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Posts Tagged ‘David Cameron’

As an advocate of small government, I’m often distressed that I sometimes have to rely on Republicans in Washington to fight statism.

Why am I distressed? Because some of the worst people in Washington are GOPers. They may give lip service to fiscal responsibility when campaigning, but then conveniently forget that rhetoric when it’s time to make decisions.

Which helps to explain why spending grew faster under Bush than Obama.

But as bad as Republicans are, there’s no way they could be as bad as the faux Conservative Party in the United Kingdom.

Consider the fundamental debate about whether big government is good and whether we have a moral obligation to maximize the amount of money we turn over to politicians.

Normal people think government is too big and they don’t want to reward a corrupt political class with extra revenue.

And they have strong legal standing for that position. Here’s what Judge Learned Hand famously opined in 1947.

Over and over again courts have said that there is nothing sinister in so arranging one’s affairs as to keep taxes as low as possible. Everybody does so, rich or poor; and all do right, for nobody owes any public duty to pay more than the law demands: taxes are enforced exactions, not voluntary contributions. To demand more in the name of morals is mere cant.

Judge Hand obviously is correct. It is nonsense to argue that taxpayers have an obligation to pay more than is legally required.

But not everybody is guided by common sense. And if there was a prize for an absence of common sense (as well as a prize for absence of integrity or principles), the David Cameron government in the United Kingdom would be a strong contestant for that award.

Here’s the latest example of the intellectual bankruptcy of that supposedly conservative government. An official was just forced to resign because – prior to joining the government – he advised people to legally minimize their tax liabilities.

I’m not joking. Here’s an excerpt from a Reuters report.

A tax adviser to the British government has been forced to resign after he was recorded giving tips at a conference on how to pay less tax and “keep money out of the Chancellor’s grubby mitts”, a Treasury minister said. The BBC Panorama investigative program filmed David Heaton – before he joined the government as an adviser on how to clamp down on aggressive tax avoidance – telling delegates at a conference how they could exploit tax loopholes. “Mr Heaton’s statements are directly at odds with the government’s approach to tackling tax avoidance,” Treasury minister David Gauke said in a statement. “Therefore, it is right that Mr Heaton resigned from his position.”

David Gauke, by the way, is infamous for having stated that legal tax avoidance strategies “damage our ability to fund public services and provide support to those who need it.” Hmmm….that phrase seems vaguely familiar. I gather the Tory Party thinks government should be guided by “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”

Just in case you think I’m pulling a quote out of context, click here or here for additional evidence of the pervasive statism of the current regime in London.

And take a look at this government poster I photographed in the London subway system. Orwell would be proud.

No wonder I”m so glum about the long-run outlook for the United Kingdom.

And the late great Margaret Thatcher must be spinning in her grave.

P.S. I wrote that this was the “latest example” of the Cameron government’s intellectual bankruptcy. For previous examples, see here, here, here, here, and here.

P.P.S. I started this post with the quote from Judge Learned Hand. Leftists, by contrast, like to share the quote from Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes about “taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.” What they conveniently forget to include is that he made that statement in 1927, when federal taxes amounted to only $4 billion and the federal government consumed only about 5 percent of economic output. Yes, I’ll gladly pay for that amount of civilization.

P.P.P.S. What’s more hypocritical, the supposed conservatives in the U.K. badgering people to pay extra tax or American leftists utilizing tax havens to lower their own taxes?

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In a recent interview with the BBC, I basically accused UK Prime Minister David Cameron of being a feckless and clueless demagogue who is engaged in a desperate effort to resuscitate his political future.

Two peas in a pod

I shouldn’t have been so kind. Cameron manages to combine bad policy and bad morality in a way that is embarrassing even for a politician.

Writing for the Daily Telegraph, Janet Daley eviscerates Cameron’s puerile approach to fiscal policy, beginning with some mockery of his class-warfare approach to tax enforcement.

David Cameron said something last week that was the precise opposite of the truth…the Prime Minister said was: “If you want a low-tax economy, you have to collect the taxes that are owed.” When what he should have said, of course, was: “If you want to collect the taxes that are owed, you have to have a low-tax economy.” Mr Cameron’s statement was one of the more subtle threats contained in the declaration by the G8 – which was pretty much all they could agree on – that they are now the rightful owners of all the wealth produced by anyone except for certain exemptions that they will, subject to minimal notice, decide upon. His remark, presumably designed to provide moral justification for the unprecedented levels of shared surveillance and breaches of data protection that governments are preparing to launch, actually stood on its head the truth about effective tax collection. Which is that the lower rates of taxation are, the less likely it is that payment of them will be avoided or evaded.

She also makes some very astute points about other issues, including the Laffer Curve.

The introduction of the 50p rate of income tax caused two-thirds of those earning a million pounds per year simply to disappear from the reach of HM Revenue & Customs. Whereas under the previous highest tax level of 40p, 16,000 people were prepared to declare earnings of one million pounds, that number shrank to only 6,000 after Gordon Brown, bless him, raised it to 50p. Result: the Treasury lost £7 billion in revenue.

Ms. Daley also comments on tax compliance and the risks of letting governments destroy financial privacy as part of their efforts to undermine tax competition.

If people regard levels of tax as fair (in the true sense of the word, not the Left-wing sense, which actually means “vindictive”), they will not go to expensive and dangerous lengths to escape from paying. The more punitive and discouraging of wealth-creation taxes are, the more they are avoided by stealth or geographical relocation – or by the even more economically disastrous measure of people being disinclined to increase their own productivity. Ah yes, but isn’t this the problem that those heads of government are determined to address? Rather than lowering taxes to levels that those who are taxed find acceptable, they will simply close off all the avenues of escape. There is to be no more possibility, by international agreement (which is to say, the coercion of smaller, less rich countries), of geographical movement for tax advantage.

