Thinking For The Individual

Formerly known as 'Thinking For The People', this site offers some reflections on the state of British society and her people from the perspective of a libertarian Conservative with a passionate belief in the pillars of freedom and responsibility.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

The Pickpocket Chancellor

For the first time in over a decade, average household incomes have fallen in the last year after tax and benefits. As economic growth has continued reasonably well in the last few years, it is very easy to propose that this decline is a direct result of the huge taxes crushing hard-working people imposed by the socialist Chancellor of the Ex-Chequer, whom many people hope will be the natural successor to Tony Blair.

Considering that economic experts have identified a black hole in the nation’s finances, we can be sure that taxes will have to go up once again after the election. The high-taxing, high-spending Labour Chancellor should be held to account for the systematic daylight robbery of our income that he is responsible for.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

School Dinners

So the benevolent government have taken action. 60 pence is going to be spent on secondary school students’ meals, and 50 pence on those in primary school. That solves the problem, doesn’t it?

Of course not. Firstly, what kind of foods can be purchased for 60 pence? Only the worst, least nutritious crap ever processed by a machine. Second, who seriously thinks an extra few pence per student will end the dependency of our society on junk food? All this means is the junk food schools make available for their students will be a trifle more expensive. Third, who ever wanted the government to intrude on schools?

Here’s a wicked idea: why not give schools complete independence from the State, accompanied by complete independence over their own budgets? Why not give parents endowments from the government to spend at any school they wish? That way, schools would be made accountable for every move they made, including the value they place on good nutrition for their students.

And then there’s the government. I’m not so reckless to advocate a government which does nothing about these serious problems. Why can’t the government make an agreement with the companies who provide school meals so that trashy foods like turkey dinosaurs and smiley faces made of fried potato can finally be confined to the dustbin?

Mo’ money, mo’ money, mo’ money. It’s the government’s response to every populist cause. It’s easy for them to do. It looks good in the press too, because it actually gives the impression of action.

Do not expect a great change in the food children eat at their schools – often the most substantial meal they get on any given day. Do not expect change when the government gives a little more money.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The Common Agricultural Policy

The European Union's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is becoming increasingly difficult to justify. Its auditors call it organised crime. It is a crushing weight which keeps down the farmers of the Third World. It is subsidising farmers across the continent for producing what nobody wants. It is making agriculture an old-fashioned industry in this country, lacking the kind of dynamism we associate with other trades nowadays. And it is the hobby horse of the political elites of Europe, but few others.

As difficult as it may be, and as controversial as it certainly would be, I believe Britain should attempt to secede from the Common Agricultural Policy. At a stroke, prices in our supermarkets would tumble. A typical refrain by those who are happy seeing Britain turn into a nation of junk-food eaters is that it is cheaper to buy a chocolate bar than it is to buy a chicken. Leave the CAP, and that will never be an easy claim to make. If we were to leave the CAP unilaterally, that would be a significant gesture against poverty in the Third World. The gesture would become action if our departure led to the collapse of the wretched system. If Britain were to leave the destructive CAP, there would be a benign ripple around the globe.

For the good of farmers, for the good of consumers, and for the good of the poorest people in the Third World, we must support the cause of abolition of the Common Agricultural Policy.

Monday, March 28, 2005

The Practicalities of the Flat Tax

An expert on taxation, Richard Teather, has written a report on how the flat tax (see March 25th) could be implemented in the UK. He calls for a flat rate at 22% with a generous tax-free personal allowance of £12,000. This would make low earners exempt from the tax altogether, with those on below-average earnings boosting their incomes by over 12% once taxation was taken away. The average benefit to top earners would work out to be 0.5%. The cost to the Treasury would be £50bn in the first year, but against this would be a saving of £12bn from the abolition of minor reliefs, and the large savings which will be made when many who are currently receiving welfare benefits get back into work.

