Hands up those against Sock Puppets?

Hands up those against Sock Puppets?

by Neil Craig
article from Friday 3, August, 2012

by Neil Craig

ARE ALL CHARITIES the same? Consider these points:

– 27,000 charities are now dependent on the government for more than 75 percent of their income.
– Nine out of the 10 biggest "green charities" (the other being Greenpeace) get as much as 70% of their money from the EU. Much of the rest is from other governmental organisations. 
– Less than 5% of charitable giving in the UK goes to environmental groups. Originally, EU funding for these groups was limited to no more than 50 per cent of their annual income, but when members of the Green 10 complained that they were unable to attract enough voluntary donations to match the EU’s grants, the limit was raised to 70 per cent. This is rent-seeking of the least ambiguous kind.
– State-funded charities and NGOs usually campaign for causes which do not enjoy widespread support ... They typically lobby for bigger government, higher taxes, greater regulation and the creation of new agencies to oversee and enforce new laws.
– State funding rose by 38 per cent in the first years of the twenty-first century while private donations rose by just seven per cent.
– The government gives £13 billion annually to "charities"

– ‘A charity that relies in the main part on taxes’, wrote the blogger Guido Fawkes, ‘is no more a charity than a prostitute is your girlfriend.’
– Only 26 per cent of charities subcontracted to provide public services felt they were ‘free to make decisions without pressure to conform to the wishes of funders’
– Unpopular causes are made to look like mass movements and minority views are put centre-stage in a distorted re-imagining of civil society. It is telling that so many state-funded charities campaign for causes which are viewed with ambivalence, if not hostility, by the electorate.

– ASH would never become the mass movement its founders envisaged, its staff focused on networking with the political and media elite of London....Donations from the public remain negligible - representing less than two per cent of its income.
– ‘Making and launching unpopular decisions is everyday business for top-level policy-makers." statement by self satisfied top-level policymakers at WHO.
– There is undoubtedly greater PR value in a charity calling for restrictions on liberty than would be the case if the message came directly from a bureaucrat or politician.... This, of course, is precisely why governments prefer to speak through sock puppets and why the concept of charity must be reclaimed for civil society. It should be no surprise that this subverts democracy, for that is exactly what it was designed to do.