She closes by opining on why this is really a debate about the burden of government spending and whether taxpayers exist to feed the spending appetites of politicians.

If you eliminate tax competition – if you create a uniform, universally policed tax standard – it is the poorer countries that suffer because they are deprived of the capacity to attract foreign capital. …What is at the heart of all this is the growth of governments: the treasuries of the world are becoming needier and greedier. …Underlying almost all political debate on this matter now is the unspoken assumption that privately owned wealth is inherently evil, and that its only moral justification is to provide revenue that governments can redistribute. …let me remind you of what you may actually believe, shocking as it may sound in the context of prevailing public discourse. Are you ready? It is not the primary function of business to provide funds for politicians to spend.

Amen. The statists and collectivists that dominate the political elite treat us like a herd of cattle to be milked and slaughtered.

We need tax havens in order to impose at least a tiny bit of restraint on the greed of the political class. These low-tax jurisdictions aren’t a sufficient condition to save us from statism, but they sure as heck are a necessary condition.

P.S. Who moved farther in the wrong direction, U.S. Republicans who went from Reagan to Bush or U.K. Tories who went from Thatcher to Cameron?

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It goes without saying that I’m always ready to defend tax havens when statists are seeking to undermine tax competition, financial privacy, and fiscal sovereignty.

So when the BBC asked if I would debate the topic, I said yes even though I’m in Paris (where supporting liberty is probably a capital crime).

I think the debate went well. Or, to be more precise, I was happy that I got to make my points.

I’ve been in debates on tax havens when I’m outnumbered 3-1, so a fair fight almost seems like a treat.

P.S. If you have a burning desire to watch me debate tax havens, you can see me cross swords with a bunch of different statists by clicking here.

P.P.S. Or if you like watching when I’m outnumbered, here’s my debate against three leftists on state-run TV.

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I just finished up a trip to London.

In previous posts, I’ve expressed pessimism about the future of the United Kingdom, largely because all political parties have a statist mentality.

I criticized Gordon Brown, the former Labor Party Prime Minister, for being a compulsive redistributionist, big spender, and taxaholic.

But nothing’s really changed under Tory leadership. David Cameron is a vacuous statist, undermining the Conservative Party in the same way that George W. Bush eroded the brand name capital of the Republican Party.

This sign was on a train I rode today. It is sponsored by the UK version of the IRS,  and it pretty much symbolizes how the United Kingdom has turned into a predatory state.

UK Tax Orwell

The United Kingdom is in terrible fiscal shape. Government spending has reached record levels, and now consumes a larger share of economic output than the public sectors in failed welfare states such as Spain.

And what are taxpayers getting for their money, other than Orwellian signs?

Not much. They get an increasingly dysfunctional society filled with scroungers such as Natalija, Gina and Danny.

They also get a healthcare system that seemingly prides itself on maltreatment, and a tax system that is more designed to be punitive rather than to generate revenue.

Though the UK government does provide taxpayer-financed sex tours to Amsterdam, so at least a few people are getting screwed as a result of government rather than by the government.

But let’s close by contemplating the mindset of a government that would post such a sign. We already know that Prime Minister Cameron and some of his senior deputies think it’s wrong to engage in legal tax avoidance.

And this is a government that is brainwashing kids into becoming servile snitches, and is even considering a system that would have employers send paychecks to the state and then the government would decide how much to send to taxpayers.

Such a shame since so much of what is good in the Western World came from England.

P.S. This is also a country where they send innocent people to jail for shooting burglars.

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If you live in America and believe in free markets and small government, it’s easy to get depressed. We suffered through eight years of wasteful spending and misguided intervention under Bush, and now we’re enduring four years of additional spending and red tape under Obama.

Moreover, it’s not clear things will get any better in the next four years, regardless of what happens on November 6.

But whenever I begin to feel sorry for myself, I remind myself of how bad things could be if I lived in the United Kingdom.

The burden of government spending in the U.K. rose from 36.5 percent of economic output in 2000 up to 48.7 percent of GDP today. This mostly happened under Labor Party rule, but the coalition of so-called Conservatives and Liberal Democrats that took power in 2010 hasn’t done much to restrain government spending.

To augment the damage, taxes also have been increasing. The feckless Gordon Brown of the Labor Party boosted the top tax rate to 50 percent (a disaster from a Laffer-Curve perspective) before getting evicted by voters.

The Tory-Lib Dem coalition is similarly bad. In recent years, the capital gains tax has been increased (see these amusing posters to understand why this was a foolish idea), along with a big hike in the value-added tax (though, to be fair, the corporate rate has been slightly reduced and part of Gordon Brown’s higher income tax rate has been repealed).

But the Tories and Lib Dems aren’t through with their assault on the economy’s productive sector.

Both Prime Minster David Cameron and one of his deputies have argued that people have a moral obligation to turn more of their income over to the government.

And now the leader of the Lib Dems, Nick Clegg, is proposing a wealth tax. He says it will be a temporary measure until the fiscal emergency ends, but I would be shocked if politicians changed its mind after getting their hands on a new source of revenue (just look, for instance, how British politicians went crazy after first imposing an airline ticket tax).

Here are some illuminating excerpts from a column in the UK-based Telegraph.

“Let them eat cake”

…from what can be gleaned, the Deputy Prime Minister seemed to be suggesting a one-off or short term tax hike rather than a permanent change in the way the wealthiest are taxed. He described it as a “time limited contribution” to the “national effort” – since it was becoming clear, he said, that the country was embarked not on a “short economic battle” but a “longer economic war”. Mr Clegg said it would be “people of considerable wealth” who would be asked to make such a contribution.

It doesn’t appear that this plan will get the necessary support from the Tories, but it’s remarkable that it has been proposed. Like the death tax, the wealth tax is a turbo-charged form of double taxation.

