My definition of a modern tax system

Salary-planning2These days, not a week goes by without hearing something about how we pay too much in taxes or how too much of what we do pay is spent on X. Occasionally, we hear someone say that they’re happy to pay their dues, as long as none of it goes towards Y. I’m quite self-determined. I believe that what I earn should be mine to keep. But I also see the merits of paying my taxes. I never truly understood why until I attended a lecture by Will Hutton in the early 2010s on our place within the system and how it interacts with us.

I wasn’t expecting any major revelations on this particular evening. However, he did say something that more or less crystallised my view of paying tax. I can’t quote him word for word, but it more or less went as follows: “In this room there are 300 people. 100 of you will get cancer. But we don’t know which 100. So, everyone puts money into a pot and, when the 100 of you, who are destined to get cancer, get it, there is money available to treat you.”

At the time I liked this. But later it occurred to me that the argument only holds water if the thing you’re putting money into a pot for is a just cause and is agreed upon by everyone paying into it. If he’d said: “In this room there are 300 people. 100 of you will die from an enemy strike. So, everyone puts money in a pot and, when 100 of you die, we’ll have enough money to chuck a nuclear warhead back,” some may not have been so content.

But we live in a technologically advanced age. We don’t (necessarily) need politicians deciding how to spend our money. We could say so ourselves. Here is my proposal.

Let’s say we all pay a constant rate of tax. This is just to make writing it down easy. Let’s say 30% of anything earned over GBP 10,000. This ensures everyone pays an amount, assuming they’re earning enough. Forget about special considerations and sources of income for a moment – those are fine details and not the thrust of what I’m about to get at.

hi-tax-reform-852-is5407438Now give everyone online access to their account at the tax office and let them see how much of their individual tax contribution goes towards the various categories of public spending. This shouldn’t be too hard, given that we already do internet banking and are getting comfortable with online security. Next, present slider controls, like you see on confused.com, so each taxpayer can adjust their taxation spending preferences according to their beliefs. This shouldn’t be too hard either, given that price comparison websites have been doing it for years.

Do you want more money to be put into education? Push that slider up to 70%. Don’t like war? Push the military slider down to 5%.

The government can calculate how much money is available in each spending category after aggregating across all the accounts. Again – not hard. A simple database query can take care of that.

Of course, not everyone will be engaged enough with such an idea to ever bother logging on. For these accounts, let the politicians haggle between each other as they’ve always done. But, for the taxpayers who want to have a say, their slider control preferences can’t be overridden by the treasury.

powerfist_355900You want more power to the people? Surely this idea has got to be a step in the right direction.

Whether such an idea ever becomes reality is another matter. So far, I’ve not seen a great track record when it comes to governments and IT. “They” will most likely see this idea as threatening. Or think we’re too stupid to think for ourselves. But every journey has to start with a first step. Any takers?

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The religion of peace

I’ve just about had it with being told that Islam is a religion of peace. This rhetoric has been going on for far too long now and has been used too many times as a means to keep us from asking why it happens to be a strange coincidence that those who fly planes into buildings, blow up British and Spanish trains and buses, decapitate our soldiers in public and open fire on cartoonists all happen to be muslim. Even after all these acts, society’s reaction is still to accept this religion as part of our culture, embracing it, welcoming it and celebrating it as a great example of diversity.

Don’t tell me Christians went on crusades. We got over that in medieval times. There’s a reason the word “medieval” has the connotations it has. This is the 21st century. So I want to know why Islam hasn’t grown up in the same way. If it’s really so peaceful, don’t tell me. Prove it.

Call me what you like for saying this. If you want to say I’m being Islamophobic, go right ahead. I feel the same way when I walk past people with dangerous dogs. “Oh, but he’s really nice”, they’ll say. That doesn’t stop me being nervous. The reputation they have for mauling people is what lies at the root of that. And so it is with Islam. If Islamophobia is a fear of Islam, then damn right I have a fear of it. The reputation it’s built up since it put downtown Manhattan on the map, in its purest expression of peace and love of course, is what gives me the knowledge that this is something to be wary of.

So I do wish that the media and politicians would kindly stop telling me that Islam is a religion of peace. I’m intelligent enough to know that the media, at least the mainstream media, only really tell us the party line. And politicians are hardly well-respected enough to be listened to about anything even reasonably important. In short, I don’t consider either to be reliable source of information. To convince me, I need to see hard evidence – not hear words from a civil servant or their proxy.

