How to get rich people to pay tax

OK, you read it here first. Mr Cameron? President Obama? Are you listening, gents?

Here is how you solve the problems of megarich scumbags who can get away with paying less tax than their cleaners and chauffeurs because they can afford officeblocks full of accountants and lawyers to tweak their affairs. Oh, while still reserving the right to whinge about dreadful public services and the national debt.
Yes, they are scumbags because they do not pay their full whack. I\’m not accusing anybody of cheating on their taxes because the megarich don\’t need to, that\’s what expensive accountants and lawyers are for. They just get away with whatever they can. Which can be a remarkable amount (check out the non-domiciled UK peers).
But this is a free society and if that\’s the way the law (after a lot of lobbying by the rich) is set up, why shouldn\’t they take advantage of it? After all, there\’s absolutely no reward for actually paying up a fair share of your wealth in tax except the self-congratulatory glow of knowing that you\’re supporting the expensively peaceful and safe civil society that helped make you rich. Which, frankly, ain\’t worth beans to Homo economicus, as any economist will tell you. So here\’s the big idea.
What we need is (ta da! Drumroll)
The Taxpayer Championships.
There are no runners-up, no shortlists. The individual person who paid the most tax in any particular tax-year is the Champion Taxpayer. His/her reward is a one year tax holiday, providing he/she remains domiciled in the awarding country for the following three years. Also lots of adulatory publicity, top spot in the Sunday Times Rich List and a big trophy if he wants it.
To be fair to the non-megarich there can be another event: the person who paid the most tax as a proportion of income can get the same prize of a one-year tax holiday (with the same proviso that he stays domiciled in the awarding country for the following three years).
And there could be a small non-listed company event too – a friend of mine who knows more about these things than I do, said that it wouldn\’t do to let multi-nationals enter the game because they can afford several officeblocks full of accountants and they\’d find a way to cheat. So no multinationals or quoted companies, just the small and medium-sized businesses that do most of the hard taxpaying. Same two categories as well: Champion Taxpayer (gross) and Champion Taxpayer (in ratio to earnings).
Think of the publicity gains to the noble people who enter by paying their proper level of taxes. Instead of joining all the other bonus-getters as the Nation\’s Favourite Scumbags (after Politicians, Lawyers and Estate Agents) they would be heroes. Ditto for companies. Only strong stable companies can afford to pay a lot of tax. If a company never appeared in the entrants, its shareholders might reasonably wonder why not. Also the year\’s tax holiday would give the business a nice bonus that would be directly linked to their competence as companies and their public spirit.
If it was handled right, the Taxpayer Championships could rival the Oscars for glitz and the international art market for outrageous my-wad\’s-bigger-than-yours oneupmanship.
Non-dom foreigners would be falling over themselves to be domiciled here for tax, so they could show how much tax they pay. It would stop being clever to pay practically no tax on a huge income.
The only problem would be: how ever would the Treasury spend all the extra money they\’d get? (Answers on a postcard please…)

