At the risk of opening a very vermian can, I have been thinking a lot this week about tax avoidance. Yes: avoidance rather than (or, more realistically, as well as) evasion. It all started last Monday when I was in the check-in queue at Stansted, on my way to Guernsey. A man came up to me and asked our destination. “We’re going to Guernsey,” I said. “And you?” “Sark, unfortunately,” he replied. Now, I’ve never been to Sark, and I’m also one of those annoying people who chat to strangers in queues, so I couldn’t resist. “Why are you going, then, if you don’t like it?” “Tax,” he said. “If I’m resident there, I don’t pay any tax – but it’s ninety boring days each year stuck on that island.” “Is it worth it? Living somewhere you don’t like, just to save some money?” I asked. To be fair, he did think about it for a moment, before saying, “Yup – only fools pay tax.” Ah – a graduate of the Leona Helmsley school of finance. By now a little crowd had gathered, pretending to check their passports but really having a good old earwig. And with my lifelong loyalty to the theory of taxation, my dander was up.
“Tell me,” I asked, “Who pays for the children of Sark to go to school?” “Mine go to boarding school in England, and anyway I’m not sure there are any children on Sark.” “What about healthcare – if you have an accident? Who pays for the ambulance?” “It’s all private, so we pay for our own.” “And what about roads and sewers and police and street lighting?” “I’m not sure – I think there are some wealthy individuals who make donations for that sort of thing.” At this point the check-in opened and I was saved from having to strangle him. But it’s not really him, is it? It’s the system that permits it. And without researching the tax situation in Sark myself, I am going purely on what he said (and he sounded a bit unsure) – and of course I know that it’s not only Sark where tax can be minimised in this way. And neither is it only individuals who can position themselves to save money – look at Starbucks, Ikea and Apple. But I do wonder what would happen if everyone did it. Rant over: next time I will return to the world of criminality rather than that of morality.
I see your point, Susan, but I don’t know that many people who are happy to pay all those taxes when you see the mismanagement of the European governments. Only my Norwegian friend is happy to pay the highest taxes in Europe, because they truly get so much in return. When we compare notes on school educations, kids with learning disabilities, single parents, unemployment and job search, they have it all. And here we are on our own. Norwegian politicians are frugal in their office too: no car with chauffeur but public transport. No fancy dinners. No fancy offices. Isn’t that how it should be? That they set an example in how you should budget your expenses. Then there is the Principality of Monaco, where you don’t pay income tax. And they have a great social system too. Most of Monaco’s income comes from VAT and company taxes. They obviously have a good financial management. If this financial management would improve in other European countries, I am sure people would feel better about paying taxes. Of course, the very rich think it is a sport not to pay taxes. They don’t need the social system. They get greedier as they get richer. Why else do all these companies take their already thriving business to low wage countries? So they can make even more. And avoid supporting the local economy completely because their economy comes first. We live in the me-world instead of we. Well, that was my rant for the day 🙂
I know exactly what you mean – if only we could make sure that our money was spent wisely. But I suppose that is democracy for you: we vote for these people and the way they behave. Like you, I am always impressed by the modest lifestyles of the Scandinavian politicians – so unlike our own MPs in the UK, or indeed the hordes of MEPs in Brussels.
Best wishes from Susan
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I’d love to be stuck on Sark for 90 days…it’s a hidden treasure!
Zoe, I really must go – one day i will tag two extra days on a Guernsey visit and do Sark and Herm!
Best wishes from Susan
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