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Tuesday 14 October 2008
Letters: The credit crunch and taxation
Now is the time for a truly democratic taxation system
One positive message from the global economic crisis is that it creates a need for a system of taxation more appropriate to a civilised democracy.
At the Liberal Democrat conference, the wise Vince Cable proposed that taxes for ordinary working families be cut by closing tax "loopholes" for the ultra-wealthy. The avoidance of capital and inheritance taxes available to multi-millionaire families makes fools of the middle classes who fret about passing on the family home.
Johann Hari (Opinion, 1 October) called for the abolition of the "tax havens" which do so much to support international crime, whether in drugs and people-trafficking or terrorism, and hiding the booty stolen from the poor by the world's despots. Because 35 of the world's 72 "havens"' are either British territories or Commonwealth members, the UK has a unique responsibility, to close them.
Dr Stephen Bax (letters, 10 October) very sensibly calls for a higher rate of tax on all the ultra-wealthy instead of just limiting bankers' so-called "earnings".
We are entering a recession. if the country is to maintain social cohesion in the difficult times ahead it is vital that all political parties recognise the damage caused by the fraudulent dogma of "trickle-down" economics. in just 30 years, it has not only created a bubble based on hype and debt, but has also returned us to an almost medieval financial gulf in society between a tiny privileged elite and the taxpaying majority. it is time for clear, straightforward fairness and honesty.
The present financial crisis, taken together with the effects on all of us of impending climate change, point to the necessity of remutualisation across a wide range of society's activities. Not socialism, nor communism, just a recognition that within a system of finite resources "me first" doesn't work.
If not, the poor will suffer, and the rich will suffer at the hands of the poor. There's not much point having a Lamborghini if you can't, or daren't, drive it.
A few reasons to be cheerful
It is surely time for calm reflection. The size of the underlying, sub-prime mortgage loss is just a few hundred million dollars. The homes on which the money was lent remain standing. Those who lent against these houses have an obligation to minimise their losses. Foreclosures and fire sales in a falling market are not the best way to achieve this. Accepting whatever income is available and postponing repossession until the markets have stabilised may be the better option. And the authorities have an opportunity to increase economically the availability of social housing.
It is the knock-on effects that are worrying the markets. But no matter how the sub-prime loss is redistributed, the size of the underlying loss remains the same; and when all these things are unravelled, that is all that will have to be borne.
To grossly undervalue assets means that they, and those who hold them, can be bought far too cheaply, and second fortunes made by the "vulture funds" whose short-selling has done so much to panic the markets.
That banks are reluctant to lend to each other does not mean the system does not have enough cash, just that it is in the wrong place. The banks are an oligopoly, something that has not always been of advantage to their customers, but which is useful now. Those who run banks know each other and should be capable of sensible co-operation in their own best interests and that of the economy, especially now that the taxpayers have reaffirmed their position as stakeholders of last resort.
If the future leadership of banks recognise that they have social responsibilities as well as duties to their shareholders, then that surely should be good for us all. There will be some pain certainly, but there are also opportunities for social gain.
You report en passant, the kind offer of Russia to bail out the icelandic economy in exchange for a Russian military base (11 October). Why didn't Gordon Brown think of a possible Russian threat before he bullied a small and weak western nation?
The media and, it seems, the Government ignore Russian and Chinese action in the present crisis at our peril. Do they think Russia and China are sitting there twiddling their thumbs while George Bush sorts out the mess?
China is cash-rich and, with Russia and the sovereign wealth nations, has been financing the US deficit. in the past few days, the US has added enormously to its debt. Will Russia and China continue to finance the US deficit? Will China do so only if the US recognises Taiwan as part of mainland China? Does the US need Chinese money to finance the iraq war? Can Britain afford the war now?
Your leading article says: "it is to Washington that the world looks for leadership," and we may have to wait "till the US is back in the saddle again". We can't count on that any more. it may be that China does some of the leading and that the US is never back in the saddle again as it was. This is not simply a major economic crisis. it is a major political crisis for the West and a major political opportunity for Russia and China. They will be foolish not to exploit it ruthlessly.
Amid all the financial turmoil, we hear that the Government has guaranteed savings made with the icesave; a great relief, no doubt, for those who had entrusted their savings to a foreign bank. But those who entrusted their retirement savings to a British company, Equitable Life, are still waiting for redress some years after the company failed, and several months after a report by the ombudsman called for the Government to make reparation.
Equitable Life policyholders, my husband among them, were doing what we are all exhorted by the Government to do – save for our retirement – and the company and the regulators were found wanting. in what direction is Gordon Brown's moral compass on this one?
Worthing, West Sussex
Dominic Lawson argues that the crash as a result of too much government intervention in the City (Opinion, 10 October). Let's take the case of Northern Rock. As a mutual building society, the Rock provided sound finance to generations of home-buyers.