Why I love Americans


I\’m just back from a book tour in the United States, promoting my new sixteenth century crime novel, A MURDER OF CROWS (fifth in the Carey series). Now then. A curmudgeonly old-fashioned ranter like me might be expected to use this opportunity to have a good old shout about American-awful-this and the ghastly-Yankee-that.
Nope. Sorry. I have plenty of reservations about the vast politico-military-industrial behemoth that is \”America\” but about Americans, not right now. They\’re very good at criticising themselves, mind, which I\’ll get back to as one of their strengths, but first, my reasons for being so uncharacteristically lovey-dovey.
1. Their airports work. This is important when you\’re on a book tour from bookshop to bookshop in different states. I hit six of them in ten days – Washington Dulles, Detroit, Houston, Phoenix, San Diego and San Francisco. They were all of them clean, pleasant, easy to use and if you didn\’t know something you could find someone who did and who was also willing to tell you. The flights pretty much took off on time and if they didn\’t there was an apology and (much more important) an explanation. There was air conditioning that worked. The toilets were spotlessly clean and everything in them worked, excepting on automatic towel dispenser I forget where, for which the attendant apologised.
So coming back into Heathrow was a culture shock. Mainly because of its maddening air of naff sleaziness, the feeling that the place has dandruff on its shoulders and a fag still stuck to its bottom lip. For instance: is there nothing they could do about the filthy, patched and stuck-down-with-gaffer-tape disgrace of a carpet in immigration where you queue up to show your passport? Really? I mean, it would probably cost, ooh, several grand to get some new industrial haircord laid, as opposed to however many squillions Terminal 5 cost.
2. Generally, Americans are polite, nay, courteous. Even their children are polite. A teeny tiny little girl sitting on her mom\’s lap next to me on a plane, knew to say \”Thank you ma\’am,\” when I passed her something. Nobody called me \”dear\” or \”Pat\” or \”Patricia\”, ever. Oh yes, my publisher did call me \”my dear\” a couple of times, but seeing as he\’s my publisher and a darling himself, I think that\’s fine. Don\’t get me wrong: my friends can call me what they like and often do. Strangers who are taking my money in exchange for a product or service may not because they are not my friends. The Americans understand this and so your whole day slips along on an emollient base of courtesy and it\’s just so much more pleasant. Yes, of course, I know it\’s not sincere, I know they\’re trained to do it, I know they don\’t really respect me at all (and why should they?) It\’s just so… relaxing.
Also they are polite and courteous to each other in stressful circumstances. The one carbuncle on the face of every US airport is the security check with its queues for scanners and its byzantine semi-religious rules about liquids and shoes. It\’s tedious, it\’s pettifogging, it\’s inconvenient and for the non-exhibitionist like the lady in front of me with the hip replacement, it can be agonisingly embarassing. I also doubt it does much good against seriously organised terrorists and probably does some harm by encouraging complacency. I grudgingly accept its psychological and political necessity. But there are the Americans patiently waiting in line, slipping shoes off, unloading their pockets, putting stuff meekly into grey plastic trays. San Francisco security unerringly identified my bra as a security risk (twice) and I was asked to wait in a glass box presumably intended to protect everyone else from my exploding underwear – fair enough. Exploding underwear has been tried, after all. The women who frisked me very thoroughly twice were also courteous and professional and had none of that pervy self-righteousness of the average Euro-security person.
3. They are smart and surprisingly open. They listen (I love this about anybody). They ask intelligent questions. Idiots in Europe think all Americans are stupid. This is so far from true, I think it might be a quiet practical joke played by Americans on the rest of the world. Hey, we\’re so stoopid, we\’re selling you rich 1980s Japanese a lot of Manhattan at a hundred times its worth! Hey, we\’re so stoopid we\’re letting you Chinese finance our debt binges! Both my late husband and his father were Americans and they were brilliant at playing the \”Hey, I\’m just a big dumb Yank\” trick, followed by an embarassing turnaround. Americans might sometimes be naïve or ignorant but they are not stupid. They can\’t afford to be. American society is brutal to the stupid.
4. If it\’s broke, they want to fix it. They really really want to fix it. Hence the self-criticism. In fact, they so love fixing things, they have a whole saying warning them not to fix things that ain\’t broken. This is so thunderingly different from the way life works on this side of the Pond that it\’s completely invisible. We should have the opposite saying: \”If it is broke, don\’t fix it, but pretend you have.\” Heathrow is aging and a bit broke, so patch it up and pretend you\’ve fixed it with shiny bits and a new terminal. That\’s just as good.
Yes, I know, the global financial system is at the moment in a Heathrowesque state of patched-up-let\’s-all-pretend-it\’s-fine bullshit. America, the institution, is trying to sort it out and getting stymied by special interests and greed-rotted plutocrats and smug bankers. But Americans know this and they don\’t like it at all.
Even with President Obama – that great shining example of how extraordinary Americans can be when they choose – it could all go wrong. But I think it doesn\’t matter. In the end, perhaps irrationally, I once again feel totally confident in those amazing Americans.