Wednesday, 15 September 2021

The joy of tax

 Since the government announced last week that it would fund its (alleged) reform of social care with an increase of 1.25% on National Insurance Contributions, (NICs) there has been much discussion in the media as to whether or not this is the most appropriate tax. 

The informed consensus seems to be that it isn't.  Today's Guardian cartoon by Ben Jennings puts it neatly: "Tax the workers to help the asset rich."

However, having got that pretty well right, why do the Guardian, and other "left-of-centre" sources persist in using the negative term "burden" when describing taxation? Recent culprits have included both Polly Toynbee (on-line 10th September) and Phillip Inman  (print edition, same day.)

Perhaps the time is not yet ripe for my own preferred description, "privilege,"  but I am jolly glad that, even in retirement, my income is sufficient to be taxed.  I'd have been overjoyed  had my income as a teacher ever been high enough to make me liable to the higher rates (though the standard rate throughout most of my working life was around 33%, something  we're persuaded to believe is beyond  the realms of possibility today)

When I lived in France for the best part of a year as part of my attempts to brush up on their language I was impressed by the quality of their public realm: beautifully-maintained  roads, lovely parks, village gardens with working fountains, a health service with spare capacity, were all very evident advantages).  Of course, they pay more in tax than we in the UK, but they get good value for money.


For current (2019) comparisons the percentages of GDP taken in tax   from selected countries are as follows:

France:        45%

Germany:    39%

OECD ave    34%

UK:                33%

US:                24%

Source:  https://ifs.org.uk/taxlab/key-questions/how-do-uk-tax-revenues-compare-internationally

You get what you pay for.

An oft-quoted dictum of Ralph Waldo Emerson, himself quoting a committee appointed by the governor of Vermont in the US in 1852, goes:

Taxation is the price which we pay for civilization, for our social, civil and political institutions, for the security of life and property, and without which, we must resort to the law of force.

 I believe we British are hoodwinked by the Tory-dominated press to view taxation as something bad, unpleasant and wasteful (much as they hoodwinked over a third of us us into regarding the EU in much the same way.)  In fact, I think that without such distorting propaganda most people are not all that worried about taxation, one way or the other.  We regard it as just one of the things that is there, like pimples in adolescence and arthritis in old age.

 I can't say I worked any less hard as a teacher becasue of taxation, and I suspect the same can be said of most other jobs.  In fact I probably worked harder, or at least longer, buy supplementing my "take home pay" with classes at night school and some examination marking.

 So why does the (moderately) left wing press do the Tories work for them and lazily adopt this negative terminology?  It they can't stomach "privilege " of "joy" surely they can adopt a more neutral terms:  just "incidence", or "tax take," would do nicely.

2 comments:

  1. Yes,you get nothing without paying for it.The privilege, or whatever word you wish to use is what you get out of paying tax.

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  2. In fact, I think that without such distorting propaganda most people are not all that worried about taxation, one way or the other. We regard it as just one of the things that is there, like pimples in adolescence and arthritis in old age.

    Only because of the geniously nefarious invention that is PAYE, which means most people never even see their money that is required of them by the exchequer: it vanishes en route from their employer. If, like the Yanks, we actually had to fill in a form and write a cheque every year, I think you’d soon see a different attitude.


    The big problem with taxation, of course, is that it presumes that the government can spend my money better than I can. It’s ‘the man in Whitehall knows best’ at its most raw. Of course some taxation is necessary to solve collective action problems and provide certain necessary goods that, because they are non-rivalrous and non-excludable, could not be provided otherwise (roads, a continuously-at-sea nuclear deterrent, and the like); but that should be kept to the bare minimum, and beyond that it should be up to each person how they wish to spend what is, after all, their own money.

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