Monday, February 28, 2011

Oh God, won't somebody please think of the rich?

A major downside of having bought a single share in BP for work purposes last year is that my brokers, Hargreaves Lansdown (it feels so wrong even typing that phrase) now keep on sending me crap. I am pretty sure they have now sent me crap to more than the value of the share (which was about a fiver, if anyone's interested). Moreover, said crap has a tendency to add to my levels of outrage more than I think is really healthy at this troubled time.

This month's edition of 'Investment Times' arrived on Sunday, and I didn't even have to remove it from its plastic wrapping to find something objectionable. On the front cover is an article by Mr Hargreaves with the headline "Who will bear the burden?" As you might imagine, the "burden" in question is that of reducing the deficit. And the answer to the rhetorical question appears to be "Not the rich, anyone but the rich!"

The article starts off by expressing concern that "neither the government, nor the public, exhibit the stomach for cuts in public expenditure". You can pretty much guess what's coming from the fact that this guy's biggest concern about the Tories is that they're just not keen enough on cutting things.

Next, he moves on to Labour and "the unions" - accusing them of "misinformation" designed to disguise the scale of the national debt. Surely, Mr Hargreaves concludes, "the general consensus is that we should be reducing our public debt as soon as possible."

Then, in a leap of logic I'm still struggling to fathom, he starts opining about how hard done by the rich are in today's society: apparently, "Britain has a perverse attitude towards wealth and success", reflected in the fact that "even right-wing politicians are suggesting that people with money and savings are the easy option to effect the bailout." I'm not quite sure what he means by "the bailout" in this context - I assume he's talking about the deficit again. He seems a little confused, poor man.

Anyway. Onwards and upwards: "There is no account taken of their prudence, their work ethic and the tax they paid accumulating those savings." Hmm. That would be the kind of "prudence" displayed by the millionaires who brought the financial system crashing down on all our heads? I see. Well, it sure is a mystery why nobody's taking that into account.

"Sadly" - oh so sad! I am practically weeping as I type this - "the only thing that people with savings can do is place as much of them as possible out of the taxman's clutches, for it is through taxes that wealth will be used to balance the books."

Ah, so now we get to the point. It turns out this whole article has been a rambling, incoherent intellectual justification for tax avoidance. And sure enough, when you look inside (as I have just done after finally bringing myself to tear off the plastic wrap) it turns out that the lead features in 'Investment Times' are all about how Hargreaves Lansdown is the discerning choice for all your tax-dodging needs. There's even another little vignette inside, where Mr Hargreaves complains that "[the government's] first port of call is those with the broadest shoulders" (really? I want to live in Mr Hargreaves' world please), and reiterates that "placing as much capital as you can into tax shelters is therefore vital." Well, Mr Hargreaves, why didn't you just say so in the first place? Really you could have just printed a picture of yourself sitting on a sack of money sticking two fingers up at the nation and saved us all some time.

Frankly, I am struggling to get inside the mind of someone who genuinely believes that the government is somehow more enthusiastic about taxing the rich than it is about cutting poor people's benefits. But leaving that aside for the moment, it seems to me that the rest of this article can be briefly summed up as follows:

1. It is very, very important that we reduce the national debt. Stupid lefties do not understand this.
2. It is therefore very, very important that rich people pay as little tax as possible on our enormous quantities of wealth.
3. Why? Um, because we're awesome.

Sorry Mr Hargreaves, but with shoddy arguments like that, you're not doing any favours to your claim that you deserve your millions for being so thoroughly brilliant.

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