P.S. One of the leading Lib Dem politicians got caught dodging taxes, making him the British version of America’s tax-cheating Treasury Secretary. I generally don’t object when people try to protect their income from greedy and incompetent government, but when they also are the same people proposing higher taxes on everyone else, they deserve special scorn.

P.P.S. This post is describing the current dismal fiscal situation, but the title references “a miserable and hopeless fiscal outlook.” That’s because I see no hope of good fiscal policy in the remaining years of the current government, and I suspect the statist failures of the Tory-Lib Dem coalition government will pave the way for a new Labor Party government. Needless to say, that will be – at best – jumping from one frying pan to another. Incidentally, I’m also worried about the United States for the same reason.

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The United Kingdom has a magnificent history and has produced great leaders.

I get inspired, for instance, when I watch these Margaret Thatcher speeches about “public money” and “the poor poorer.” Sort of the same feeling I get when I watch the Gipper talking about Washington being a “company town” and the “unnecessary and excessive growth of government.”

But just as the United States has devolved by moving over time from Reagan to Obama, the United Kingdom has degenerated by going from Thatcher to David Cameron.

Cameron is supposedly a conservative, but it’s more accurate to say he’s an English version of George W. Bush. Some of the lowlights of his tenure include:

And his statist mentality infects other Tory politicians.

Here is a report on the intellectually bankrupt ramblings of another enemy of freedom, as reported by the Telegraph.

David Gauke, a Treasury minister, told The Daily Telegraph that home owners who allow workmen to evade VAT or income tax were forcing others to pay more. …critics accused the Government of being “unnecessarily moralistic” about ordinary people trying to keep their household bills down. …According to a report by the Public Accounts Committee, more than two million people make cash-in-hand payments costing the Treasury an estimated £2  billion. There is no law against paying someone in cash… In a speech to the Policy Exchange think tank, he said that while using Isas and claiming gift aid on charitable donations was acceptable, buying homes through companies to avoid stamp duty and using service companies to reduce income tax was “morally repugnant”. Mr Gauke said: “These schemes damage our ability to fund public services and provide support to those who need it. They harm businesses by distorting competition. They damage public confidence. And they undermine the actions of the vast majority of taxpayers, who pay more in tax as a consequence of others enjoying a free ride.”

Can anyone imagine Margaret Thatcher saying something this offensive?

Particularly since it is Gauke’s views that are “morally repugnant,” not the actions of people who are trying to protect their property from a rapacious and greedy government.

Keep in mind that the burden of government spending in the United Kingdom consumes nearly 49 percent of economic output according to OECD data. That’s more than Greece, Portugal, Ireland, or Spain!

Sort of makes you wonder how long it will take before investors decide that it’s no longer a good idea to lend money to such a profligate government.

The good news is that the English people aren’t as bad as their politicians. As part of the story, the Telegraph is conducting an online poll, which you can see to your left.

Notwithstanding the statolatry of UK politicians, the voting so far is overwhelmingly on the side of taxpayers rather than the government.

But public opinion doesn’t really matter if government policy continues to drift in the wrong direction.

And, as you can see from this data, the long-term outlook for the United Kingdom is very grim. And we know Cameron isn’t doing anything to address this looming crisis.

Not that this makes the UK special. Thanks to reckless entitlement programs, the same data shows that the United States also is headed for Greek-style fiscal chaos.

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I’m not a fan of David Cameron, the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister.

Even though he belongs to the Conservative Party that produced the great Margaret Thatcher, Cameron seems to be a bit of guilt-ridden statist with his finger always in the air to see which way the wind is blowing. The policy results are not pretty.

Now I have another reason to dislike Cameron. He just condemned a comedian for legally seeking to minimize the amount of his income that is seized – and then wasted – by the U.K. government. Here are some of the details from The Telegraph.

Prime Minister David Cameron today branded the tax arrangement of comedian Jimmy Carr “morally wrong” after it emerged he was using a scheme which allows the wealthy to pay as little as one per cent of their income. …Speaking at the G20 summit the Prime Minister told ITV News: “I think some of these schemes – and I think particularly of the Jimmy Carr scheme – I have had time to read about and I just think this is completely wrong. “People work hard, they pay their taxes, they save up to go to one of his shows. They buy the tickets. He is taking the money from those tickets and he, as far as I can see, is putting all of that into some very dodgy tax avoiding schemes. …some of these schemes we have seen are quite frankly morally wrong.” …Lawyers for the comedian have…categorically denied any wrongdoing, saying the scheme had been disclosed to the relevant authorities in line with the law. …Chancellor George Osborne has claimed he was left “shocked” after finding the extent to which multi-millionaires were exploiting tax loopholes and vowed to take “action”.

 I have no idea whether the specific “tax avoiding scheme” used by Carr is good tax policy (protecting against double taxation, for instance) or bad policy (such as a loophole that creates favoritism for a specific behavior), but that’s not the point of this post.

Instead, this is a moral question about whether people have some sort of obligation to pay extra tax, merely to get some sort of pat on the head from politicians. The same politicians, by the way, that squander the money on varying vote-buying schemes that undermine prosperity and create dependency.

I’d be willing to condemn Carr if I found out he’s some sort of statist who wants higher taxes for everybody else, but then (like John Kerry) takes steps to minimize his personal tax bill.

But I’d be condemning Carr for hypocrisy, not criticizing the idea of tax avoidance.

The United Kingdom has become a bloated welfare state (with horribly depressing implications, as you can read here and here). If people want to be moral, they should strive to pay the least amount possible to this corrupt and wasteful enterprise. The United States is not quite as bad (yet), but the same principle applies.

Politicians, needless to say, will violently disagree with this ethical viewpoint. So we can all expect more taxes, higher taxes, and additional draconian enforcement measures.

The only good news is that the Laffer Curve will prevent these greedy thugs from collecting nearly as much money as they think.

