Paying your way

1 10 2012

On Thursday morning I took the bus from Leith to St Andrews Square. It cost just £1.40 for a journey that took around half an hour. The bus was full, which was brilliant. In fact the picture is even brighter as I could have travelled the whole route for the same charge. For £3.50 I could have spent the whole day travelling on Lothian Buses across Edinburgh. When I got back to Bute I paid £1.90 for a single trip of less than 3 miles.There were only 3 other people on the bus, one of whom was the bus driver..

The pause there was deliberate. What do you think I’m going to say next? I do tend to rant a bit, so you could be forgiven for thinking that I’m going to complain about the Bute fare. Not this time. I am happy to pay a premium so that the service continues to exist. And this, coupled with the fact that I am part way through reading Margaret Heffernan’s book Wilful Blindness, which includes discussions around the type of morally bankrupt behaviour that led to fall of banks, corporations and financial institutions, got me thinking about taxes.

I am now, and have always been, happy to pay my taxes. Paying a higher rate of tax, I believe, should be a badge of honour rather than something to be avoided .

I believe that those who can afford to do so, should pay more through the tax system in order to provide the public services, like the NHS , on which the majority of us depend, and the services, like rural bus services, on which many depend.

Earlier this year I was involved in a project on Skye that included a young man who called himself an anarchist, but who was happy to take unemployment benefit. He felt it was OK to take money from the government as they were all corrupt and incompetent. He was, however, happy to send his kids to school and on to college and complained if the bins weren’t emptied on time. Now I’m sure that we all recoil from benefit cheats and scroungers, which he was, but are the guys at the top of the earnings heap any better? I would argue that they are worse as the young man I knew was stupid whereas bankers, industrialists, property billionaires are not. They very cleverly and with aforethought hide their money away from the tax man.

Even if you are not particularly altruistic, or if you are unlikely to ever support measures that would promote re-distribution of wealth, or if you consider the acquisition of personal wealth as a 100% positive thing, I would urge a bit of “there but the grace of God go I” mentality. There are many stories, over the past few years in particular, of those who have built businesses and wealth then subsequently crashed and burned. In fact I challenge you to find an entrepreneur, including myself, that hasn’t got a failure in their portfolio.

Now this is OK when you are younger and the failure can be put down to experience, and indeed catastrophic failure is often a great learning experience, but what if your mistake happens late on? What happens if your first mistake is your last? What happens if, like doctors in Greece, the system crashes around you and you go from being pillars of the establishment dispensing medicines to queuing for free drugs as you can’t afford to buy tablets to treat your own headache? You may feel invincible right now but trust me you are not, as Tom Wolfe coined in Bonfire of the Vanities a “Master of the Universe.” Shit happens and sooner or later it will happen to you.

***

After completing this article I read this and felt compelled to share this too
JK Rowling in The Times on tax…
“I chose to remain a domiciled taxpayer for a couple of reasons. The main one was that I wanted my children to grow up where I grew up, to have proper roots in a culture as old and magnificent as Britain’s; to be citizens, with everything that implies, of a real country, not free-floating ex-pats, living in the limbo of some tax haven and associating only with the children of similarly greedy tax exiles.

A second reason, however, was that I am indebted to the British welfare state; the very one that Mr Cameron would like to replace with charity handouts. When my life hit rock bottom, that safety net, threadbare though it had become under John Major’s Government, was there to break the fall. I cannot help feeling, therefore, that it would have been contemptible to scarper for the West Indies at the first sniff of a seven-figure royalty cheque. This, if you like, is my notion of patriotism. On the available evidence, I suspect that it is Lord Ashcroft’s idea of being a mug”.

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