Monday, 4 May 2015

i bet this won't change your mind about anything

I don't know how to change people's minds about politics. It almost never happens which means, in social circumstances, what's the point in trying? I think: I shouldn't get into this, basically.

Then I see something like the Times scandal, which is properly scandalous, where the newspaper basically lied on Page 1 that average working families would pay £1000 more in tax under Labour. The next day they retracted this on Page 24 and explained they had reached this figure by adding up the extra tax paid by the highest earners, by owners of very expensive houses and by various companies, and dividing that by the total number of working families, almost all of whom wouldn't be paying it. The naked bias of these self-interested, knowingly deceitful [rude word] makes me want to thcweam.

Yes, the BBC is, more or less, left of the current political centre. But it tries, more or less, to be impartial. And frankly if almost all the commercial enterprises owned by really rich people are right of centre and literally electioneering in their owners'; direct material interests, thank goodness the media giant paid for by poorer people is in a small and almost entirely unelectioneering way a counterbalance.

And while I am writing something that won't persuade anyone: mansion tax.

A comprehensive Land Value Tax would be better; the mansion tax is politically more viable and better than nothing; of course there will be victims, there are victims of any policy change, I wish there weren't; but at least this time the victims are those who have been overwhelmingly lucky with when they have been born and can therefore better afford the hit; some of the victims will be at the more victim end of the scale and they will make the papers and I do feel sorry if anyone has to move out of their house, I really do, but on the upside, if they are having to move they are moving from a £2m house whose value has been hugely inflated by things other than their own hard work (this is not to say they haven't worked hard to pay what they did pay) which gives them a step up on an entire generation which can't possibly buy.

Two other comments:
1. Please don't call this the politics of envy. I hate this 'I'm the victim of jealousy' stuff from people who have loads of stuff. Maybe you are, but it's not really an argument. I am very lucky. I totally expect a kid who didn't have my massive advantages to be jealous of me.
2. Yes, yes, I'm a member of the liberal urban intellectual elite. It's one of the two big groups (with working class Tories) who vote against their narrow economic self-interest. Doesn't make us either right or wrong, but I mention it because it irritates me when people call me smug for wanting to share a good fortune I know I haven't entirely earned.


Matthew said...

I totally agree with you about the Times.

Not sure I agree with you about the Mansion Tax. While you cite the Economist article, you don't really explain why the Mansion Tax is desirable or fair. If I want to buy a 'mansion' for £2m, I will already have to pay £900,000 in income tax on the money needed to buy it, plus £155,000 in stamp duty, and another £800,000 will go to the Government in inheritance tax when I die. And the reality, of course, is that it wouldn't be a 'mansion' at all, but a terraced house in a big city which would cost less than £1m if it was in one of England's other beautiful cities, like York or Norwich or Leeds or Exeter. You might think I'd be fortunate if I earned enough to buy a house for £2m, but you might think I'm unfortunate to live in a city where houses are disproportionately expensive.

And if it is fair to impose a further tax as the price of owning a property, even if it is just an ordinary terraced house, why is it not fair to impose a tax on any property? As I think you acknowledge, such a tax would be hugely unpopular for obvious reasons. But just as any fair form of the tax would be unpopular, the popular form of the tax is on that basis unfair.

I do think it's funny, by the way, that the Daily Mail insists on calling Ed Miliband's house a 'mansion', which is obviously ridiculous, but difficult for him to complain about.

slepkane said...

I really don't know about the BBC. Any News organisation that goes on about the deficit while ignoring the debt makes me itch. Is that wrong of me? Is there a sensible reason the payment plan gets so much more attention paid to it than the amount that need paying? (The debt appears to have done this by the way )

Robert Hudson said...

Matthew: The tax code is a complete muddle. I suppose what it gets down to is that some element of retributive property taxation is better than none and that the best solution should not be the enemy of a good (or less bad) one.

We can't choose best solutions here, it seems like. We can only choose unfair ones, exactly as you say. I prefer a solution which is unfair to people whose houses are worth £2m.* But I don't pretend it's not unfair, I don't have to, I'm not asking anyone to vote for me. But enough people might get behind this particular unfairness to make it happen.

If, by the way, that means a lot of rich and influential people suddenly see the advantage of putting their weight behind a more generally rationalised property tax system, then that's a win too.

Simon: Partly I think it's because the BBC know that talking about the debt will be conceived as as partisan by their manifold enemies and they are more worried about their institutional future than they are about fearlessly telling economic truths.

Partly it's because I think a huge proportion of people even in BBC newsrooms are economically illiterate.

* I think it's desirable because it puts some money into the exchequer and disincentivises certain types of property speculation in London (yes, London-centricism, but more people live in London's economic zone than Scotland). Now, lower house prices in London, cards on the table, would (possibly) act in my favour one day. But I would be in favour of it if I had to pay it just as I am in favour of inheritance taxes which I will one day have to pay.

slepkane said...

Fearing to talk about an economic reality because it will be seen as partisan is obviously partisan. And debt is a much, much easier thing to understand than deficit.

Matthew said...

This made me laugh. As regards your comment number 1, Andy Burnham (next leader of the Labour party) apparently said yesterday: “I think we have got to get away from things that look like symbolism. I am going to put the mansion tax in that category. I am not saying it was necessarily completely the wrong thing to do, but in its name I think it spoke to something that the public don’t particularly like, which is the politics of envy".