Mark Steel: If you can avoid tax, why bother to leave?

Bank robbers don't declare what they have done so let's not make it illegal

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One tiddly little tax rise and they're like spoilt toddlers, screaming "Baby want tax cut, don't WANT pay 50 pence, not FAIR, baby not pay."

Tory newspapers are full of columns that go "Even Lenin instructed his cabinet not to raise tax to fifty pence in the pound for incomes over £150,000, for fear of losing support for the Bolshevik Revolution in middle class areas of the Ukraine, but Alistair Darling and his psychotic serial-killing communist envy has no such qualms."

And then come the excuses. Boris Johnson complained the tax rise will repel innovative people from London, so the city will no longer lead the world in law, higher education and medical science. Because obviously what motivates medical scientists is their salaries over £150,000 being taxed at less than 50 per cent. We're lucky that when Louis Pasteur was on the point of discovering penicillin no one ran in to tell him the tax rate had gone up to 50 per cent, or he'd have said "Well in that case bollocks to sick people, they might as well die. There's no point in curing them if I have to pay an extra 5p in the pound on income over £150,000, I'm being a mug to myself."

Almost every one of these complaints tells us the rich will be battered as all their money will be taken, so they'll leave the country. But the same people also insist no extra money will be raised from the rich because, as Boris puts it "the new rate will simply be another challenge for their tax accountants." So why will they leave the country then? Presumably Richard Branson will snarl "They've brought in a new tax that I'll get out of paying, making no difference to my life whatsoever. That's it, I'm moving to Egypt."

The argument that raising tax doesn't bring in any extra money is mad on lots of levels. It's a good job these people don't run a shop, as presumably they'd tell their customers "Oh don't bother giving me any money for those biscuits. The notion that if you give me money, that will raise any more money for me than if you don't give me any is a myth," and be bankrupt in a week.

Also, this is accepting that the subjects of a law will merrily find ways to flout it, so there's nothing anyone can do to stop them. So why not scrap all laws then, as the people who break them only try and find ways round it. Bank robbers never fill in a form declaring all the banks they've robbed, so it's best if we don't bother making it illegal.

But then they get even more surreal by claiming higher taxes on the rich ends up hurting the poor. This must be the problem Robin Hood kept coming up against. Every week the peasants would say "Robin, for God's sake stop giving us money you've robbed from the rich, we can't afford it. Last week when you gave us a bag of gold stolen from the Sheriff of Nottingham it meant we had to sell our donkey, you're bankrupting us."

It would be much easier to have respect for the wealthy if they were honest about their oppopsition to the tax rises, and said "the reason these measures do not suit Britain as far as I'm concerned, is that I'm greedy, avaricious and selfish and that is the sound economic prograame that i hope the government pusues to get us out of our present predicament"

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