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The taxman is a cynic

Many, many years ago, I remember my late father telling me (then just an adolescent) over the breakfast table that ‘someone’ had come up with a brilliant idea about a new form of taxation, through which income tax would be abolished and replaced by a tax on spending. 

You must have guessed my age by now, but focus on the phrase ‘income tax would be abolished’.

That was the bait on the hook, but it was an artificial fly.  As we all know, VAT did not replace income tax – it was added on to our burdens. When the matter was broached to me, it seemed like a magisterial act of justice. Each man would be taxed according to his spending, which of course is based on his earnings. If you are a big spender with a fat wallet, you pay more than the man who scrapes a living. Could anything be fairer?

But it was just a hoax. Now, so many decades later, I ponder about these things. Why are policies – especially those that deal with taxation – delivered with subterfuge? Is it because the policymaker is aware of the thin ethical grounds on which he treads?  Probably. They tax tobacco and spirits because ‘they are bad for you’, ostensibly and declaredly with the intention of dissuading you from vice. Well, they’ve failed, as the United States did with its Prohibition Act. But do they care that you are still vice-ridden and much poorer for it? Not at all, I guess. In fact, the taxman knows you won’t kick the habits and rubs his hand in glee at your persistence. He loves your enslavement.

Worse and worse, tobacco and spirits do not figure in any cost-of-living index, because decent human beings never consume alcohol or tobacco. If they do, they are erased from the index of the human species: they don’t exist… except for the taxman. Such is the proselytism and chicanery of contemporary politics.

The taxman is shameless. He taxes sadness

No tax policymaker can face God with a clear conscience.  Some taxes are installed with absolute (and resolute) tongue in cheek. Take the tourism eco-tax as an example. The policymaker taxes an industry which is absolutely vital to the economy.  He bleeds (not just milks) the cow that feeds him. That is neither right nor just, nor does it make sense.  Oh, they’ll say the money collected will go back to fund ‘embellishment’. I’d like to see balance sheets. Lately, we’ve heard of a tax on in-house music. If you have a hair salon and want to have piped music, you must pay a tax on that.  Why? This is an example of ‘creative’ taxation.

Yet the taxman still has acres of grass he won’t roam. Luxury goods should really be much more heavily taxed. The acquisition of new cars should truly be put under the microscope. How many cars should a single household have?  Households with five cars registered under the same address are by no means exceptional. 

Why are we so liberal with the importation of cars? Should you be allowed to change your car before its guarantee expires, just because a new model has arrived? Why are cars not declared in income tax forms? They are a good indicator of one’s financial standing.

We should all agree that cap-riciousness should be taxed. After all, tobacco and spirits are mere caprices.

I admit I know nothing about yachts, but I suspect it’s a lark over there. I also suspect that yachts have a habit of paying for themselves somehow. Maybe someone will throw light on the situation.

The taxman even has the gall to tax you for committing the sin of dying (because you shouldn’t have done that: you’ve made him lose a source of income). He taxes your family for inheriting from you.

He is shameless. He taxes sadness and what is inescapable and unavoidable.

But the taxman shies away from treading on the toes of the living, who are potent.

Both parties have cottoned on to the easement of taxation, did you notice? Some easement makes sense, and is laudable, some is not, and is just an election ploy. But taxation is not just on my mind, it seems.

You can live a very good life if you spend your money on what the taxman doesn’t tax, but you have to be very savvy.

The cry used to be: No taxation without representation. Well, what I’ve just written is a form of representation. (Or is it remonstration?) 

Will anything change?  I honestly think not.

The applecart must never be upset, unless you want to pick up the spilled ones yourself, eh?

By the way, I haven’t received my tax bill yet, so this was not inspired by anger.

Charles Caruana Carabez sits on the National Commission for Further and Higher Education.

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