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In the future I will pay my taxes

January 4, 2010

I no longer do New Year’s resolutions, being a) incapable of keeping them and b) incapable of even remembering them for the period between about January 3 and the following New Year, at which point I am afflicted with total recall and concomitant guilt.

So this is not a New Year’s resolution, but just a resolution, in the way that people make resolutions, of the type I Am Never Doing That Again or When I Rule The World I Will: In the future, I will pay my taxes.

I will never knowingly attempt to avoid, evade, or otherwise dodge them no matter how painful a chunk it is out of my meagre lecturer’s/waitress’/shopgirl’s income. I will budget responsibly to include them. And most importantly on this train of thought, I will not pillory the government or Inland Revenue for levying them or demand vociferously on the Interwebs that they be lowered. I will, however, demand that I get value for my hard-earned cash.

What with it being election year here in the UK, the three main parties have started testing the ground, and staking out territory where they think it’s safe. At the moment both Labour and the Conservatives are trying to woo the Lib Dems into an alliance, on the off chance of a hung parliament. Policy statements, of the aforementioned When We Rule The World Country We Will variety, are being thrown around hither and thither. And a distressing number of them involve the seemingly magical buzzwords ‘tax cuts’ and/or ‘public spending cuts’.

These are, in certain quarters, being heralded as a Good Thing. And I don’t get it at all.

Tax is too often seen as a necessary evil, when what it more accurately is is just necessary. (Necessary Neutral, if you must.) Taxes are our subscription fee to Civilised Society Monthly. Taxes maintain the roads, build our schools, save millions of lives via the NHS, fund scientific breakthroughs. They collect the rubbish, enforce the law, and make Doctor Who.

Unless you’re some sort of hardline survivalist neo-Amish Objectivist, living on a croft in Scotland eating your own sheep and generating your own electricity, and not using public roads, public hospitals, public schools or the emergency services, you are using public resources, which means you have to subscribe. In other words, you pay your taxes.

There seems to be a deplorable trend in this country – and, worryingly, even more so in the US media, which semi-regularly reaches levels of hysteria that even the Daily Mail would be hard-pressed to equal – for simultaneously deploring the rates of tax (middling) and the state of public services (also pretty middling). People want services to get better and taxes to get lower. And it really doesn’t work that way. Things may not get better if you throw extra money at them, but they’ll definitely get worse if you take some of their existing money away.

To take an example close to my heart: university. I’m paying just over £3000 a year tuition, unthinkable to my parents’ generation (my dad likes to point out how he, thanks to a good grant and judicious budgeting, actually made a profit out of his first year at uni) and it’s increasingly appearing that I’m one of the lucky ones. ~£20k of debt (£3.2k maintenance+£3.2k tuition x 3 years) will be nothing compared to what the undergrads of a few years’ time face, because the government is yanking university funding and the only way for the universities to stay afloat is to cut facilities, sack tutors, and raise fees. It’ll be down to a few rich students, getting crap teaching and paying stupid amounts of money for the privilege.

It took hundreds of years for universities to start admitting people based on how good they were, not on how much money they had, and even with more equality in higher education than ever, the government is still largely run by people from private schools who went to Oxbridge. If the drive towards equality switches into reverse, I hate to think what the knock-on effect will be. We’re looking at a massive step backwards, back towards utterly rigid class stratification and social immobility, and it’s ugly.

2010 will be the first general election in which I can vote, and I shall be looking very closely at the election literature when it starts coming out (assuming anyone other than the Lib Dems bothers to canvass my constituency – it’s full of students, who are traditionally massive lefties when they bother to vote at all.) And I shall particularly be looking at their promises as regards public spending and taxation.

There is one other thing that I think has been forgotten in the angry shouting about taxes – forgotten by the government: if we adopt the corporate model, as this lot seem to be so fond of doing, once we’ve paid, they have to deliver. If we’re paying for Civilised Society Monthly we damn well want it. In the future I will pay my taxes, but I want roads, I want trains, I want an education for anyone who can hack it, medical care for everyone who needs it, and the 2012 Olympics had better be the best show since time began.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Seamus permalink
    January 5, 2010 7:18 pm

    Hear hear! I’m one of those dreadful people who harps on about tax justice and then buys Winstons under the counter to avoid paying duties on my cigarettes. In 2010, I will try to kick the habit. (The tax avoidance habit, not the smoking habit.)

  2. wickedday permalink
    January 5, 2010 10:24 pm

    Do the various components of a roll-your-own incur duty? Or is it only on the finished cigarette product?

  3. Seamus permalink
    January 6, 2010 1:51 pm

    Papers and filters don’t. The loose tobacco itself incurs so much duty that it costs less than half as much in countries with smaller vice taxes.

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