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Monday 12 September 2011
Letters: Progressive taxation
There's no 'trickle-down' effect, just more inequality
It is no comfort to read that Tony Hayward (ex-BP) and Nat Rothschild (banker) have made £14m and £138m respectively on their most recent business venture in the world of getting oil out of the ground, and ultimately, into the sky (report, 8 September).
All around the world, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.
There is no "trickle-down" effect, just a relentless pouring of wealth up to the already wealthy. It certainly puts the 50 per cent tax on those minions earning just £150,000 into some sort of perspective. A progressive tax should surely increase with earnings and to stop at £150,000 simply is not honest.
The rich need to realise that a world of social and ecological decay is not in their interest as it is not in anyone else's. If they are not prepared to put their idle (as so much personal wealth must be) cash into use for the good of all then it should be taken from them.
Growing unemployment, low wages and dehumanising jobs are issues which should keep the wealthy awake at night. If democratic governments primarily represent the wealthy, as they seem to, then the future will be a poor one for us all.
Dr Colin Bannon
The economic case for getting rid of the 50p tax band rests on the assumptions that high earners a) can easily take their skills elsewhere and b) are motivated solely by money (leading article, 8 September). But British television celebrities, pop singers, barristers and specialist UK tax advisers may find they cannot necessarily earn the same sort of money in America or continental Europe as they do here. Even those whose specialist skills or knowledge can be more readily transferred overseas, such as merchant bankers, footballers, or hedge-fund managers, may think twice before uprooting their wives and children from their jobs, schools, and friends and forcing them to start afresh in a new country. Whatever the economic case for it, getting rid of the 50p band would certainly be a bold political statement. It would nail the Tories firmly to the mast of inequality, signalling their intention to make Britain more like the US. If this meant increases in UK levels of anxiety, depression, drugs, violence, crime, poverty, and illiteracy as well as shorter lives for the lower orders, well, so be it.
Such a bold move would doubtless go down well in the City of London, but maybe not so well in the rest of the country. As Baron Rothschild said, "the poor are always with us". And they also have the vote.
Delaying the cut of the 50p tax rate for a further two years is a negative move; it needs to be cut now. It is well recognised that total tax revenue rises with lower marginal rates as people don't leave the country to avoid tax and don't take steps to avoid tax if they stay.
With National Insurance, top taxpayers pay over 50 per cent which means they are working more for the taxman than themselves. And let's not forget, people who earn such money work very hard for their incomes. These high earners are often the creators of businesses and therefore of jobs for those who do not have the same talent, management skills or qualifications.
Do we really want to punish them for their successes and risk losing this hot-bed of talent? A reduction now will encourage entrepreneurship in the UK, bring in talent and boost the economy.
You suggest that "the message that wealth distribution is considered more important than wealth creation is one that Britain cannot afford to send"; unless, presumably, the unequal distribution in wealth is a cause of stalling growth?
Incomes of top earners have accelerated in the past 30 years. Furthermore, the growth of offshore manipulation of wealth has significantly reduced tax liabilities. Top earners have never had it so good, and yet it doesn't seem to have had a beneficial effect on growth.
Meanwhile, those on median incomes have seen wages stagnate, and indirect taxes rise, along with the introduction of co-payment into areas of public provision such as social care and education. As a consequence, increasing reliance on debt has fuelled a credit bubble that has further eroded the disposable income of those whose take-home pay is channelled into the rentier class via inflated mortgage and rental payments.
These are just the kind of conditions Marx identified as foreshadowing the collapse of capitalism - before the social democratic welfare state began to ameliorate its worst excesses. Going back a little further, Plutarch (46-120 CE) warned that: "An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics."
Geoff Cook ("Nothing immoral about Jersey", 10 September) in his use of "right" conflates legality and morality. He is correct in claiming that people have a (legal) right to plan their affairs to avoid paying tax, but he is wrong in concluding that such tax avoidance is (morally) right. People have legal rights to gamble their money away, refuse to help their neighbours and let their children eat unhealthy hamburgers. Companies have legal rights to tempt people into excessive drinking, bombard shoppers with advertising and make excessive payments to directors. All those are legally permissible, but not thereby morally right.