Instead, I find it’s very difficult to find a real debate about this. The whole discussion seems to be shut down, as though Islam is the elephant in the room. After the twin towers fell, I honestly (perhaps naively) thought that Islam would come under scrutiny. But what I see is that it is given something of a free ride. To subject it to criticism is tantamount to blasphemy. Given the recent history, I find this unacceptable. Protecting these ideas is kind of repugnant.

My respect for politicians will skyrocket if someone prominent can go on record saying what I, and I suspect many others, am secretly thinking; that Islam is far from a religion of peace.

Posted in Libertarianism, perpetual war, Politicians, Politics, social, Terrorism, Totalitarianism, uk, uk government | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Are we all terrorists these days?

It seems not a week goes by without a story about some new legislation to monitor our communications to some degree. I used to think this was a Labour preserve (remember ID cards) – to scrutinise us as much as unnecessary. But it seems the Tories are up to the same game (snoopers’ charter). I guess this lends weight my theory that voting powers into the hands of someone you like will eventually lead to a situation where those powers will end up in the hands of someone you don’t like.

Apparently we’re trying to catch terrorists. Okay. For starters, I don’t buy into this idea that we really are after terrorists. I think this is about gaining control over the population. The problem is that so many people buy into it. Talk to anyone under about 30, and you’ll hear such passion (excuse the word) about how it’s for our own good, how it’s necessary to catch t*****ists (arggh!) and how they have nothing to hide (ARGGH!!!). Are we really so content to be watched? I still don’t understand how privacy somehow leads to an assumption that a person is up to no good.

Of course, the Jews had nothing to hide either. Before the Nazis rounded them up, Jews were quite happily living alongside everyone else and no-one really thought twice about it. Then the Nazis gained power because they were voted in. At some point later they defined several groups of people they didn’t like and went about labelling, controlling and eliminating them. By this point it was too late to vote them out or do much else about it. Too much power had already been given away and the population was too scared to confront it. Yes, that’s right; German citizens were afraid of their own authorities.

Today we have a situation where an elected government is telling us that vast civilian surveillance and control is necessary to catch terrorists. The problem I see with this is that we don’t know what a terrorist is considered to be. Who makes the definition? You can be quite sure it’s not the person who cast the vote. And so there is no way of telling whether today’s free man is tomorrow’s terrorist until someone is charged with the offence of being one. You need to hope you’re on the party line all the time. People, these days, are becoming afraid of those in power.

I’m seeing a pattern emerging.

This is surely unhealthy. If we go about our lives day to day, thinking those in power are to be feared, I can imagine how this might lead to feelings of guilt and how that might lead to a sense that we really are doing something wrong. This is supposition I admit, but I don’t think it’s far-fetched. I know people younger than 30, to whom I alluded to above, who believe we need to be watched, and, whom I’ve mentioned in a previous post, have no concept of privacy (so they don’t mind it).

It may be too late to have this debate. But it hopefully isn’t too late to start bearing in mind how we can start clawing some basic privacy and human dignity back from those who really shouldn’t have taken it in the first place.

Posted in Democracy, Europe, Huxley, Kafka, Libertarianism, Orwell, perpetual war, Politicians, Politics, Surveillance, Terrorism, Totalitarianism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

We have a pill for that!

over-prescription of drugsIt occurs to me that roughly half the people I know are taking a pill for something these days. Even in my own family, most of them are pretty settled, but many of them are on mood-augmenting drugs of some kind. When I’ve asked, it’s always started with a visit to a GP, during which they mentioned they were feeling kind of down, or that things hadn’t been going their way for a while – somehow their ducks were not all in a row.

Last time I checked, this was quite normal. What’s more, given that we are only just emerging from the deepest recession in living memory, it’s also quite understandable. People are feeling strung out. What I don’t understand is why we can’t be left alone to overcome our difficulties in time, on our own, through our own self-determination and hard-work.

In the meantime, I was catching numerous media highlights, most notably on the talkback radio station LBC, about vast proportions of our school-age population being on ritalin for the crime of none other than being a bit noisy in class. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for discipline in the classroom, but surely (to a point), kids clown around a bit and this should be expected, right?

