“If We Tax The Rich, They’ll Leave And Take Their Money With Them!” Yeah? And?
April 8, 2015
by Martin Odoni
Were there ever any doubt just how barbaric the modern Conservative Party has become, today’s events have surely blown that away once and for all. Their response to Ed Miliband’s correct, if somewhat vague, policy announcement to repeal the archaic and obsolete Non-Domicile Laws (‘Non-Doms’), created by William Pitt the Younger, has been to scream and dither and stammer. The problem the Tories have of course is that there is no particular ethical or practical argument to be raised against the idea. There is nothing ‘immoral’ about insisting that people who have lived outside the country should pay full taxation once they are living inside its borders. Nor is there anything ‘impractical’ about it at a time when, the politicians all wrongly imagine, we ‘need to eradicate the public sector deficit’. A big chunk of extra tax revenue would fit that bill quite handsomely, and there are some very rich people on the ‘Non-Dom’ list.
The Conservatives could argue, and have done, “Why did Labour not do this during thirteen years in Government?” which is a reasonable question, but does not actually count against the validity of the policy. Of course, the Tories need to be doubly careful about taking this approach before they can identify a genuine drawback with the policy; otherwise, the Tories could themselves be criticised as well for failing to put it into practise during eighteen years in office after Margaret Thatcher’s accession in 1979, and now during five more in coalition.
So give Miliband credit, after a pretty embarrassing Easter in which he made himself look deceitful and opportunistic, he has seized the initiative well once more, even though, when push comes to shove, he would have to come up with a brilliantly-worded Bill to avoid leaving any loopholes for greedy cynics to exploit. (Hence my earlier use of the word ‘vague’.)
The nearest anybody has come to a real argument against the policy so far has also been a very old one; the notion that if taxes for the well-off are set higher than they presently are, the well-off will up sticks and move abroad, taking their money with them. But so far, the general reaction on social media to that, so far as I can see, has sounded a little like…
History shows no clear pattern of ‘The Flight Of The Rich’ happening during high-tax episodes anyway, but forget that. The real question is, who cares if they leave? Some of these people absorb so much wealth and bury so much of it in off-shore bank accounts and assorted tax havens that mind-numbing amounts of it are out of the country already. It makes precious little difference where the rich actually live, we are never going to get near almost any of that cash. Let them go, and let them take their money, we can just issue more of it.
What this argument unwittingly highlights is the nonsense of an accusation routinely aimed at the Left; that they are ‘unpatriotic’, whereas the romantic Right is supposedly ‘loyal to’ and ‘proud of’ their country. How often do the Right in the United States accuse their opponents of “hating America”? How often do British Conservatives wave the Union Flag with misty-eyed fervour while accusing their opponents of being “Communist traitors” or “Russian sympathisers”?
But when any significant (not big) demand is made of the Right-inclined rich, for the good of their country, many of them quickly threaten to take their ball home. No, not home. They threaten to take it to another country. They cry, and kick, and scream, and throw babyish tantrums. They will cheerfully send the poor little people to make the sacrifices for them, but never dare ask it of the rich. Why the blazes would we miss people as selfish as that? People who are the antithesis of the collective; by definition, why keep them among us when they refuse to be of us? Running away from your country at a time it needs you and dumping all your money in a foreign bank is ‘patriotism’? Give me national indifference, any day. (For more on this subject, I recommend studying this from the Angry Yorkshireman, Thomas G. Clark.)
In Moscow in 1938, say Josef Stalin had threatened that if his Third Five-Year Plan were not implemented, he and the Communist Party would leave the country, what should the response from the Soviet people have been? “We cannot upset Comrade Stalin! If he leaves, he will take all his wealth with him, and then we would have less money!” By and large, no they probably would not look at it like that. Most of them would quietly sigh with relief that Stalin would merely leave instead of shoot another two hundred thousand people. Would it have made them ‘unpatriotic’ to be relieved if two hundred thousand of their fellow countrymen would live on?
Of course, the sociopathic rich in Britain do not quite do the same degree of harm that the Stalinists did in the Soviet Union (at least not overtly), but for sure, they do more than enough for us to know that the ‘lost wealth’ is a small price to pay to be free of them.
It says a lot about the UK as a nation, and how account-balance-fixated we have become that this can even be raised as an argument. Only the British – and the post-Thatcherite British at that – could view losing an oppressor as ‘bad news’, just because it will look a bit iffy on a balance sheet.