From the end of the Second World War until 1980, the period which saw the USA grow to become the wealthiest, most powerful country on the planet, their top rate of income tax peaked at 94 per cent and never dropped below 70 per cent.
During the 1950s and into the early 1960s, a period many Americans look back on as a golden era, when a family could afford a house, a car, holidays, and see their kids through college on the husband's wage alone, the top rate of tax was 90 per cent.
George Osborne should emulate that US golden-era tax system of 24 layers of tax peaking at 90 per cent and perhaps usher in our own golden era.
All civilised systems of personal taxation reflect the principle of the diminishing marginal value of money – a pound is worth more in the hand of a pauper than in that of a well-heeled individual. Thus, it is morally right to levy tax at a higher rate on those who can bear it relatively lightly.
Judges should dress to impress
I don't agree with Mr Smurthwaite (letters, 9 September) that "the natural reaction of any normal, healthy person is to fall about laughing" at the sight of legal dress being worn in court, nor would I consider them "comic-opera costumes". And if "ordinary people" are overawed (which I doubt) then perhaps this is no bad thing, for a court of law is a serious place, in which decisions will certainly impact on the people involved, and often on society at large.
A special form of costume, which has evolved over many centuries, helps remind people of the unusual circumstances in which truthfulness, fairness, accuracy, and a particular standard of behaviour is essential to preserve consistency and continuity. Most countries have some form of costume for their court officials. It also helps to identify different functionaries and is what ordinary people expect.
Vestments perform a similar function in church, as did academic gowns when worn by teaching staff in grammar and independent schools and universities in my youth. Why must everything be reduced to the same common denominator of ordinariness? We need situations that will lift us from ordinariness and indicate that we are in a special place, requiring special conduct or etiquette.
I share Paul Nuttall's doubts (letters, 9 September) about the pressing need to increase transparency in court proceedings. People eager to experience courts can attend in the public gallery. Locally, offences and sentences are widely reported. And with any trial of reasonable complexity, simply filming the sentencing phase will give a distorted picture of the proceedings.
It seems possible that one purpose behind this initiative is to exert pressure, however indirect, on judges to generate sentences which will pacify public opinion - and equally possible that it is part of the host of post-riot initiatives.
It does seem extraordinary that the riots, which though damaging and frightening to those affected were still rela-tively small-scale and explicable, have been met with radical proposals for rewrit-ing parts of the criminal justice and benefits systems, while we are still waiting for serious corrective action in respect of the banks whose greed has impoverished all of us.
If there is one area crying out for greater transparency, it is the financial sector. Why not cameras in bank boardrooms?
High Ellington, North Yorkshire
The puzzle of Eton's success
I read (10 September) that Mr Cameron has asked all private schools to consider how they could help to drive up standards in the state sector. Further, he has asked Eton to set up a school in the state sector. Eton charges £30,981 per pupil per year, payable in advance, and its website warns that this does not cover all costs: there is a registration fee and a separate entrance fee, around half of which is a deposit returnable at age 18; there are additional fees for music, for rowing and so on. The per-pupil funding for pupils attending Eton's state-school neighbours in Slough was £4,460 in 2010-11 according to DfE figures which make no mention of a joining fee or additional payments for rowing.
If our Prime Minister believes that Eton is a successful school and wants schools in the state sector to be equally successful the answer is very simple. Give our comprehensive schools £30,000 per pupil, per year.
The principal of Monkton Senior School writes that "independent schools provide ... young people with opportunities to learn 'character' in a greater variety of ways." I don't know whether the independent school I attended a long time ago taught me character, but I do know one thing about it for which I have always been grateful: it gave me a lasting and healthy contempt for rugby, religion and the military.
How the euro helps Germany
In Economic Studies (7 September) Hamish McRae refers to the understandable feeling of many Germans that they can't endlessly bail out the weaker eurozone economies.
What I have not seen mentioned is a point made by a fund manager I know: Germany is an export-led economy, and benefits from the fact that the euro is weakened against other currencies by the admixture of said weaker eurozone economies. Without them, the euro would be stronger and German exports more difficult or less profitable, or both.
So maybe the German-led bailouts are a quid pro quo, or in this case a euro pro quo.
