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The EU: investing in failure

So Brussels has demanded that ‘Britain’ pay an extra £1.7 billion towards the EU budget. By ‘Britain’ they don’t mean the British Government, but the British Taxpayer. You and me.

Why must we pay this money? To support rebates being given to France and Germany. I don’t object to the Germans getting a rebate. They have paid enough over the years. But France! Their economic failure is all down to the socialist insanity of Hollande and his crew.

Recent British economic success … yes we have been successful, which is why we must pay … is all down to our willingness to suffer the recent austerity measures. Meanwhile the wasteful government in France, spending money it doesn’t have on ideological nonsense, simply holds out its hand and slips it into British pockets. Nigel Farage will be counting his extra votes by the sackload.

The EU strategy is known as ‘Investing in Failure’. And when you invest in failure, that is exactly what you get.

Abandoning the ship sinking under taxes

According to Pulse, the magazine for General Practitioners, in 2013 4,741 UK trained doctors applied to the GMC for Certificates of Good Standing (CGSs), so they can register with an overseas regulatory body or employer. In 2012 the figure was 4726, and 2,485 for the first six months of 2014.

The training costs for these wannabe emigres was in the main covered by the UK taxpayer. Many are escaping to Australia with shorter working hours, higher salaries and where the politics of envy doesn’t pervade the parliament. The USA and the UAE are also popular destinations.

No one seems to have commented on the irony that two of the UK’s political parties are intent on raising taxes on the wealthy (and yes this includes GPs) to pay for the National Health Service, just as NHS doctors are intent on fleeing those taxes.

Send granny out into the snow

Today the bill for UK state pensions comes in at £98billion, but according the Department of Work and Pensions this will almost double in twenty years to £179billion. I wasn’t using rocket science when I predicted the coming tsunami for taxpayers in The New Barbarian Manifesto fifteen years ago. The increasing ageing of the population made this a simple exercise in arithmetic. The DWP have simply put numbers on it. Indeed they say the bill will be £420billion by 2064. This, in a word, is unsustainable. The young employed will refuse to be taxed into penury to support the elderly who refuse to die.

I also predicted that euthanasia will be legalised to reduce both the pensions bill, and the exploding cost of health care. Add on the cost of increased ‘death duties’, which will minimize any moneys passed on to beneficiaries after they finally die, then mansion taxes, and most people will die broke.

Families will start to see euthanasia as the only way they will see any inheritance after taxes. Just like the Inuit of old, when times get tough they will convince granny to leave the igloo and walk out into the snow.

Gdansk talk

I’m jumping the gun in Gdansk on October 15th by one month. I’ll be giving my very first public talk on my new book with co-author David Lesperance, Flight of the Golden Geese. The book will be published on November 15th.

I’m giving four talks (on 4 different topics) over two and a half days, plus some press interviews. If any of my blog readers are in the area and would like to come along, then just let me know so I can arrange it.

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What is money?

We all know what money is, don’t we? Or do we? According to J.K. Galbraith, the famous economist: “Money is nothing more or less than … what is commonly offered or received for the purchase of goods, services or other things”.

As far as most people are concerned, money is just the notes and coins that governments print and mint to facilitate economic transactions, particularly tax; a statement of faith in government-issued instruments of exchange, and in the promise that, on demand, or soon after, amounts of that money may be exchanged for goods and services to the value specified, or for equivalent promissory instruments. Money circulates as a consensus, a statement of trust in the value that permeates such instruments of exchange. It even addresses the thorny question of what value is: money has become the commodity whereby value is expressed as price.

All it takes to create a currency is a shared sense of trust. Most cohesive local communities have trust in abundance, so they too can issue their own notes of credit that will pay for goods and services in and around the locality. There are already hundreds of these Local Exchange Trading Schemes (LETS) in the UK alone, of varying levels of success: acorns, bobbins, cockles, cranes, groats, naaris, strouds, trugs. “Some 180 businesses are involved in the Brixton Pound, including retail stores, cafes, restaurants and pubs, health and fitness, hairdressing, designers, architects, plumbers, solicitors, artists, actors, singers, yoga teachers, jewellery makers … the list goes on”.

The idea was first introduced in Canada to kick-start the local economy of a depressed mining community in Courtenay, British Columbia, which boasted a high degree of internal community trust. Nowadays examples can be found all around the world: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Ecuador, Hungary, Japan, South Africa, Switzerland, Uruguay, and many more countries.

