anyone for a coffee (and tax) break?

3 11 2009

Death and taxes. Fewer things are more inevitable, frankly spoke Benjamin Franklin. Except maybe the twins reaching the semi-finals. Yet fewer things have such a bad press (except the twins, but so they should). Now I know I’m a bit of an oddball, but I’m not much frightened of either (I am frightened of the twins. Enough of the X-Factor).

I worry about the consequences of my death; but I am not hugely frightened of death itself, most of the time. I certainly don’t avoid talking about death like many people. And perhaps more oddly, I secretly quite like paying tax. It makes me feel grown-up. It also gives me roads to drive on, infrastructure to rely on, governments to complain on, schools to compare and many other good things.

Pret VAT sign

VAT nightmare?

This photo was taken at Pret a Manger, when I paid for my coffees and via VAT contributed to the infrastructure that enabled me to buy it, pay for it, drink it, and not have to wash up afterwards. I like Pret. They are fair-trade and tasty and fresh. But their attitude to VAT is somewhat negative. They encourage the view that it feels inconvenient, annoying, even an abuse of my rights to a cheap coffee. “VAT nightmare!” they scream. If you can’t read it because it’s a bit blurry (my phone was drunk) it says “We’re legally required to add on VAT when you eat in. Nightmare.”

eat my taxes

But is paying tax a “nightmare”? Really?

Why should we have everything for free? We demand, we consume, we don’t want to suffer the consequences. But surely we should be willing to pay our way, to contribute to the communal fund. To be generous.

It is unpopular to many, but our taxes allow all of us to live as we do; and allow many people to simply live, as they have no other income, no other way to pay for food or housing or a present for the kids. The vast majority of people who receive benefits are not wasters and scroungers. I want to support them. I know that is not all that taxes pay for. I know that much tax-payers money is wasted, much like my own (on a smaller scale!). I know the banking system has swallowed an awful lot of it this year and is laughing loudly whilst we squirm is disbelief. But still.

Are taxes inevitable? Yes. Are they a bit of a pain? Ok, yes. Are they necessary? Yes. Are they a nightmare? No. Do they give us a higher standard of living than so many across the world? Yes. Do they give some people life for whom everything else is only death? Actually, I think they do. Maybe we should be grateful we live in a country that can tax, unlike many where it is just a pipe-dream, so infrastructure cannot be built without bribery and corruption. Maybe we should be grateful we live in a country with a lower minimum tax threshold of 33%, like Sweden. Though they do have Volvos.

So,  hooray for taxes. And as Jesus demonstrated in the transformed life of one, hooray for the tax man.

Now I can drink my coffee without having nightmares.

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8 responses

4 11 2009
c2drl

Well this all sounds good, and of course the Bible is pretty unequivocal in saying we should pay our taxes.I think it works in theory, but in practice i have a problem and it is to do with trust. Once upon a time we paid our taxes and elected people from among us, who thought like us to administer them on our behalf. That seemed good – we can’t all have a direct say in how they are spent.

Now, however a large part of our taxes are controlled by unelected bureaucrats who have appointed themselves the ruling classes in Brussels and are accountable to nobody. Those nearer home haven’t done a wonderful job either, seeming to be more interested in getting rich at our expense than looking after our interests. All my working life I have paid into a National Insurance fund, which inter alia would pay for my care when I got to my present stage of being old and frail. Now it is a case of, ‘sorry we have been to the cupboard and we seem to have spent your money on other things which we in our infinite wisdom considered to be more important, so though luck you will have to sell your house and give us that money in order to get care’.

There are so many examples of consultants, private companies and public servants (?) getting rich at taxpayers expense that I no longer feel good paying over my money. Plus the Inland Revenue are now so agressive on everybody except the wealthy that they alienate everybody.

I can’t help feeling that many of us have become, if not the poor certainly the oppressed and that we need to stand up against those who seek to take our money for the wrong things.

4 11 2009
Kevin

Trust and accountability are two of the most important things in any relationship, and especially one that involves us parting with our money. I agree that there is a distinct lack of either of those at the moment.