See the full report here: A Flat Tax For The UK - A Practical Reality

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Natural Aptitude Testing

As claims that universities are tending towards discrimination against students from private schools are becoming evermore voluble, I believe it is time to address the roots of these fears. So far as I can see, universities want students with natural ability that they can nurture, not simply some acquired polish. There is a great difference between the large number of privately-educated students who have gone through their academic careers being taught facts after facts, and a proportion of less well-off kids who have raw talent which has never been tapped. Perhaps it is fair to say that universities are crying out for natural aptitude, not some kind of 'textbook regurgitater'.

To meet this desire for true talent, I believe the examinations system should be reformed. As the A-Level and the GCSE are both the same kind of fact-based test, only one is slightly more in-depth than the other, why not replace one of them with an aptitude examination? I suggest that Years 12 and 13 (before the A-Level) may be devoted to studying the area of expertise a student wishes to study at university of make a career out of in later life. The only examination should be a test of natural aptitude, much like the American SAT which, until recently, was a test of abstract reasoning and which had done great things for education in that country.

To reform our examination system to test the natural aptitude of students would be real reform, worthy of a modern society like ours.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

A Department of Commerce

What do we think about when we hear the words 'the Department for Trade and Industry'? Perhaps we think of the old, nationalised, state-dominated industries that belong to a past and less prosperous era. Perhaps we think of the pointless bureaucracy that seems to sum up most of the work in modern-day Whitehall. No matter what we think, not much of it is positive.

Now is the time for the old-fashioned DTI to be remodelled as a Department of Commerce, with a general responsibility for maintaining a favourable economic environment for business, for technological, economic and statistical infrastructure, for trade policy, for regulation and competition policy, and for identifying and, where appropriate, advising on the national industrial and commercial needs.

A new department should rigorously examine the programmes of other government offices which impinge on the competitiveness of the British economy and should give more robust ministerial advice, and ultimately a stronger voice in government.

A new, modern department resonsible for trade, industry, commerce and e-commerce would work in partnership with business, not interfere. A new, modern department would send a signal that Britain is determined to re-vitalise her economy once again, and to make her one of the most prosperous nations in a changing global field.

Friday, March 25, 2005

The Flat Tax Revolution

There is an interesting idea making its way through the once dark and hellish pit that is Eastern Europe. It is an idea which goes all the way back to the 1940s, when it was embraced by the people of Jersey and Hong Kong - two nations on opposite sides of the globe, but which have seen great success thanks to this idea. It is an idea which is bringing prosperity to the likes of modern Russia and Singapore. This idea is something very simple, yet so very radical for a nation like Britain: the flat tax.

The flat tax is a low, single-rate of income tax levied on all earners above a certain threshold. Theoretically, the flat tax inevitably brings more revenues than our present complicated income tax system. This is based on two ideas. A more dynamic economy is the supposed result of a flat tax because, as is nowadays an accepted truth, lower taxes bring greater prosperity to a nation in general terms. Thanks to this greater prosperity, fewer people would be placed into the low-earners category and therefore fewer people would be exempt from the tax. In addition to this is the fact that high-earners today tend towards tax evasion. If tax regulations are the size of a postcard, and if the rate at which their income is taxed is kept low, there is no capacity or incentive for these people to spend exorbitant amounts in time and money in finding loopholes in the tax law for their benefit. There is strong evidence in recent economic history which agrees with this. In the eighties, US President Reagan reduced the top rate of income tax drastically from 70 percent in 1980 to 28 percent by 1988. This caused enormous economic growth and total tax revenue expanded by 99.4 percent during that decade.

The flat tax makes an intricate tax code simple to understand. It considerably reduces the time and cost of completing tax forms, making the whole system more efficient. The flat tax gives individuals greater control over their own money and reduces the role of an intrusive government.

There are far more benefits to the flat tax than the economic efficiency, the simplicity and the fairness of what I have outlined above. But these are perhaps the most important.

The flat tax provides a brilliant opportunity for Britain to become one of the most enterprising and dynamic economies in the western world. As 'old' Europe and the US stagnate with our high taxes and complex laws, and as 'new' Europe and parts of the Far East boom with their low taxes and simple code, it becomes clear just how much the flat tax could bring to our small island.