I’d say it’s right, but this normality has been politicised into a disorder. Now, the slightest disturbance in the classroom earns you a prescription. I wouldn’t mind if we were talking about the 1% who kick the shit out of the other kids, but we’re not. We’re talking about anyone who dares to answer a question without raising their hand first. No, that’s not a case of human error or forgetting the rules for a moment. It’s a learning disability and it can be cured with a pill.

over-prescription of antidepressantsThe first time this all really hit home was a few years ago. I’d just been dumped and went to my GP for something fairly routine. I was asked how I was. So I explained I wasn’t feeling too good and said why. Before I could say much more, I was being handed a prescription for an anti-depressant. Actually I must confess I started taking them. After about 2 or 3 months of this I realised I was actually feeling worse than when I started. My perceptions were becoming clouded and I was losing focus. I also noted that my calf muscles were hurting in much the same way as one gets shin splits. But my GP insisted I persevere and even warned me about the dangers of giving up suddenly. Furthermore, I began to notice that even easier than getting the initial prescription was getting the repeat prescription! I barely needed to identify myself at the pharmacy. Something wasn’t adding up. I didn’t remember actually being ill in the first place but I was in a position where I stood to become addicted to medication. Another month went by and I decided to risk giving up.

I felt like I’d been released from a smoky room. Fortunately I’d not been taking them long enough to have formed an addiction. But it did make me wonder if the whole point of the exercise was to take me at my most vulnerable and make me form a state-sponsored addiction.

Now don’t get me wrong. I fully sympathise with the individuals who actually need to be on these drugs, but I would like to put a few question marks over how easy it is to get hold of them. Let’s be clear about this. Things like anti-depressants and other mood-altering drugs affect the brain chemistry. That’s right – their primary aim is to get inside your brain and faff around with the way electrical impulses get passed around up there. Is it just me or does that sound blatantly dangerous and only to be attempted when other courses of action have failed?

I realise there has been research into the safety of these drugs and that I might be treading the dividing line of scaremongering, but still, even if these things are safe, do we really want to be handing them out so readily?

Let’s just nip back to the classroom for a moment. Could it just be possible that that kid who doesn’t quite follow the party line isn’t some kind of threat, but merely someone who thinks outside the box? In a way I feel lucky I went through the education system at the time I did. Although I was often sidelined for having a different thought process to most of my peers, I wasn’t sectioned for it. Were I going through now, it sounds like the thought police would get me.

To me this sounds like you really need to think right (from the state’s point of view) and that what you do at school is the screening process. So keep a closer eye on what you and your loved ones are being prescribed. Don’t be afraid to challenge this sort of thing.

If you can get enough people paying for a regular prescription for a drug they don’t really need, it starts to look like a real moneyspinner. There are 60 million people in this country. If you can get even a tenth of them paying a monthly prescription charge, you have a meal ticket for life. And if you can get kids on the bandwagon by convincing the parents they’ll be neglecting their own kids if they don’t, it starts to look even more lucrative. And don’t get me started on privatising the NHS either, because then it really will be about profit.

Is our health really being looked after? Or is it just another cash cow? Or maybe it’s oppression? I’m having trouble telling the difference these days.

Posted in Huxley, Kafka, Medical, Orwell, Politicians, Politics, Prescription, social, Surveillance, Totalitarianism, uk, uk government | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The 4th party

ukip is libertarian rightAs I write this, we are just a few days out of the European and local elections. The results are not quite in yet, although they might be by the time I finish this. However, it’s becoming quite clear what’s happened. A lot of people getting profoundly frustrated with the traditional main parties is what has happened.

Let’s be clear about this. I voted for UKIP. Why?

Do I consider myself to be a racist? Well, no. Not wanting to sound trite, but I can only wheel out the somewhat immature argument that I have some black friends. I don’t go out of my way to make sure 50% of my social circle is. I just make friends with the people I get on with. Most of them are white. Some of them are black.

Do I consider myself to be a homophobe? No again. Out comes the same schoolboy argument that I have gay friends. But I don’t count them or present them as trophies of acceptance. I’m not that insecure. I just make friends with the people I get on with. Most of them are straight. Some of them are gay.

Do I consider myself insulted for regularly being called racist and homophobic because the members of the traditional parties like to throw these labels around like spit? Damn right. That’s the first reason.