All of these revelations come from a recent report by Phillip Snowden on government funded charities, or as he aptly calls them, government Sock Puppets1 which should be read by everybody who wants to know how our government is run so very badly.
I have long been concerned about the extent to which government has been using its (well, our) money to fund ostensible opposition organisations and "raise awareness" of scare stories. The effect is only to promote more government control, regulation, spending & thus more departmental empire building with government spending an ever larger portion of national wealth.
Even I was shocked, however, at the extent and persuasiveness of it. Relatively few of the "independent" organisations whose constant assertions are the mainstay of BBC reporting (another government funded sock puppet) are truly independent.
Charities are perhaps the most obvious abuse of the process since a charity which does no charitable work (though they have to promise they intend to do some someday) are simply propaganda organisations acting under a false front.
Sometimes these charities are not newly established ones. For example the Royal Society, whose support for the catastrophic warming scare has been unstinting and is constantly quoted as evidence of a "consensus", gets 77 percent of its money from Parliament and some minor grants.2
Then there are organisations such as Scottish Renewables, which officially hide under the presumably more attractive camouflage of being industry lobbyists but whose publicly admitted membership mainly consists of government organisations.3
There are also those "quasi autonomous non-governmental agencies" (quangos) which nobody now pretends are not governmental.
And internationally we are used to "non-governmental organisations" NGOs which regularly report that Russian elections (conducted under PR and with even the small parties having a legal right to 21 hours of airtime) are much less open than our own & that our current enemy, whoever it is, deserves the bombing our government is preparing for.
Government spending deliberately directed not at providing services but at advertising for more government regulation and spending is an extreme example of Pournelle's Law:
"In any bureaucracy, the people devoted to the benefit of the bureaucracy itself always get in control and those dedicated to the goals the bureaucracy is supposed to accomplish have less and less influence, and sometimes are eliminated entirely."
It isn't just that this is corrupt, or that it destroys democratic accountability; or that it robs us not only of the £13 billion of our money they spend on charities plus whatever the quangos etc. get; or that it leads to government getting away with hundreds of millions of £s wasted. When you get beyond that the basis structural problem is that society is running on a positive feedback system - the organisations that get most money > can spend most advertising money > to get yet more advertising money.
The only manmade physical system that uses unlimited positive feedback is a bomb. Social systems are not more invulnerable.
Okay, so what about Scotland?
Whereas across the UK just under 50 percent of GDP is spent by government, in Scotland it is closer to 60 percent. Without going through records of all the charities, quangos, "independent" lobbyists and government departments no accurate estimate of the amount spent thus can be made. However the default assumption can be made that if it it is in line with our extra government spending it will be 20 percent higher. If we assume that there is a worthwhile minimum of government spending that is useful then the amount available for advertising should rise disproportionately with the excess growth of the state. My median estimate is that sock puppetry will be about 25 percent higher, per capita, in Scotland.
This does fit with Snowden's report drawing particular attention to how ASH Scotland’s annual budget exceeded £1 million in 2008/09, of which 91 per cent came from the Scottish government and NHS Scotland
Some years ago I wrote of the sponsored stalls at the Scottish Liberal Democrat Conference4. Only 6 out of 27 were not provably government departments, quangos, civil service unions, lobbyists for an "industry" making its profits entirely from subsidy or government funded fakecharities. Of the others the Electoral Reform Society has long and close links with the party. It may well be that some of the others do get government funding but just didn't make it obvious. I am sure that this is not limited to that party.
Politicians who control the civil service purse strings being funded by quangos controlled by civil servants creates an obvious problem. One which no Scottish newspaper, who rely on government funded advertising was willing to even allow mentioned in its letter columns.
Going through a randomly selected issue of The Scotsman recently (20th July) I compiled a list of 9 organisations quoted in news stories that weren't unambiguously government or commercial: They were:
- Institute of directors - independent
- General Dental Council  - quango appointed by the Appointments commission
- BMA - public servants union
- Passenger Focus - quango
- Scottish Tourism Alliance - several commercial donors listed but the primary one is clearly a Sock Puppet
- Scot-pep - registered charity for prostitutes "we have no masters in terms of funding and the like"
- Institution of Civil Engineers - independent
- BBC - government owned and funded, has a legal duty to "balance" which they ignore
- Association of Directors of Social Work - "ADSW’s work focuses on advising and lobbying key decision makers" - with 150 members at £100 each their website is silent on where the rest of the money comes from. I assume key decision makers ensure they get enough
Only one third are not state funded or state employees.
Does this greater availability of money to "raise awareness" in Scotland make the public more "left wing”? Most polls giving regional breakdowns show the Scots only about 3% points more to the "left" than across the UK. One important exception is cutting corporation tax which has been a standard of the SNP, where we Scots are about 5 percent to the "right". This certainly suggests that while political activism can significantly effect opinion (though our historic communication with Ireland, where that tax cut was the main plank of their "Celtic Tiger" economy may have helped) the view of Scotland as inherently socialist is false.
But if the advertising does not colour our basic values it may colour how we express them. People in Scotland who hold quite "conservative" views matching those of English Tory voters instead vote for parties that proclaim themselves socialist. This may be because the chattering classes and "opinion formers" are quite rabidly statist making being a free marketeer in Scotland deeply unfashionable. These are exactly the people we would most expect to be part of or influenced by sock puppetry. I remember a recent BBC "debate" before an invited audience where the first questioner, a regular from the Herald, said that we need a full "debate" in Scotland on how much we wish to spend on government, but, with an innocence of irony also shown in the rest of the audience, that the debate should not be allowed to include those who "like Americans" want a smaller state.
Since both the politicians funding sock puppets and those working in them continue to spend huge sums to influence us I assume they believe they are effective at shifting opinion. Who am I to disagree?

Across the UK government gives £13 billion to so-called "charities". Funding from quangos, the EU and lobbyists of subsidised industries must increase this massively. Then there are hidden subsidies such as where the state buys "training" or publications promoting what the organisation exists for.
The first step to doing something about this is to recognise how deeply advertising by and for government (but paid for by our taxes) has sunk into our nation.  


Tom Miers is away.
 (1) Sock Puppets - How the government lobbies itself and why www.iea.org.uk/sites/default/files/publications/files/Sock%20Puppets.pdf
(2) Royal Society funding breakdown joannenova.com.au/2012/06/the-royal-society-that-serves-the-government-does-not-serve-the-people/
(3) Scottish Renewables membership www.scottishrenewables.com/members/membership-directory/
(4) Who Pays the Piper a-place-to-stand.blogspot.co.uk/2009/03/lib-dem-conference-he-who-pays-piper.html

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