Why? Among other things, a lack of interest in complex things from most of us; lack of investigative journalism in a culture of instant news; and a feeling of hopelessness amongst those who do see the problems. Even the MPs expenses scandal was only uncovered because a bloke popped up and offered to sell a CD to the Telegraph. Why did the journalists not already know – it’s not like it wasn’t major and obvious.

I have no solution! Meanwhile, my tax bill carries on.

This person has an interesting solution for getting the wealthy to pay their taxes: http://curiouscapitalist.blogs.time.com/2009/02/19/how-to-get-rich-people-and-politicians-to-pay-their-taxes/

4 11 2009
limeyrathgam

But Jesus’ teachings surely point to paying taxes regardless of your trust in the collectors… the Romans were not big with having great relations with the Jews and Matthew was not in a popular job. Is the point not pay regardless of your feelings about the system?

4 11 2009
c2drl

I wasn’t suggesting that we should refuse to pay taxes. I was suggesting that we should all try to become more informed about what the money is used for and then make reasoned case to the authorities about how that should be changed. The trouble at the moment, as Kevin has said, is that nobody seems to be interested. I think the bible says we should care very much, particularly on behalf of those who are being ‘oppressed’ as a result of our tax regime.

We all ahve a voice, why are we sleepwalking into an authoritarian state?

4 11 2009
edgsoni

I have a confession. I am a taxman.
Am I your worst nightmare? Very doubtful, unless you’re a tax offender, which most people aren’t.
But I do have nightmares, myself. And rather disturbingly, I appear in all of them.
So does that make me my own worst nightmare?
I might need a Pret Hot Chocolate to contemplate this troubling thought…

p.s. keep paying your taxes!

5 11 2009
Kevin

So, Mr Taxman, how do we know what our taxes are being used for? Yes, we agree that we should abide by the law and pay them, and maybe we should be generous of spirit as we do… but how can we be sure that they are not wasted?

Or do we just close our eyes, keep paying and hope for the best?

6 11 2009
edgsoni

We can only close our eyes if they are open.
Anyone who wants to know what their taxes are being spent on only has to look.
There’s this high-level big picture thing that happens every year called the Budget (yes, that red briefcase moment) where the Chancellor explains what he’s aiming to do in terms of Government spending and how he’s proposing to raise the money for it.
Then there’s the 6 monthly interim pre-Budget report (it happens later this very month, finance fans!) where he tells us what’s happening with the economy and his spending plans, what adjustments are necessary to amend the last Budget and what his advance expectations are for the next one.
Then there’s all the other stuff published around those events which we call THE DETAILS.
If people really really really want to know what expenditures the taxes they are paying are used to fund, they might start by looking at the very comprehensive income and expenditure reports for the various Govt Departments, including HM Revenue and Customs’ (that one explains what tax money has been raised for the various other Govt Depts to spend).
There has never been more information available. Yes, interpreting it can be difficult or confusing at times, and there are always pointed questions that could and should be asked.
Oh, that’s another thing – if anyone does want to know something, all the Govt Depts have a question-asking facility on their websites. So what do you really want to know?
Oh, and the Public Accounts Office investigates public spending to give the public assurances or otherwise over things like value for money and integrity. And it publishes its findings too.
Of course, it’s much easier for people to insinuate that this is all highly mysterious and that no one really knows what their taxes are really being used for. But frankly, that’s bollocks, for the most part. We are all guilty of being cavalier with our opinions and maybe that’s what we might call being careless or ignorant or lazy or misleading or naive or lots of other things that are either truths or insults, depending upon how sensitive we are.
I agree with the earlier commentator, by the way, that we are a nation sleepwalking into something rather dangerous. We really should check some facts and be better informed and wise up and think ahead and hold people accountable. And someone should do the same to us. No exemptions for vicars, either!
But is it because we’re tired that we are asleep?

7 11 2009
Kevin

Thanks edgsoni, that is really helpful. I guess we all want simple and easy answers so we don’t have to work very hard, but then when we are given simple and easy answers we say ha! but it can’t be that simple! you must be lying!

I agree that we should wake up, stay awake, and know stuff. Or trust people who do. Like you, of course.

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