The second reason is to do with the state of the economy. Don’t get me wrong, I actually think the coalition are doing a reasonably good job at things like re-balancing the national debt. I accept they’re clearing up the mess left by the previous government, but this isn’t really what the economy is to me. It’s not my job to be concerned about that. On a day to day basis, “the economy”, to me, is nothing more than having a decent job and a decent wage. I can’t easily achieve that if there are too many people coming in, willing to do my job for less money than my reasonably modest salary expectations. So does that mean I’m anti-immigration? Well, not as such. What I do object to is unchecked immigration that takes us to a point where my own wages (and therefore my living standards) have to suffer, because the influx of immigrants has created a climate where my salary expectations have become unreasonable. Seriously. I do not appreciate having to put my life plans on hold because I can’t make enough money to make them a reality.

Don’t tell me to be more competitive. I work as hard as I can. I always have and always will. But note that I said I work as hard as I can. That means I can’t do any better. I’m already doing my best. I have a good degree from a good university and I’ve always done my level best at whatever I do. But I don’t think it’s right to have put in all this effort, only to have my market value undermined by a government (that I voted against) opening the floodgates as wide as possible and saturating the job market with too much labour supply. They didn’t listen to peoples’ concerns at the time. We were patient. They still didn’t listen. So we gave them a bloody nose at the ballot box.

The result? We still hear senior members of the main parties patronising us with comments along the lines of “maybe the public are feeling deeply resentful”. Cameron? Miliband? Listen up. I don’t need you telling me how to think. I don’t need you telling me how to feel. I know these things already, which leads me nicely to my third reason for voting UKIP. I want you all to back off and stop being so insidiously intrusive, so I can get on with the business of being me.

Posted in Democracy, EEC, election, EU, Europe, Libertarianism, Politicians, Politics, Surveillance, uk | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Did we read the small print?

uk joins eecBack in 1973, we joined the EEC. That was the European Economic Community. The point of it was to relax the trade barriers between the members so that we basically had guaranteed trading partners – so we’d all help each other out.

What’s often forgotten is that this was actually our third application to join. We had previously tried to apply in 1963 and 1967. I realise we were not exactly an economic powerhouse in those years, but we were hardly a burden either. So we applied three times to join the EEC and were third time lucky.

Not very easy to join, then.

At some point during my school years, the name seemed to change to the EC. I hardly noticed, since it was right in the middle of my exams and it was the ‘Economic’ word that got dropped anyway. This seemed cleaner. ‘European Community’ was less of a mouthful. It seemed more efficient this way. From what I could tell, the European Community was doing all the same things as the European Economic Community anyway. The only thing that seemed a bit different was that a geography teacher I had, suddenly started getting sarcastic about the overproduction of food (grain mountains). I learned that we had massive food reserves sitting around that weren’t going anywhere other than ‘off’, while other people were going hungry.

A red flag should have gone up at this point. When the word ‘Economic’ was dropped from the EEC, I should have realised that our agreement wasn’t about economics any more.

eec becomes ec and then euThen, the ‘C’ changed to a ‘U’ and we became the ‘EU’. Our ‘community’ became a ‘union’. At least a community still had a marketplace feel to it. By becoming a union, there was something a bit more strongarm about it. Then it hit me. The ‘EU’ was a legal construct. But I wasn’t in a position to do anything about it. I had a degree to finish and blogs hadn’t been invented.

Around this time, other countries started to sign up. And they were allowed in pretty easily.

But the deed had been done. The EEC – a trading agreement – had become the EU – a sort of government over the member states. This is not what we signed up for. Was it written in the small print of our original membership agreement that the EEC reserved the right to completely change its purpose and form an overarching government at some point in the future?

At this time of writing, the supreme law in this land is EU law – not our own. That doesn’t sound like a trading agreement to me. That sounds like the beginnings of a dictatorship.

No wonder all those late-joiners were able to join so easily! I’m sure Brussels was thrilled to have a wider locus of control.

Bottom line? We signed up to a trading bloc. It has become a government. That’s something completely different. We need to have a debate, a referendum, anything. Too great a change has been effected without consulting the people as to their wishes.

 

 

Posted in Democracy, EEC, election, EU, Europe, Kafka, Orwell, Politicians, Totalitarianism, voting | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Scottish Independence

united kingdomLet me nail my colours to the mast. I’m not Scottish, but I’m in favour of the union. I’m diverting slightly from my usual tack by posting about something that will be out of date in a few months. But the overriding sentiment is to point out how I see this as quite possibly the most ill-thought-out political manouvre since Baldrick first uttered the words “My Lord, I have a cunning plan”.