LETS only need trust; trust only needs a sense of community; social pressures in a community ensure that all debts are repaid, reinforcing a virtuous circle of communal trust. A closed community can play this non-profit zero-sum game for the mutual benefit of all. Everyone starts at zero, and keeps track of debits and credits by double entry book-keeping of IOU tokens. Usually measured in hours of work, these tokens assume that an hour’s labour is the same, no matter what the work; baby-sitting, gardening, window cleaning, hair-dressing, consulting. However, as the market for such tokens got more sophisticated, some schemes have introduced agreed differential rates to pay for more highly skilled work like doctoring, accountancy or advice on computing.

LETS cut right across the vicious circle of untrusting formality that is the banking system. Banks work on credit-worthiness calculated on formal employment status, or ownership of capital goods. When you are not credit-worthy, the cost of borrowing goes up, and you become even less credit-worthy. With LETS the uncredit-worthy get credit.

The communal trust needed for money can pop up in the most unlikely places. In devising their loyalty schemes, supermarkets are basically the issuing ‘plastic money’. Companies can go much further. The real issue is not “dollar bills, but Bill’s dollars”: Bill Gates’ dollars. Each corporation can issue a proportion of its equity as digital cash. Instead of the value of money decreasing as governments profit from the hidden tax of inflation, the value of money can actually increase if the company’s shares go up in value – it can of course also go down.

Chicken Ranch tail

In fact any organization can issue token money, and you’d be surprised by some that do. This one came from the infamous Chicken Ranch, in La Grange, Texas, as seen in The Best little Whorehouse in Texas starring Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton. And what exactly does this coin buy?

Chicken ranch head

Thanks again to eBay, which brought this token to my attention when I was surfing looking for examples to use in my lecture on The Future of Money.

Google-bashing for beginners

They’re at it again. George Osborne this time, whinging on about the iniquities of large corporations. He is going to unveil his plans in his December mini-budget. How dare corporations take inept tax laws at face value and divert profits offshore to avoid corporation tax. He is going to stop the likes of Google, Microsoft, Adobe, Facebook and Starbucks indulging in the so-called `Double Irish` ploy.

Fine words. But it’s going to need a Hercules to clean out this particular Augean stables of all the horse shit that is the UK’s labyrinthine tax laws … a root and branch clean up is necessary. For like the man says, “if you want to go there, I wouldn’t start from here”.

Fine words Mr Osborne, but they sound hollow.

Narrowing of the tax base

A very interesting point made in the Economist of 20 September, 2014. The number of people paying income tax is dropping, and this is highly dangerous for national economies. In our ‘farmyard’ video we said that 1% of Americans pay 40% of income taxes. That was then! Today the figure is 46%. In 1979 (just 35 years ago) it was a mere 18%.

We can’t be too smug in the UK either. 1% of workers pay 28% of income tax. In 1979 it was a mere 11%. More than 40% of American households pay NO income tax. In the UK the number of income tax payers has dropped by 2.2 million. And with populist politicians spouting `squeeze the rich` rhetoric, this can only get worse.

Many rich American/British High Net Worth Individuals see these numbers as a wake up call. The way the figures are moving makes low-tax foreign jurisdictions look more and more attractive. If, as we predict in our upcoming book, these HNWIs turn into Golden Geese and fly away, then this will have a hugely disproportionate effect on tax revenue.

The Price of Fish

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Up at the crack of dawn to get to London in time for the launch of the paperback version of ‘The Price of Fish’ at the City Business Library. Here I am with the two authors, my old friends Ian Harris (left) and Michael Mainelli (Right). It’s a brilliant book, full of thoughtful questions around ‘Wicked Economics’. I can thoroughly recommend it.

“When in Rome …”

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

I’ve just received an e-mail from a friend, Mel Few. In it he quoted Marcus Tullius Cicero, the great Roman philosopher, politician, lawyer, and orator.

`The Budget should be balanced, the Treasury should be refilled, public
debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and
controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed, lest
Rome become bankrupt.

People must again learn to work instead of living on public assistance.`

Cicero said this way back in 55 BC. It could be said of today’s UK. 

Mel quips: “Evidently, we’ve learned bugger all over the past 2,069 years.”

The cost of non-inversion

When Walgreen, the US drugstore chain, announced it’s intension of acquiring Boots the Chemists, part of the plan was to shift its headquarters to Switzerland.

This caused fury in Obama’s White House, and they lambasted Walgreen for being another US company wanting to embark on the disloyal path of ‘Inversion’. Threats that patriotic customers would withdraw their custom unsettled the company’s board, and they announced they  would not pursue potential tax savings by shifting its headquarters overseas. Apparently, such a move was ‘not in the long-term interest’ of Walgreen.

What did Wall Street investors think? Shares of the US’s largest drugstore chain closed down more than 14.3% at $59.21 after the announcement. Interesting!

Could it be that the Street didn’t believe this, and that it was annoyed that in its analysis the board did not put shareholder value before the interests of politicians?