Letters: Perspectives on taxing the highest incomes

Sunday 23 October 2011 03:28

Listen to Buffett and stop coddling the super-rich

George Osborne wants to cut the 50p tax rate for our highest earners, claiming that, as it doesn't generate much revenue and is "internationally uncompetitive", it might as well be ditched. The conclusion I draw is that, as per usual, the rich are simply "avoiding" the tax.

However, across the pond Warren Buffett, in an article for the New York Times, suggests a different route: raising taxes for the rich. The Sage of Omaha, the third richest man in the world, writes about how he paid 17 per cent tax last year, while some of his employees on far lower wages paid as much as 41 per cent. He describes a tax system designed to enrich the wealthiest at the expense of the middle and lower classes.

Mr Buffett is very clear that the super-rich can afford higher taxes, and that they will not be put off investing by so-called "uncompetitive" tax rates.

Our millionaire Chancellor needs to stop coddling his super-rich chums, ignore their selfish bleatings for tax cuts, rewrite the tax code to make it fairer for the majority of taxpayers, and close the loop-holes exploited by only those with access to expensive accountants. Doing this would be a significant step towards creating a more equal society, less likely to erupt into riots.

Barry Richards, Cardiff

How do they manage to pay so little?

Why does the 50p tax rate on those earning more than £150,000 a year produce so little revenue?

If the reason is that tax avoidance is so easy for those earning such high incomes, we deserve an explanation as to precisely how this operates. Then the rest of us can follow the example of the rich. If the reason is that tax evasion goes undetected at these high levels of income, then the authorities – including the Chancellor – have some serious questions to answer.

Nigel Wilkins, London SW7

How banks could be made to stop investing in lethal cluster bombs

Jerome Taylor is quite right to point out that by investing in and providing services to cluster-bomb manufacturers British banks are breaching the spirit, if not the letter, of the global Convention on Cluster Munitions ("UK banks fund deadly cluster-bomb industry", 16 August).

However, we may not have to wait for a change of legislation to force the banks to mend their ways. While they won't suffer any sanction under the legislation for their activities, they do face repercussions from the regulator if they mislead their customers about what they are doing.

Most banks have policies which they publish so consumers know what their approach is in areas of ethical concern, including the arms trade. Barclays, for example, has a "Statement on the Defence Sector", which "explicitly prohibits financing trade in ... cluster bombs".

This policy was published in June 2008. Yet Jerome Taylor's article reveals that in 2009 Barclays underwrote a bond issue by the US cluster-bomb manufacturer Textron: an apparently quite staggering breach of its own policy.

The Financial Services Authority (FSA) can impose tough sanctions on banks which mislead consumers by proclaiming one thing while in fact doing something else. Concerned readers should write to the FSA to demand enforcement action against banks that have misled them about their involvement with cluster-bomb manufacturers. Until the legislation is changed this may be the only way to force them to cease this bloody part of their business.

Russell Inglis, Shillington, Bedfordshire

A word of warning. If readers imagine that they can influence their bank by threatening to transfer their account unless that bank abandons its investment in companies marketing cluster bombs, forget it!

The average high-street bank customer will not want to bother with the complexities of transferring to another bank, but should their conscience prompt them to do so, they will find, as I did, that their bank will not give a damn.

Alerted by Amnesty International that my bank was involved with financing the arms trade, I wrote to my bank manager, with a copy to her HQ, asking whether they had any intention of abandoning their links with the sales of lethal cluster bombs.

Since I received no acknowledgement or reply, I transferred to the Co-operative Bank, which is concerned in supporting local communities, has a democratic ethos, gives to charity and cares about green issues. It also turns out to be well managed and helpful.

A year later, I got a format letter from my former bank, confirming that I was no longer their customer and telling me to destroy my debit and credit cards. I had already done so publicly in their local branch the year before, with a pair of kitchen scissors, explaining to the puzzled queue behind me why I was doing so – a small and futile gesture against the immense indifference of the banking system.

Jane Bolger, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire

Unfair on rail passengers

The latest in a long line of rail fair hikes is offensive to the millions of hard-working individuals and their families already struggling to make ends meet. The proposed increases come at a time when UK workers are already at breaking point thanks to cuts in their hours, frozen salaries and rising food and utility bills. Meanwhile, Network Rail reported profits of more than £2n last year.