Don’t get me wrong. Part of me wishes they would vote ‘yes’ and take their bloody whining with them. I’m sick of hearing how rough a deal they think they get with respect to their perceived junior position within the union, while they get a great deal on student fees and free prescriptions.

good_union_flagbad_union_flagA ‘yes’ vote would be politically interesting, for sure. I’d watch, with great interest, how they untangled themselves from the baggage-laden marriage to the rest of the UK. Our flag would have to change of course and new designs have already been mooted. At the sober end of the scale, we simply have the Union Flag with the blue removed. At the other end of the scale we have more migraine-inducing confusions that seem more at home in Dr. Who’s wardrobe than on a flagpole.

So, apart from looking kind of clownish on a piece of cloth, what else is wrong with going for a split?

They want to keep the pound. Sorry. No. If you’re going to bugger off, you’re going to bugger off. You can’t get a divorce but continue to pop over to watch the telly. If you want to leave, you have to make it a clean break. But this part of the proposal (no pun intended) seems to have been glossed over. Since the Queen would, I’m assuming, cease to be Head of State, you can’t continue to have her head on the currency. I admit I just assumed that, so I’m open to correction if I’m wrong. But still, if you’re an independent country, you can’t continue to use a currency that could affect the economy of someone else’s country (ours). So Scotland wouldn’t have a currency. Where is it going to get one from? Thin air? Trees?

share of national debtWe’ll have to give them their share of the national debt. Good for us. Bad for them. They want to keep their share of resources (oil, gas) as well as shipbuilding, so they have to take the rough with the smooth. If they want out, they have to take some of the debt with them. Assuming they won’t have a currency with which to pay it off, this might be something of a problem. Of course, they could borrow money from someone (might be us), but this would be a loan. Loans have interest. That would add to whatever debt they inherit and that part of the debt would be completely theirs. What would their credit rating be? Anyone fancy buying a Scottish Government Bond?

Not all of the Scots get to vote. I consider this to be unfair. At least let the Scots who are anywhere in the UK vote. Think of what could happen to them if Scotland does become independent. They’ll suddenly be displaced, wherever they may be, without passports. And since they won’t have a currency with which to buy new passports (or even print them), they’ll be without valid documentation in a foreign land. Will this make them illegal immigrants? Do we put them in detention centres and deport them? Okay, I’ll admit I got a bit carried away there. But I’m just trying to hammer home the idea that the consequences of independence haven’t been thought out enough to be having such a significant vote so soon. (Although, privately, I wonder whether my St. Andrews degree will be affected. Probably okay there).

currency pound or euroScotland seems to assume they would be a member of the EU. How is that going to happen? Clearly (at least clearly to me) the idea here is to get the Euro as the currency if they can’t have Sterling, thereby having a ‘currency plan B’. But an independent Scotland would need to apply to the EU as a separate country. From the EU’s point of view, this must look like a singularly bad investment. The EU will see a penniless country with a disproportionate debt that it has next to no hope of paying off, probably expecting the rest of the EU to prop it up. <cough>Greece</cough> <cough>Ireland</cough>

Of course, if the EU does agree to prop them up, that means the existing member states will be called upon to do so. That would include us, meaning we’ll be helping to pay the very share of the debt we privately agreed was theirs to pay. Bad for us. I must make a mental note to rethink my understanding of the word ‘irony’ when I next have a free moment.

Mind you, this might not be a problem if Scottish independence causes us to get ejected from the EU (because, technically, a smaller UK would be a different country and might have to reapply, itself). And since a sizeable portion of the population wants out of the EU anyway, we might not bother.

Actually, that last paragraph caused me to wonder – if Scotland leaves, the United Kingdom won’t exactly be united any more. Does that mean we won’t be able to call ourselves the UK? Will we simply become the K?

I guess this could shortly become a very interesting time in the history of the union. Of course it could be as forgotten as the vote on proportional representation. Or it could be the start of a new chapter entirely. But hopefully I’ve made it clear, admittedly in a tongue-in-cheek fashion, that breaking up the union requires a fair bit of planning and agreement. It might be better to leave things as they are. It would be simpler and far cheaper. Not that I advocate one should hang around in an unhealthy relationship. But who’s saying this relationship is unhealthy? Last time I checked, this union was just fine. If anything, Scotland is getting a pretty good deal. I’m open to arguments as to why it’s not, but I can’t see them myself. This is just about one politician who wants to hold a referendum. But I really don’t think he’s thought this one through.

 

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