As a deregulated bank it went bust; as have all the other demutualised building societies. Now that it's backed by the Government and is "subject to considerations of the national good", Northern Rock is turning customers away. it has repaid more than half of the debt to the taxpayer.
No further questions, your honour.
Newscastle upon Tyne
Your headline on the interest rate cut (9 October) reads: "interest rates: the good news". Why don't you also publish the bad news? For example, you could say: "Savings income slashed by a tenth". The lost interest on £100,000 will be more than £33 a month after tax, which could be highly significant for a pensioner dependent on savings income. Remember, each borrower needs at least one saver.
Being retired, and concerned to protect my small amount of savings, I deliberated whether to put them into icesave with its top rates of interest. instead, I chose a safer UK alternative: Chelsea Building Society. Now I discover my money is in the icelandic Bank anyway, thanks to Chelsea itself. What an irony.
Is there any irony that 13 October is the 701st anniversary of the (admittedly French) government taking over what was effectively the world's first major bank, from the Templars? I freely confess to looking forward to the burning on a griddle of the leaders of the present banks; I would buy tickets for that.
ID cards will not help stop crime
John Brisbourne says in his letter (2 October) that he would welcome ID cards because they would help prevent crime.
I am curious to find out exactly how this would happen. As far as i'm aware, burglars, muggers, murderers and vandals do not tend to leave identity cards at the scenes of their crimes. On the other hand, after someone is caught, the police rarely have trouble identifying who they are.
If we really wanted to reduce crime, why not spend the billions being wasted on the iD-card scheme on more police officers on the street, rather than on an expensive white elephant that will criminalise ordinary people who believe being tagged and tracked is incompatible with living in a free and democratic society.
Stephen Mullin (letters, 8 October) suggests ID cards are somehow equivalent to existing passports. Citizens are under no obligation to keep the passport database up to date when moving house. The passport database does not record every occasion a passport is checked. No record is kept on the passport database when the document holder visits a clinic, opens a bank account, buys a mobile phone or applies for credit.
Dr Geraint Bevan
In reply to Stephen Mullin, yes, I do have bank cards, a passport, a railcard and a Ni number, and it is precisely because I already have been forced, at great expense of time and money, to apply for these forms of ID that I in no way support another over-priced form of ID that does nothing other than tell you that I am me. it's not paranoia, Mr Mullin, it's pure economics.
Canvey island, Essex
Old graveyard is jewel of nature
The Big Question (10 October) asks, "Why are Britain's Graveyards falling into disrepair?" in my local cemetery, Woodvale Downs, Brighton, "clearance" has been put on hold because the council is cash-strapped.
Thank goodness. it's a wonderful, partially overgrown wooded cemetery on the east edge of Brighton. To me, it's the jewel in the crown of Brighton, but the tidying-up often ends in carnage, management saying it's under pressure from the public to sanitise nature.
It's a haven for wildlife, particularly birds and butterflies. Of the former, over the years, I have recorded scarce species such as golden oriole, wryneck, bluethroat, yellow-browed warbler and hawfinch.
Mugabe true to form
Anyone who believed that Robert Mugabe's power-sharing deal with Morgan Tsvangirai was anything more than a ruse by Zimbabwe's tyrant to buy himself time must be living in cloud-cuckoo land (report, 13 October). in the 1980s, Joshua Nkomo accepted a power-sharing deal with Mugabe, only to discover too late that it was Mugabe's way of neutralising him.
They pay their way
Edward J Smith wants England to stop subsidising the rest of the UK (letters, 13 October). The citizens of Northern ireland, Scotland and Wales also pay income tax, national insurance, council tax, etc, so they are not merely relying on "hand-outs" from the English taxpayer. indeed, Scottish people might claim they have partly subsidised England for many years by virtue of "their" North Sea oil. if Scotland and Wales operate a number of "free" or concessionary public services, perhaps that suggests a stronger sense of community and citizenship in these nations.
Reader in British Politics, Cardiff University
As well as being utter nonsense from a scientific point of view, creationism also seems very dubious theologically (letters, 8 October). it implies a creator who is both inefficient (requiring 30 million miracles to create 30 million species) and deceptive (adding "false" evidence of a "non-existent" evolutionary past). Why do creationists always assume that they're doing their God a favour?
It is not surprising that the "radical new approach to teaching music" (report, 10 October) should lead to increased interest by students. Conventional music lessons have nothing to do with music. They are dominated by the need to acquire the ability to play at sight any piece of sheet music put in front of the unfortunate learner. That is a skill utterly irrelevant to any music except western European art music. The process of teaching that this entails crushes the latent musicality of thousands of young musicians.
Might I suggest a possible solution to the problem of loudmouthed mobile-phone users on our trains? As there would appear to be so much spare hosiery around at present, why don't they just put a sock in it?
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