P.S. To get an idea of how the Conservative Party has declined, compare Cameron’s statist rhetoric to Margaret Thatcher’s comments that “there is no such thing as public money.”

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A new study from the Adam Smith Institute in the United Kingdom provides overwhelming evidence that class-warfare tax policy is grossly misguided and self-destructive. The authors examine the likely impact of the 10-percentage point increase in the top income tax rate, which was imposed as an election-year stunt by former  Gordon Brown and then kept in place by his feckless successor, David Cameron.

They find that boosting the top tax rate to 50 percent will slow economic performance. And because of both macroeconomic and microeconomic responses, tax revenues over the next 10 years are likely to drop by the equivalent of more than $550 billion. Here’s a key paragraph from the executive summary of the new study.

The country is suffering from a 50%-­plus marginal tax rate which even its architect admits was imposed without economic purpose. Now our analysis shows that the policy is set for failure: at best leading to flat growth for a decade and £350bn of lost revenue. The Chancellor should seize the occasion of the 2011 budget to reverse this disaster promptly, for the benefit of public revenues, economic growth, the government’s standing with domestic wealth-creators, and the UK’s reputation with world business.

The authors urge Prime Minister Cameron to reverse this disastrous policy, but the odds of that happening are very slight. I hope I’m wrong, but I have repeatedly noted on this blog that Cameron almost always makes the wrong choice when deciding between liberty and statism.

President Obama wants to impose similar policies in the United States and there is every reason to expect similarly poor results. I’ve already posted evidence from IRS data showing that the rich paid much more tax following the Reagan tax cuts, so it shouldn’t shock anybody when the reverse happens if Obama is successful in moving America back toward a 1970s-style tax system.

To emphasize these critical points, let’s close with two videos. This first video explains the Laffer Curve and why politicians are foolish if they assume that there is a fixed linear relationship between tax rates and tax revenue.

This second video debunks the notion of class-warfare tax policy.

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People periodically ask me why I’m so down on David Cameron, the Prime Minster of the United Kingdom. I’ve already pointed out that his pre-election agenda was big government. And I’ve pointed out that his post-election record is more spending.

(and you can read more of my whining and complaining here, here, here, here, and here)

But now I’m really disgusted, because the United Kingdom’s version of  George W. Bush is now reversing one of the few pro-market aspects of British policy.

The Wall Street Journal Europe is appropriately disappointed.

On Tuesday Iain Duncan Smith announced a sweeping reform of the U.K.’s state-pension system. In the name of simplification, the Work and Pensions Secretary plans to raise the basic pension, eliminate the current multitiered system—and pay for it all by rolling back the personal retirement accounts that were first introduced by the Thatcher Government in 1987. Pension systems across the developed world are being stretched to the breaking point as populations gray and governments face ballooning public debts. Britain today is in the privileged position of possessing on top of its public savings system an extensive private one, relatively insulated from the government’s increasingly uncertain ability to deliver on its pension liabilities. Pity, then, that Mr. Duncan Smith’s reforms serve in the long run mostly to entrench the unsustainable elements of the British system and trash the desirable ones.

Addendum: Jose Pinera reminds me that George W. Bush actually proposed personal retirement accounts in 2005, one of the few positive actions of his eight-year reign. So Cameron’s actions may put him even further to the left than Bush on economic policy, a rather challenging achievement.

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Here’s a new video from the Taxpayers Alliance in the United Kingdom exposing how left-wing environmental groups get funded by government handouts.

David Cameron supposedly is being tough on spending, but I’ve already revealed that overall spending is climbing at about twice the rate of inflation under his new budget. And I’m not holding my breath that he’ll reduce the taxpayer handouts shown in this video.

But we Americans can’t be smug because the federal budget also is riddled with all sorts of giveaways and subsidies to left-wing groups. Labor unions, AARP, and Planned Parenthood are just a few of the groups that have their snouts in the public trough. And I would be shocked to learn that environmental groups haven’t figured out how to scam taxpayers as well.

Back in the 1990s, GOPers had a campaign to “defund the left.” Whatever progress they made, though, had since been completely erased. As Republicans in the House try to figure out ways to restore fiscal sanity, eliminating handouts for left-wing groups would be a great place to start.

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We’ve been spending too much time on elections, so let’s get back to pointing out inane, foolish, and destructive government policies. Our latest example comes from the United Kingdom, where politicians are pushing airline ticket taxes to punitive levels and harming the tourism industry. But the real lesson from this story is that it is very dangerous to give politicians a new revenue source.

The airline ticket tax was first imposed by a supposedly Conservative Party government in 1994 at a maximum rate of 10 pounds. During the Blair/Brown Labor Party reign, the tax was boosted to a maximum rate of 50 pounds. Now, the new government, led by ostensible Conservative David Cameron, is pushing the maximum tax up to 75 pounds (more than $120) per ticket. Here’s an excerpt from the story in the Telegraph.

Families are avoiding holidays Egypt and Caribbean because of the high cost of air taxes – even before the hike in passenger duty that comes into place on Monday. …The duty, which is paid by all travellers on leaving Britain and added automatically to the price when a ticket is booked, is to increase by 50 per cent to some destinations. It is the second significant rise in two years, and figures show that previous hikes have already influenced people’s choice of holiday destinations. …Bob Atkinson, travel expert at Travelsupermarket.com, said: “Families looking to book for this winter and summer next year will be faced with tax rises of up to 54 per cent on their family holidays. This tax rise is completely out of line with inflation and bears no relation to the original purpose of the tax. …The tax was introduced in 1994 at the rate of £10 on long-haul flights, but increased by the previous Government, which said it was a necessary “green measure”. …The increases mean a family of four flying to the Caribbean will pay £300 in duty compared with the old rate of £200 or £160 last year. Willie Walsh, the chief executive of British Airways, has branded the higher taxes a “disaster”. Earlier this month, he called the duty a “disgrace”.

