The Booker Prize Foundation has lost a £1.6 million sponsorship deal with London-based hedge fund managers, The Man Group. Despite the Foundation’s grace under pressure, this is a huge deal in the literary world. In a statement, Thomas Keneally, winner of the prize in 1982, called the chaos a ‘climactic change in over the book industry’, suggesting that literature without the Booker is like ‘navigating without a north pole’. It seems that in 2019, polar vortexes are wreaking havoc in literature as well as weather. Literary climactic change sweeps the globe.
Perhaps public bodies like the Arts Council would have more money to invest in arts prizes and get more people reading and writing if hedge fund managers paid fair taxes
The Man Group, a faceless, global, multi-billion-pound corporation, has always been an odd bed-fellow with creative writing. The name Man Group alone sounds like a dastardly conglomerate from a spy novel, so bad it wouldn’t get a second glance from a Booker judge. Much has been made of writer Sebastian Faulks’ criticism of The Man Group’s involvement. In a statement, Faulks recently called them ‘the enemy’. Faulks suggested that literary prizes ought to criticise ‘the kind of people’ in the Man Group, and that he ‘wouldn’t feel happy accepting money from them’. Luckily for Faulks, he’s never had to endure that unhappiness, as his work was never long-listed for the Man Booker, but such sentiments keep surfacing.
In 2011, two poets withdrew from the prestigious T.S. Eliot Prize, due to ‘personal politics and ethics’. John Kinsella, quoted, and Alice Oswald were shortlisted for that year’s prize. The poets took a moral issue with taking money from a main sponsor, Aurum. Aurum, or Aurum Funds Management, is (you guessed it) a hedge fund manager. So what is the problem with hedge funds managers? What about them makes poets drop out of prizes, and what makes them Sebastian Faulks’ enemy number one?
…literature without the Booker is like ‘navigating without a north pole’
One of their crimes is that they are criminally boring to research, but Thomas Donaldson speaks fairly clearly on the topic in his essay Hedge Fund Ethics. Donaldson says that they evade tax through a legal loophole where their profits aren’t taxed as income. The secretaries of hedge fund managers often pay a higher tax rate than their employers, according to Donaldson, while they make hundred of millions of dollars. This, amongst other dodgy dealings like exploiting investors and a general lack of transparency, often leads poets and creatives to oppose them. Aurum, who funded the T.S. Eliot prize, has headquarters in Bermuda, which was declared the world’s worst tax haven by Oxfam in 2016.
As much as it was nice and generous for The Man Group to fund The Booker Foundation for £1.6 million per year, they make well over £1 billion in revenue and get unfair tax benefits every year as well. The deal that the T.S. Eliot prize negotiated, prompting poets to politically withdraw, came after the prize was defunded by the Arts Council. Perhaps public bodies like the Arts Council would have more money to invest in arts prizes and get more people reading and writing if hedge fund managers paid fair taxes.
These firms seem to hope that charity initiatives and literary prize funds will give them enough moral credit to be above suspicion
Clearly, large hedge fund groups like Man and Aurum have mountains of cash to spare. These firms seem to hope that charity initiatives and literary prize funds will give them enough moral credit to be above suspicion. The donations and deals are generally well under what they would have to pay to the state, if taxed fairly. However, as nothing is being done to combat the issue, perhaps the hedge fund managers are right.
2019 will see ‘The Man’ leave The Man Booker Prize. No one seems worried about The Booker Foundation’s funding crisis. In January, the Foundation announced that its trustees are negotiating with a new sponsor already, and ‘are confident that new funding will be in place by 2020’. Here’s hoping that the top-secret new sponsor is actually the government, pending hedge fund tax reforms.
Donaldson, Thomas. “Hedge Fund Ethics.” Business Ethics Quarterly, vol. 18, no. 3, 2008, pp. 405–416. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/27673242.
Gaurdian on Man Booker Prize
Gaurdian Oxfam Aurum
Aurum business profile