Monday 21 March 2005

A new reader joins us.

In the comments, Danyel takes issue with this old post of mine about what I'd do if I were Prime Minister. (It's probably a good idea to read the original post before reading this one, or it'll seem all disjointed and senseless.) I don't have time to address all his arguments, but here are some responses.

Firstly, I'll just say that I firmly believe that any policy, left or right or whatever, should be scaled in gradually, sometimes over twenty or thirty years or more. Making changes overnight is never a good idea, even if the change itself is a good idea. I'm aware that some of the policies I set out contradict each other, and that's mainly because some of them would be short-term temporary things as part of a gradual move towards the other policies. (Yes, I'm aware that having an election every five years fucks that up, but then I needn't worry about practicalities as I'm not actually Prime Minister, am I?) For instance, a lot of my suggestions are national policies, hence are rendered meaningless by what I see as the most important one: federalising the country and localising legislation. Federalisation would be the ultimate goal, but it could take a long time to do properly; in the meantime, I have suggestions for the national government.

Danyel doesn't like my plan to scrap all taxes except VAT:

VAT currently only brings in 16% of current UK Government revenue. Even if it was increased to 20%, scrapping all other taxes would give you less than 20% of what the current government has to play with.

Good. The government's far too damn big. Cutting the size and scope of the government by 80% sounds like a great idea to me.

Apart from that, what Danyel missed, I suspect, were the implications of federalising the country down to the parish council level. Central government wouldn't need most of the money, because most services would be provided locally. If local government want to raise taxes, they should be free to do so, and, if you don't like the tax regime in one area, you can always move elsewhere.

On the subject of higher bands of income tax not working because the people who are supposed to pay them can afford to hire accountants to dodge them, Danyel says:

This applies to a small number of self-certifiers

Yes, otherwise known as "the rich", exactly the people who are supposed to pay more income tax.

the Inland Revenue successfully prosecutes income tax dodgers all the time

A drop in the ocean, and, of course, they only prosecute the ones who actually break the law, who aren't the main problem. The main problem is that the tax code is so complicated that, the better your accountant, the more money you can legally avoid paying.

Look, even if you don't want to see income tax replaced with VAT, I think people on both sides of the income-redistribution debate can agree that the tax code should be simplified. Administering a system that complex costs a fortune.

VAT fraud biases the system even more in favour of the rich, as those with enough money coming in can register for VAT and claim expenses back, but the likes of me cannot.

Yes, which is why I also said I'd get rid of all tax allowances. That includes claiming back VAT.

Basing all taxation on consumption also penalises tourists and foreign students - people come here to visit our country, put money into our economy, and we sting them for tax, to fractionally reduce the burden on residents. Whatever happened to "no taxation without representation"?

That's a fair point. We already sting tourists for tax, of course — they pay VAT and airport tax; they pay our massive duty on fuel, either directly when they hire a car or indirectly through taxi and bus fares — but it's still a fair point. One answer is to allow tourists to claim back all their tax by keeping their receipts and filling out a form when they leave the country. (I think some countries already do this.) Personally, I think that that's just another loophole asking to be exploited. My ideal is to have lower taxes than most of the countries those tourists are likely to have come from, so I shouldn't think they'll resent paying them too much.

On the death penalty:

Why should there be a referendum on that particular issue? Don't we elect politicians to make these decisions for us?

Again, a perfectly fair point. The point of my original post, though, was how to get elected. Promising a referendum on the death penalty may not be logically consistent, but is a vote-winner.

On the legalising of drugs:

will dangerous drugs still be required to carry health warnings?

Since we're talking about electability, yes, health warnings are a good idea. They're a reasonable and fairly cheap alternative to a ban, and the public wouldn't settle for neither.

And is it a good idea to legalise, say, crack without taking away the social problems that lure people to it in the first place?

Bollocks. There are plenty of people who are poor, who have crap, shitty lives, and who don't do hard drugs. Similarly, lots of wealthy, happy people do do drugs. Social problems cause unhappiness, not drug use. What causes drug use is personal choice — and, no, I wouldn't take that away.