No wonder families are choosing not to travel. But, more important, imagine what American politicians will do if they ever succeed in imposing a value-added tax. The rate initially will be low (just as the original income tax had a top rate of just 7 percent), but nobody should delude themselves into thinking the rate won’t quickly climb as greedy politicians get hooked on a new form of revenue cocaine to feed their spending addictions.

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Here are a handful of the posters being used in the United Kingdom to fight the perversely-destructive proposal to increase tax rates on capital gains. (for an explanation of why the tax should be abolished, see here)

Which one is your favorite? I’m partial to the last one because of my interest in tax competition.

By the way, “CGT” is capital gains tax, and “Vince” and “Cable” refers to Vince Cable, one of the politicians pushing this punitive class-warfare scheme.

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For the umpteenth time, a Washington Post columnist has a turgid piece urging the Republican Party to embrace big government. Normally this type of column is written by a graybeard establishmentarian like David Broder or E.J. Dionne, but Ruth Marcus has decided to play the I-wonder-if-my-enemies-are-so-stupid-that-they’ll-accept-my-suggestion-to-commit-suicide game.

Marcus bases her argument on the fact that David Cameron and the U.K. Conservative Party are raising taxes and (supposedly) slashing spending. I have no idea whether Marcus is being deliberately dishonest, but I’ve already posted the unvarnished data showing U.K. government spending will rise by about twice the rate of inflation this year. If that’s a 25 percent cut, then I play centerfield for the New York Yankees.

Marcus is right about the Tory love affair with higher taxes. Indeed, her poorly researched column doesn’t go far enough. She failed to point out that Cameron is leaving in place the new 50 percent top tax rate, even though it almost certainly will result in less tax revenue.

To put it simply, Ruth Marcus wants Republicans to be like the Tories. But I’m guessing that she wants this result because it means bigger government under the guise of fiscal responsibility.

If Republicans had any brains (always a risky assumption), they will ignore this pre-scripted suicide note and actually do their jobs by saying no to higher taxes and saying yes (finally!) to real spending restaint.

I endured the Ruth Marcus column and it was paintful, so I don’t suggest you go through the trouble of reading it. If you’re curious about what she wrote, here’s an excerpt:

…instead of conjuring up sugarplum visions of pain-free change, the Conservatives are addressing their fiscal crisis with seriousness and specificity. Osborne is about to unveil an austere deficit-reduction plan that will cut most departmental budgets by 25 percent over several years. This is not some dead-on-arrival presidential budget; the parliamentary system means that these are for-real cuts. …Second, the Conservatives call for shared sacrifice, starting in a place Republicans seem never to look: at the top. “It’s fair that those with broader shoulders should bear a greater load,” Cameron said. …”Believe me, I understand that most higher rate taxpayers are not the super-rich,” Osborne said. “These days we’ve really got to focus the resources where they are most needed.” Here in the United States, when Democrats dare to propose higher taxes for households making more than $250,000 a year, Republicans shout “class warfare.” …the Conservatives do not embrace the Tea Party vision of government as malevolent force. “I don’t believe in laissez-faire,” Cameron said. …Cameron’s Conservatives do not suffer from the Republicans’ anaphylactic allergy to taxes. While Republicans insist on extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, the Conservatives have endorsed tax increases. Yes, you read that right — even though the tax burden is already significantly higher in the United Kingdom. …The value-added tax will go from 17.5 percent to 20 percent. The capital gains tax will increase from 18 percent to 28 percent for high earners because, as Osborne said, sounding more like Warren Buffett than Margaret Thatcher, the rich are “paying less tax than the people who clean for them.”

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Even though he’s allowing the budget to grow twice as fast as inflation, some people seem to think the new U.K. Prime Minster is a fiscal conservative. I’m skeptical. Not only is spending rising much too fast (there are promises of more restraint in the future, but I’ll believe it when it happens), but Cameron and the Tory/Liberal coalition government are increasing the value-added tax and increasing the capital gains tax. Perhaps worst of all, they are leaving in place the new 50 percent tax rate that former Labor Prime Minister Gordon Brown imposed in hopes that class-warfare policy would help him get elected. But as this Daily Telegraph story suggests, it is quite likely that the higher tax rate will lose revenue as productive people escape to Switzerland and other jurisdictions not influenced by the politics of hate and envy.
One-in-four hedge fund employees has already left London to move to Switzerland, which is said to have a more stable tax regime, according to consultancy Kinetic partners. Calculations by the company claim the UK could have already forgone about £500m in tax revenues, based on the 1,000 or so hedge fund managers it says have already left the country. …High-profile departures this year include Alan Howard, founder of Brevan Howard, and Mike Platt, founder of BlueCrest Capital.
This story shows both the power of the Laffer Curve and the importance of tax competition. The greedy politicians in England doubtlessly resent the “brain drain” to Switzerland. Like their U.S. counterparts, politicians view taxpayers as serfs who are supposed to blindly produce more income for the ruling class to expropriate and redistribute.
 
While I’m obviously not a big fan of British fiscal policy, America is worse in one important way. At least British taxpayers have the liberty to leave without being raped by the U.K. tax authority. Once they leave the United Kingdom and make their home in Switzerland, they are no longer British taxpayers. Americans who want to move, by contrast, are unable to escape the punitive internal revenue code. Indeed, the United States is one of the few nations in the world to have exit taxes, an odious approach generally associated with loathsome regimes such as the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.

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According to news coverage, United Kingdom Prime Minister Cameron is imposing deep and savage budget cuts. I was interviewed by the BBC recently, for instance, and asked whether 25 percent spending reductions were too harsh. And here’s an excerpt from a New York Times story that is very representative of the news coverage.