However this is spun, there is no getting away from the fact that this is simply not fair. In a time when tens of thousands of people are genuinely struggling to put food on the table or cover the cost of getting to work, it is even more important that policies are geared towards helping them, not considerations of the bottom line.

Greed and avarice have triumphed over any notion of the greatest good for the greatest number. Sadly, this is increasingly the way policies are made, signalling the death knell for democracy and the rise of the unrelenting marketocracy. And politicians – complicit in these decisions – wonder why society is "sick"'.

Rob Tolan, London N15

Computers and the brain

I was interested to read Professor Susan Greenfield's opinion piece "Computers may be altering or brains – we must ask how" (12 August), where she laments that other scientists are refusing to debate the issue of how the internet and computer technology are affecting the mind and brain. She also claims that other scientists are dismissing her concerns by saying "there's no evidence".

This is clearly nonsense. There are over 3,000 scientific studies on the effect of technology on the mind and brain and a scientific community actively engaged in this debate, all of which Greenfield chooses to ignore in favour of her own alarmist conclusions. I am sure this is not simple unawareness, because Professor Greenfield specifically invited me to present the evidence to her at a debate on this topic at the House of Lords. The transcript is available on her own website.

If Professor Greenfield wishes to engage in the debate about the impact of technology she is more than welcome to join the research community and discuss the evidence behind her concerns. So far, this evidence does not suggest that children's or anyone else's brains are being damaged by mobile phones, email, or Facebook. We know each has its own balance of effects, positive and negative, like all other media (newspapers included).

But instead of engaging with the evidence, Greenfield uses her media profile to communicate her ill-informed concerns to the public at large. This is neither helpful to science nor to concerned parents attempting to understand how they can best help their children use technology to their benefit.

The professor clearly has good intentions, but to become genuinely helpful she needs to be aware about what we actually know about the impact of technology. I would welcome her informed contribution to the debate.

Dr Vaughan Bell, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London

Nuclear alarm from Japan

I read with much interest and alarm your excellently researched study on what may actually have happened at the Fukushima nuclear facility in March ("The explosive truth behind Fukushima's meltdown", 17 August).

The possibility that critical circulation plants split as a result of the earthquake and were damaged before the tsunami wave struck would seem to contradict the comments made in the IAEA's initial findings and the UK's Chief Nuclear Inspector's interim report on nuclear safety.

Covering up records is not a new issue in the nuclear industry, and to hear that the Tokyo Electric Power Company had not done essential repairs, as requested by the nuclear regulator, and radiation alarms were going off shortly after the earthquake hit and before the tsunami, gives credence to the view that the full truth on this tragic incident has not yet been established.

I urge the UK Chief Nuclear Inspector, Mike Weightman, to take these reports very seriously and incorporate consideration of them in his final nuclear safety report to the Government. The report should also be delayed until more is known of these reports from Japan, while all the approvals being given to EDF for a new reactor at Hinkley Point C should also be suspended.

There are some very awkward truths from your report into what really happened at Fukushima. They must be heeded in the UK or we could be the next ones to pay the price.

Bailie George Regan, Chair, UK and Ireland Nuclear Free Local Authorities, Manchester

Punishments for rioting

I live a few hundred yards from the scene of the killings in Birmingham last Wednesday and the peace event last Sunday. I returned from abroad on Saturday, and found people from all communities extremely shocked by what had happened, but also implacably determined to maintain calm and not to let these terrible events destroy the community solidarity built up in Birmingham with so much care. This adult and intelligent response was also very clear from Birmingham City Council and the police.

Mr Cameron no doubt speaks for his own social group in his confrontational approach to the problems brought up by the riots, but it is those of us who live here who will have to deal with the consequences.

Sara J Clethero, Birmingham

The controversy surrounding the jailing for four years of two men convicted for inciting riots via Facebook reminds me of similar punishments handed out in the wake of the 1981 riots.

In particular, I recall the case of a man imprisoned for three years for inciting riots in home-made leaflets he had distributed in his local area. The medium has changed, but not the judicial response. It is to be hoped that on this occasion, society will be able to raise its expectations beyond a merely custodial impulse.

Chris Hare, Worthing, west Sussex

I am at a loss to understand this apparent dismay over the four-year prison sentence for inciting riots. The failure of the defendants' enterprise makes them no less culpable.