You're suggesting we increase the defence budget by 50%? Why?

Because, as things stand, we rely on the US for our own defense. It's something we ought to pay for ourselves. NATO won't last forever.

Interestingly, 4.5% of combined US and UK GDP could feed, clothe and shelter the entire third world.

Interestingly, the US Navy prevents and punishes piracy across the world's oceans. Cut that portion of US defense spending, and the Third World's fucked.

On rejecting the EU Constitution:

I agree here. Ironically, I'd reject it because it's too right-wing, while you're rejecting it because it's not right-wing enough.

Danyel's reading something between the lines here that isn't there. I'd reject the EU Constitution for two reasons. Firstly, it's insanely complex, full of jargon, and very very long, which makes it clear that it has not been written for the public. Any constitution should be short and simple enough that any citizen affected by it can learn it and understand it. Secondly, it is subject to change after it's been signed. Would anyone in their right mind sign a contract that could be changed after they'd signed it, without their consent? Well, apparently Tony Blair would.

No constitution, incidentally, should ever be left or right-wing. That's what legislation is for. A constitution should provide a framework in which legislation happens.

On legalising guns:

Not only do you want to increase military spending to US levels, you also want to increase violent crime to US levels.

After the post-Dunblane handgun ban, violent crime involving guns in the UK increased rapidly. I'd like to reverse that increase.

Isn't the idea of a parish council an anachronism in our multicultural age?

I have no idea what Danyel's on about here. Is there something about multiculturalism that precludes geographical areas below a certain size? New one on me.

On police forces being run by local government:

you don't think that private police forces are a bad idea, and go against the liberal ethos you supposedly have?

Danyel thinks that services provided by local government are private services. Or that's what he seems to be saying, anyway.

On the privatisation of schools:

You don't think that would create a two-tier system, based entirely on wealth?

We already have a two-tier system based on wealth. Look at house prices in the cachement areas of good state schools. Poor people can't get to the good schools, I'm afraid: they can't afford to live near enough to them.

On MP's salaries:

Why not just cut MPs salaries, then tie them to inflation? It'd be a lot cheaper.

Because the aim isn't just to cut their salaries; it is to give MP's employers — the public — the option of giving MP's either a pay cut or a decent above-inflation pay rise, depending on their performance.

At one point, inevitably, Danyel asks that question:

are you just trying to construct a plausible-sounding argument to justify your own personal view that income tax is rubbish cos rich people have to pay more?

Ah, that old chestnut. Danyel thinks I'm rich. I wish.

Just for the record, then. At the moment, I earn £14000 a year. So I'm not piss poor, but I'm hardly wealthy. Reducing the top rate of income tax would not affect my income in the slightest. I'm 30 years old, which puts my income squarely into the "What the fuck have you been doing with your life?" bracket. I don't particularly mind paying the level of tax I currently pay, but I do mind getting fuck all in return.

Danyel finishes with a classic bit of writing that tells you all you'll ever need to know about what left-wingers think of policial ideas other than their own:

What a scary world you paint, a kind of cross between "Daily Mail Island" and the "Mad Max" films. A Britain where wealth and power would stay forever in the hands of a tiny few, with laws designed to keep it that way. Where poor people get poor people's healthcare and poor people's education, and the ones who don't kill each other with guns can sign on - their ultra-simple benefit forms giving them more time to press their noses against the windows of shops, looking at bling items they can't afford, and will steal later, before disappearing into prison forever (unless they get the death penalty). The rich meanwhile, would hide away in their self-regulating gated communities, fiddling their VAT returns, and bribing their local private police to keep them happy. A country where a Reaganomic government refuses to tax the population fairly, and then wastes the massively insufficient revenue they do bring in on dick-waving defence spending and public referenda on knee-jerk subjects like the death penalty (hang Paedos on the Lottery programme!). Where paramedics make accident victims sign a Direct Debit mandate with their one remaining arm before treating them. I can't think of anyone that would benefit from this system, except the aristocracy, gangsters and possibly survivalists.

I'd never even attempt to compete with that.

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