Like a shipwrecked sailor on a starvation diet, the new British coalition government is preparing to shrink down to its bare bones as it cuts expenditures by $130 billion over the next five years and drastically scales back its responsibilities. The result, said the Institute for Fiscal Studies, a research group, will be “the longest, deepest sustained period of cuts to public services spending” since World War II. …Public-sector unions are planning a series of strikes. Charities — which Mr. Cameron has said should take over some of the responsibilities now held by the state — say that they are at risk of collapse because they are so dependent on government money. And the chief executive of the Supreme Court, the country’s highest, said she did not know whether the court would be able to function at all if its budget were cut by 40 percent.

To be blunt, this type of analysis is completely false. There are no budget cuts in the United Kingdom, at least in terms of total government spending. Instead, the politicians are measuring cuts against some imaginary baseline, which is the same scam that happens in Washington. So if spending increases by 4 percent instead of 7 percent, that is characterized as a 3 percent budget reduction. The chart shows what is happening with overall government spending in the United Kingdom. Notwithstanding phony stories about budget cuts, spending in Prime Minister Cameron’s first year is climbing by more than 4 percent – twice as fast as needed to keep pace with inflation.

This doesn’t mean that Cameron isn’t doing anything right. There is a two-year pay freeze for bureaucrats, for instance, which is at least a small step in the right direction. But the Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition is not a good role model for those who want limited government and fiscal responsibility. There are promises of spending restraint in future years, but those belong in the I’ll-believe-it-when-I-see-it category. Spending is supposed to increase by less than 1 percent in next year’s budget, for instance, but politicians are very good with tough talk of fiscal discipline in future years. But if we judge them by what they’re doing today rather than what they’re claiming will happen in the future, Cameron’s policies leave much to be desired.

The tax side of the fiscal equation is even more depressing. There is small reduction in the corporate tax rate, but otherwise there is considerable bad news. The new government is leaving in place the new 50 percent top tax rate imposed by Gordon Brown as an election-year class-warfare gimmick. It is boosting the capital gains tax rate from 18 percent to 28 percent. And it increased the VAT rate from 17.5 percent to 20 percent.

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I may have to rethink my pessimistic assessment of David Cameron. As I’ve noted before, he strikes me as a George-Bush-style big-government faux conservative. But according to this Washington Post article, the coalition government in the UK may impose some real budget cuts (as opposed to phony Washington-type cuts that are just reductions in planned increases) on arts funding. The right level of subsidies for art is zero, of course, so I’m sure I’ll still be disappointed, but if Cameron can do the same thing across the budget and actually shrink the burden of government spending to less than 45 percent of GDP, I may be in a position of having to (cheerfully) admit that I was wrong. Here’s an excerpt from the story.
The art scene exploded in Britain over the past decade…. The fuel for that boom: a surge in generosity from Britain’s single biggest patron of the arts — the government. But now cash-strapped and desperate to slash the largest budget deficit in Europe, the new ruling coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats is moving to close the curtain on an era of what they describe as excessive government patronage. The coalition is preparing to cut arts funding so dramatically that it could sharply reduce or sever the financial lifelines for hundreds of cultural institutions from the National Theatre to the British Museum. The cuts would be more than a temporary fix. Officials are calling for a permanent shift toward the U.S. model of private philanthropy as the main benefactor of the arts… The move underscores the profound changes in the role of government that are taking place from Greece to Spain to Britain. It happens as European nations scramble to rein in runaway spending, in part by slashing public funds to sectors that came to survive — even thrive — because of them. In Britain, public aid to theaters, museums and other institutions jumped from $654 million in 2000 to $876 million this year… the budget cuts to the arts are a small part of a broader push by the coalition government to slash spending and right Britain’s finances over the next four years. …critics say the cuts to arts funding — cultural leaders say they have been warned that reductions could reach 40 percent over four years — appear set to be among the deepest… Large arts institutions in Britain often garner more than 50 percent of their budgets from public funds, compared with roughly 10 percent for major institutions in the United States. That is precisely what the British government says must change. Although the cuts have not yet been detailed, some organizations, including the UK Film Council, are already in the process of being shut down. The government has also demanded major institutions come up with contingency plans for 25 to 30 percent reductions in public funding. Officials from the ruling coalition are openly calling for a shift to U.S.-style fundraising to fill the gap. But critics insist it could take a generation or more to open the wallets of the British elite. Compared with the United States, there is a relatively small culture of philanthropy in Britain, with little special social status bestowed on corporations or wealthy individuals who support the arts. …cultural leaders are largely resisting the notion of dramatically increased dependence on private funding, pointing to the severe shortfalls U.S. arts institutions faced as donors cut back in the aftermath of the recent financial crisis. They are also opposed on artistic grounds, insisting it would put more pressure on institutions to censor their works. Spalding, for instance, said it was exactly the independence afforded by government funding that has helped London become a beacon for controversial pieces, such as one staged last year at Sadler’s Wells in which the pope sexually abuses an altar boy through interpretive dance. 
I’m particularly amused by the final excerpt about taxpayer subsidies for an interpretive dance about the Pope molesting altar boys. Is Britain so messed up that a moocher like Spalding thinks it is compelling to cite that bit of “art” as an argument for government funding? I imagine that Spalding thinks of himself as bold and brave for being associated with such a production. Does anybody think that this leech would put on a similar production focusing on Mohammed rather than the Pope?

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As the chart below indicates, the United Kingdom has a large budget deficit solely because government spending has increased to record levels (OECD data). Unfortunately, the new Tory-Liberal coalition government has decided that taxpayers should be punished for all the over-spending that occurred when the Labor government was in charge.

