Afghanistan on his 69th birthday. In Sweden, a former Nazi party got almost 20% of votes in yesterday's election; in Italy, the new government prides itself with refusing help to those seeking shelter; in the US, the president is giving praise to all Europeans who put flags before human lives.

Indeed, the issue of immigration is complicated. Putting 3000 people from a different culture into a village of 500 is not really a promising strategy for successful integration. There are other problems too, after all not all immigrants are nice people – if this was the case, I'd move to wherever they come from because I'd love to live in a place free of arseholes.

In short: Nobody said it would be easy to tackle the increasing influx of strangers. But considering that there will be many more resource wars, more hunger and drought in coming years, the current migration wave is just a little warm up. If we're failing already now, I dread to imagine what will happen when these tiny waves turn into a full-blown tsunami. Or what if fate turned around and Europeans suddenly would have to flee southwards to Africa. The last time, about 80 years ago, they received the foreigners with open arms – would they do it again?

Common reasons for the re-rise of hostility and protectionist attitudes are fear of the unknown, fear of terrorism (the type that most refugees are trying to escape from) and, not to be underestimated, stupidity. And of course there's greed.

I've read and seen a few interviews with supporters of right-wing parties who themselves have an immigration background. Their motivation for voting these parties is that they don't want to share their new found wealth with others. Once they've 'made it', they're scared that others will come, compete with them and jump the queue at Primark. Just like America first, here it's Me first.

Of course there are Germans and Spanish and Swedish and French who live close or even below the poverty line and who are worried that soon there will be nothing left for them. But 1) the vast majority of far right voters is living nowhere near the poverty line, they have a full wardrobe, a full fridge and often a passport full with stamps of countries they've visited. And 2) those who are indeed suffering from poverty in Europe would be much better off fighting investment bankers, corrupt politicians, ruthless lobbyists and all those millionaires who exploit and don't return anything but cheap plastic to society. And no, I don't have any problem with millionaires who had a good idea and worked hard – but how many are there? 

Blaming others won't get us anywhere though, so let's come back to us, to you and me. The reality is that we're living the lives of kings and queens. We have everything, much more than we need, but there is very little that we're willing to give. I don't want to share my hard-earned money with people who spend all day lazy on the sofa watching mind-destroying TV, but most poor people in the so-called third world who I met don't even have a sofa – they work, 24/7, earning just enough to survive. Their fault? Or does it perhaps have to do with the fact that many of them have no other choice but serving all those new kings and queens?

There's enough for everyone. But sadly, not everyone is happy with enough.




(While writing this blog article the radio is on in the background. The news are saying that tens of thousands of care workers are missing in Germany and the outlook is even worse. Last week I read that in 2048, Italy and Spain will be second and third in the ranking of oldest populations. So who's going to care for your mother and father in hospital? Who's going to care for you? It really puzzles me how we can be so stupid and short-sighted. The immigrants want our help? Great, we need help too! Let's offer them a language course, professional training, a decent wage (okay, difficult one since we don't even pay Europeans decent wages for these jobs) and a working visa, and in return they have to commit to work for five to ten years in the care/health sector. I'm sure many would happily accept this exchange. Two problems solved! And us lot? Instead we raise our flags and close our castles. Kings and Queens indeed.)