Elizabeth I's ban on epic swim
Perhaps David Walliams ("Next obstacle in Thames swim: raw sewage", 10 September) should have heeded the advice of Queen Elizabeth I. During the 1590s Sir John ("Lusty") Packington wagered that he would swim from Westminster Bridge to Greenwich for £3,000. "But the good Queen, who had a particular tenderness for handsome fellows, would not permit Sir John to run the hazard of the trial". The incident is immortalised in one of the longest-running ballad tunes in English history, "Packington's Pound".
Jack McKenna's letter (6 September) discussing the young American who made what seem unrelated political connections between Britain having its own currency (rather than adopting the US dollar) and also having socialised healthcare, put me in mind of an incident back in the 1980s. My wife played football for a team in London. A woman passing by their pitch, apparently upset at seeing females playing football, shouted: "Get back to Russia if you want to do that".
Aside from the head-shaking mirth the incident still instils, it provides further proof that insularity and populist politics are the perfect recipe for ignorance.
One explanation of a possible link between lycra, helmets and vehicular aggression might lie in a certain native unease, even resentment, in the face of a uniform. Security guards, policemen, traffic wardens and the like tend to excite an anti-authoritarian streak in the British psyche, a lurking suspicion of "them and us". This feeling might be subconsciously exacerbated by the yellow-jacketed implication that you, the driver, are inherently dangerous.
Thus an initial and possibly justified precaution may paradoxically reinforce the likelihood of the feared outcome.
The illustrations to Tom Sutcliffe's "The discreet charm of misspelling" (9 September), while attractive, lack the true Finnegan's Wake spirit of a label I noticed several years ago in a Glasgow greengrocer, which said tersely: RADILIOUSE. It was attached to a box of Red Delicious apples.
Perspectives on Baha Mousa's death
Black shadow cast on the Army
Baha Mousa, a defenceless prisoner of the British Army, was treated in the most sadistic and systematic way, being cruelly and persistently tortured until his ultimate death. This casts a black shadow on the reputation of the British Army and those named in the report, including the three officers who turned a blind eye until it was too late.
Civilian casualites of wars of aggression
The Independent should be congratulated for being true to its name. Unlike certain other parts of the British media which propagated Tony Blair's lies and supported aggression in Iraq and Afghanistan, The Independent stood firm on giving a truthful assessment of the situation.
The Independent's campaign for an inquiry into the killing of Iraqi civilian Baha Mousa resulted in a serious and honest condemnation of the individuals in the British Army who perpetrated this inhumanity on an innocent person.
Credit must be given to the Inquiry commisssion and its chairman, Sir William Gage, for their honesty and independence.
Chairman, British Muslim Council, London N16
Ministry of Defence 'loses' information
After a three-year public inquiry we now know that "serious and gratuitous violence" by British soldiers, caused the death of Baha Mousa, 26, a widower and father of two young children. The Inquiry criticised the MoD for making inaccurate and misleading statements regarding the use of interrogation techniques employed against this innocent hotel worker and others; and also for "losing" information relating to those banned techniques.
Of course justice demanded this inquiry was held and the findings indicate this was the correct decision.
Perhaps now the MoD may reconsider their opposition to any meaningful inquiry regarding the four unexplained deaths at the Deepcut Army Training camp in Surrey?
After all, if justice requires that the alleged mistreatment of foreign nationals by British armed forces in a war zone becomes the subject of a public inquiry, surely it must follow that the deaths of four teenage army recruits, allegedly mistreated by British armed forces in peacetime on a UK British army training base, are also afforded that same level of justice?
For despite the various misleading statements issued by the MoD over many years, no meaningful inquiry has yet been held into those deaths, which included that of my daughter, Cheryl James, where the MoD also allegedly "lost" potentially vital evidence.
This was murder
A wholly innocent man, Baha Mousa, has been found to have died as a result of "an appalling episode of serious gratuitous violence" while under interrogation in the custody of soldiers in Iraq. No he wasn't. He was tortured and murdered by British troops and I am deeply ashamed.
A case for The Hague
The end of your campaign must surely lead to The Hague. Such horrific and shameful behaviour are indeed war-crimes, and ALL those responsible should be brought before this court.
Port Erin, Isle of Man
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