The Telegraph reports that the top capital gains rate will jump to 28 percent, up from 18 percent (the new government foolishly thinks this will result in more revenue). But the biggest change is that the value-added tax will increase to 20 percent. According to Business Week, the Chancellor of the Exchequer (the British equivalent of Treasury Secretary) actually bragged that the VAT increase was good since it would generate “13 billion pounds we don’t have to find from extra spending cuts.” Here are some further details from Business Week about the disappointing fiscal news from London.

British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne increased the value-added tax rate to 20 percent from 17.5 percent in the first permanent change to the levy on sales of goods and services in almost two decades. “The years of debt and spending make this unavoidable,” Osborne told Parliament in London in his emergency budget today as he announced a package of spending cuts and tax increases to cut the U.K.’s record deficit. …“We understand that the budget deficit needs to be tackled but we think the focus needs to be cutting public spending over tax rises,” Krishan Rama, a spokesman for the industry lobby group, the British Retail Consortium, said in a telephone interview yesterday. …VAT has remained at 17.5 percent in every year except one since 1991, when John Major’s Conservative administration raised the rate from 15 percent to help plug a deficit.

The one tiny glimmer of good news from the budget is that the corporate tax rate is being reduced from 28 percent to 24 percent, which is probably a reflection of the strong and virtuous tax competition that is forcing greedy governments to lower tax rates in order to attract and/or retain business activity. There also is a two-year pay freeze for government bureaucrats, but this is hardly good news since a 30-percent pay cut is needed to bring compensation down to private sector levels.

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The chart below shows everything you need to know about why the United Kingdom is a fiscal disaster. Over the past 10 years, the burden of government spending has skyrocketed from 36.6 percent of GDP to more than 53 percent of GDP. Taxes, meanwhile, have remained largely unchanged, averaging about 40 percent of GDP.

Since the OECD numbers show that the fiscal crisis in the U.K. is solely the result of a bloated public sector, the obvious solution is…you guessed it, higher taxes.

David Cameron’s new coalition government has announced support for a higher capital gains tax and is signalling that this will be followed by an increase in the value-added tax.

There are some proposals to curtail the growth of spending, including some pay cuts for Prime Minster Cameron and other political figures, but I will be very surprised if those amount to more than window dressing. The United Kingdom, I fear, has gone past the point of no return in the journey toward becoming indistinguishable from the decrepit welfare states so common in the rest of Europe.

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Okay, the title of this post is an absurd exaggeration, but I am not optimistic about the future of the United Kingdom. Government spending has exploded over the last ten-plus years (the largest expansion in the burden of government spending among developed nations), and this unsurprisingly has led to punitive class-warfare policies. I saved this article from the Daily Mail from a couple of months ago because I was curious to see whether predictions about talent fleeing London would prove accurate:

London will become the most highly taxed financial centre in the world when the new 50 per cent income tax rate for those earning £150,000 or more comes into force next month. Taxes will be higher than for financial workers living in the other key centres of New York, Paris, Frankfurt, Geneva, Zurich, Dubai and Hong Kong, KPMG calculated. The findings will raise fears that Labour’s levies are driving businesses and bankers overseas and threatening Britain’s competitiveness. …Tullett announced last December that it will help employees move abroad if they want to avoid the top rate of tax, and Mr Smith said workers are already looking at relocating. Graeme Leach of the Institute of Directors said: ‘The 50 per cent rate is a policy that should never have been announced. The indirect impact on entrepreneurial aspiration, business confidence and foreign investment is likely to be significant.

As we can see from this Bloomberg article, it appears that the feckless big-government policies of all the major parties are driving productive investors and entrepreneurs to jurisdictions with better tax law. Switzerland seems to be the biggest beneficiary. As you read the details below, one thing to keep in mind is that at least Brits are free to emigrate. The U.S. government imposes repugnant Soviet-style exit taxes designed to ransack successful people who want the freedom to move someplace with more liberty:

…more than 100 bankers, hedge fund managers and wealthy retirees are gathered on a cold March night to plot their escape from Britain. Swiss government officials and Geneva-based financial advisers have come to London to lure rich residents with glowing descriptions of the country’s low taxes, safe streets, private-banking options and convenient ski weekends. …Next door, an overflow crowd of 50 more attendees enjoys wine and canapes as they watch the presentation on closed- circuit televisions in a mahogany-lined library, which includes a chart showing the prevalence of English as a language for doing business in Switzerland. A JPMorgan Chase & Co. banker who declined to be identified confides he’s planning to relocate next year. His main complaint: higher U.K. taxes, a theme the Swiss delegation has pounced upon. “Some people think it’s morally wrong to be working for the government for more than half the year,” says Jonathan Ivinson, a Geneva-based tax partner at international law firm Hogan & Hartson LLP… London’s highest earners must now pay a 50 percent tax on incomes above 150,000 pounds ($227,200) that came into force on April 6, replacing a 40 percent top rate. …During the campaign, both Brown and Cameron said they backed additional curbs on the U.K. financial industry — including a bank transaction levy — and agreed that Britain’s dire financial state would lock in higher tax rates for the foreseeable future: …As the taxman’s take grows larger, Switzerland is shaping up as the most-welcoming alternative for British exiles. Light- touch regulation and the willingness of cantons, as regional governments are called, to negotiate special tax rates for both individuals and businesses have prompted at least 30 London hedge fund managers to consider moving to Geneva in the past year, says Shelby du Pasquier, a Geneva-based partner at Lenz & Staehelin, a Swiss law firm. Investment management and advisory services aren’t regulated in Switzerland, apart from anti-money laundering rules, and the federal government and several cantons last year reduced taxes on dividend payments for entrepreneurs, including owners of hedge fund firms, he says. …Geneva has already attracted some of London’s top talent. Alan Howard, co-founder of Brevan Howard Asset Management LLP, Europe’s largest hedge fund firm, has rented office space in Geneva for 60 traders relocating from London. …BlueCrest Capital Management Ltd., Europe’s third-largest hedge fund firm, has opened a Geneva office for as many as 70 traders and analysts who have worked in London on its two biggest funds. They’re being joined by BlueCrest co-founder Michael Platt and Leda Braga, manager of the $9 billion BlueTrend fund, according to people familiar with the firm’s transitional plans. …The departures of those principals prove that the threat to London’s prominence as a financial center is real, says Stuart Fraser, head of policy at the City of London Corporation, which runs the financial district. …U.K. top tax rates will exceed those in Germany and France for the first time since 1989, according to a study by accounting firm KPMG. A banker earning 1 million pounds a year in London will now take home less than his counterparts in Frankfurt, Hong Kong, New York, Paris, Singapore and Zurich, KPMG says. “The U.K. has abandoned one of its key principles when it comes to tax, which is predictability,” says Bertrand des Pallieres, founder of SPQR Capital LLP, a London-based hedge fund firm with about $700 million in assets as of April. He left the U.K. last year and opened an office in Geneva after the new tax rate was announced. It’s not only funds looking at leaving. Broker Tullett Prebon said in December it would allow its 700 employees in London to move to “more certain tax regimes.” Several of Tullett Prebon’s major desks are now planning to move key personnel, the company says. …London Mayor Boris Johnson estimates that up to 9,000 bankers, hedge fund managers and private-equity executives could leave the city, according to a letter he sent to the Labour government in January. …Marcel Jouault is working to make sure that agitated Britons wind up in Pfaeffikon, a village on the shore of Lake Zurich. Pfaeffikon’s 11.8 percent corporate tax rate and 19 percent personal income levy are both Switzerland’s lowest, helping the village lure funds that handle about $100 billion in investments, according to hedge fund research firm Opalesque Ltd.