They knew what they were doing. The results were intended to be bad and could have been appalling.

Cole Davis, London NW2

David Starkey is a historian but apparently has no recollection of past outbreaks of rioting. There were frequent riots in 19th-century London, and more recently the Teddy Boys in the 1950s, Mods and Rockers in the Sixties and endemic violence revolving around football in the Seventies and Eighties. Each time these sub-cultures of violence were greeted as "the moral collapse of modern society".

However, this recent rioting was opportunistic and not motivated by loyalty to a brand of music or tribal football fidelity, but by greed for the "stuff" of an all-pervasive consumer culture – mobile phones, flat-screen TVs, clothes, expensive trainers. Absurd as it sounds, the motivation for the recent rioting seems to have been far more in line with mainstream cultural values than ever before.

But the common thread running through all that aggression is that it is always predominantly young men who are prepared to take the risk of committing it. It is what young men do; most grow out of it, but some of the most dangerous unfortunately never do.

D J Bellamy, Barkestone, Nottinghamshire

Inevitably, social analysts trawling for an explanation as to how children as young as 11 came to be involved in the recent riots raised the question of absentee parents. Where were they? The answer came swiftly enough: one such miscreant appeared in court unaccompanied by either parent, because both were out at work.

For the past 30 years, successive governments have encouraged parents to place financial gain before their moral duty to be available when their children need them. The error is deeply ingrained in our social consciousness. Recently, some teachers took industrial action. Almost exclusively, concern was for the inconvenience caused to working mothers and the cost to businesses.

The disconnection of working parents from their children is not the sole cause of anti-social behaviour – but be assured, it is very significant.

Robert Bottamley, Hedon, East Yorkshire

Robin Grey QC (letters, 12 August) urges the magistrates to try to inquire deeply into a rioter's motives before passing sentence after a guilty plea. And so they should.

What he overlooks is that the guilty defendant's explanation of his or her behaviour is going to be motivated largely by a desire to keep their punishment to a minimum, rather than by a wish to assist the nation's criminologists.

Ken Cohen, London NW6

Premiership's top prices

The new Premier League season may have kicked off with some knockabout farce at St James's Park ("Burglary, assault and tweets – just another day in Barton's world", 15 August), but it hardly began with a bang in terms of attendance figures, as comparison with the Championship indicates.

The figures you publish show that the game at Wigan attracted fewer fans (17,454) than the matches at Birmingham (19,225) and Ipswich (18,116), whereas QPR's home game drew fewer spectators (15,195) than the game at Portsmouth (16,496). West Brom's home game against last season's Premier League champions attracted 25,360 fans, while the home game at Leeds drew 25,650, and the match at Blackburn was unable to attract more spectators (21,996) than the home games at Leicester (23,399) or Cardiff (22,639).

Could the market be telling the Premier League that its eye-watering admission prices and stratospheric costs are not always justified by a level of entertainment that is significantly higher than that offered by the Championship?

Professor David Head, Dean, Faculty of Business and Law, University of Lincoln

Interesting that the football international had to be postponed because the police were needed elsewhere. We take it for granted that "normal" football supporters will fight and smash things if they are not policed. But the Edgbaston Test went ahead on the same day, just a few miles down the road from the Birmingham riots. Why? Because those 20,000 cricket spectators did not need police supervision.

Geoff Scargill, Stockport, Greater Manchester

Mr Miliband blames the bankers and MPs for the recent riots because they are lousy role models. In case he is looking for more, why doesn't he look at the English Premier League? Both players and managers should be right up there in his top 20.

Tom Marshall, Bath

Keep moving

Jeremy Laurance (16 August) reports that six hours' TV a day takes years off your life. The explanation he gives is that it is a sedentary "activity". Must we therefore also give up writing Booker novels or reading them, crocheting antimacassars and making models of St Paul's in matchsticks? What's left? I don't own a dog to walk and I'm rubbish at DIY.

Claudia Cotton, London N7

Iconic maps

I hate people who describe everything as "iconic", but the Beck Tube map (15 August) deserves that status. However the new Noad map, with its topological accuracy and flowing curves, is equally beautiful and informative. Let them both exist together!

Trevor Roberts, Bramford, Suffolk

Time will tell

Has Cliché Corner really ended? Will this letter be published? The proof of the pudding will be in the eating.

George Gordon, West Challow, Oxfordshire

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