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Did Republicans lose in 2006 and 2008 because they were too far to the left or too far to the right? And which approach should they adopt if they want to regain power in 2010 and 2012? Some people think the GOP needs to be more moderate. David Frum, for instance, says Republicans need to mimic David Cameron in the United Kingdom. And at his website, Frum highlights this (rather disturbing, as I will explain below) video of Cameron making a pitch to the British people.

First, the good news about the video. It is possible that Cameron intends to do good things about education and welfare policy. Unfortunately, it’s also possible that he intends to do bad things. But we don’t know since there is nothing but rhetoric. Speaking of rhetoric, it is troubling that he also has lots of language about a “fair” society and the gap between rich and poor. This doesn’t necessarily mean he intends to push bad policy. A policy of smaller government and free markets, after all, will boost economic growth and help poor people climb the ladder. Shrinking government also will reduce the power of special interests, which will make society more fair. But it’s also possible – and perhaps more likely – that he is using this rhetoric to signal support for more redistribution.

What is most troubling, though, is that Cameron sides with government and against taxpayers whenever he gets specific about policy. About one minute into the video, he endorses the minimum wage and higher fuel subsidies. Fifteen seconds later, he wants more redistribution for food programs. The worst proposal comes around the 2:50 mark, when he endorses wage indexing instead of price indexing for the U.K.’s version of Social Security (which would be grossly irresponsible and undermine one of the best achievements of Margaret Thatcher). Last but not least, he then endorses more spending on government-run healthcare.

These proposals are all bad policy, but they’re also bad politics. If an election is decided on the basis of which party is more excited and more sincere about redistribution, that benefits left-wing parties. That doesn’t mean that a (supposedly) right-wing party will never win an election. Indeed, Gordon Brown may very well lose to Cameron later this year. But that will simply be a case of the electorate rejecting an incumbent party for doing a terrible job. There will be no mandate for better policy. Indeed, it appears that Cameron wants to be like Obama – a big-spending politicians who takes over from another big-spending politician. In the long run, this is a recipe for the Tories to be a minority party. And if Republicans follow the same approach, they also will be a minority party.

One final comment. It should go without saying that right-leaning parties should always be figuring out better ways of selling the message of liberty, freedom, prosperity, and responsibility. And they should be finding the candidates who are best able to articulate that message in an optimistic, forward-looking way to average voters. But that’s not what Cameron represents. From what I can tell, he’s Richard Nixon with a smile.

P.S. Cameron also has surrendered to the left on the global warming/climate change issue, though maybe the absence of any rhetoric in this video is an indication that he realizes the tide has turned and there is nothing to be gained electorally by imposing that particular piece of awful policy.

P.P.S. And he has refused to say that he will undo Gordon Brown’s reckless decision to raise the top tax rate from 40 percent to 50 percent.

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Prime Minister Gordon Brown has done a terrible job and is widely unpopular.. But even if the opposition party wins control later this year, it may not make much of a difference. The leader of the Tory party, David Cameron, is a British version of a RINO. He has not pledged to reduce the burden of government spending (which, as the chart illustrates, has skyrocketed). He has not pledged to reverse Brown’s dramatic increase in the top tax rate. And now the Conservative Party is expressing support for a huge increase in the value-added tax. The UK-based Times reports:

A rise in VAT is looming whichever party wins the general election, as Labour and the Conservatives draw up plans to balance Britain’s books. Alistair Darling and George Osborne, the Shadow Chancellor, are both considering raising VAT to as high as 20 per cent — the European average — from the current rate of 17.5 per cent, The Times has learnt. …One City source close to the Tory tax team said: “There is a view across the Conservative Party that VAT is going to have to go up.” The Chancellor is also keenly aware that Britain needs to retain the confidence of the credit-rating agencies. He has privately ruled out either raising income taxes or increasing the scope of VAT, but has deliberately left open the possibility of increasing the sales tax in the next Parliament.

P.S. As usual, my technical skills are grossly deficient and I can’t figure out how to get the graph to appear, but click on the box to see how the burden of government has exploded in the United Kingdom (makes George W. Bush and Barack Obama look like fiscal conservatives by comparison).

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