Taxing “bads”?

 

          Many politicians think of taxes as being a way to tax behaviour they do not support, or to tax people they dislike. There is a competition in the Commons to think up more and more groups of people – bankers, fat cats, the rich,polluters, company directors, etc – that ought to be taxed because they are not liked. It’s also popular  to think up conduct MPs dislike in  others.   Drinking, smoking, travelling by car, getting on a plane ,creating carbon dioxide,dumping waste,living in a big house, are also thought by many MPs to be a good case  to justify higher taxes. This does not stop many MPs themselves  liking a drink, driving, getting on planes whenever possible, or even living in a big house.

          So I thought it was time to ask how are the enthusiasts for tax  getting on? Are they now taxing the “bads” enough? What do they think is bad that ought to be taxed?

          On this analysis, which I understand has its limitations, the results are very surprising. The biggest bad according to the tax system is going out to work. If you dare to work hard and be successful you are commiting the biggest crime of all.  Income Tax and National Insurance on employment accounted for 46% of all taxes raised in 2011.

         Next on the hit list is spending. Almost 19% of tax raised comes in the form of VAT on purchases. Do not be a shopper.

         Third on the list is property, accounting for 10.5% of tax raised. The taxes are higher if you dare to buy a bigger home or live in a favoured district.

         Fourth is making a profit by running a company. Corporation tax pulled in 8% of the total.

         Fifth was going to work or the shops by car, or flying to sell goods abroad or take  a  holiday. This accounted for nearly 7% of taxes raised.

         Drink is sixth, at just 1.8% of tax levied in 2011, and tobacco seventh, at 1.7%. Environmental taxes including the climate change levy came well below 1%, though this popular source is destined to go up in the years ahead. There are also plenty of surrogate taxes in the form of higher consumer prices to tackle people’s love of “bads”.

            Some will respond by pointing out that tax has additional aims to stopping bads. Its main aim, in my view, ought just to be to raise necessary revenue to pay for public services. Others will say the central aim of taxation should be to make people more equal. Nonetheless, many who like taxes see them as a way of influencing conduct and admit they do just that. If they think higher taxes on drink deters drinking, higher taxes on tobacco deters smoking, and higher taxes on motoring deters driving, why don’t they see that higher taxes on earning and working hard deters working, and higher taxes on profits and enterprise deters job creating investment ventures?

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102 Comments

  1. norman
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 6:47 am | Permalink

    On aspect of taxation that always baffles me is when so-called ordinary people (making +/- 50% of the national average, say) call for higher taxes and more spending. There’s no magical pool of idle rich we can extort from to pay for everything, the vast bulk of taxation comes from us.

    You’d think handing over £7 for a pack of cigarettes, or £60 to fill the car up, or £6 for a bottle of wine, or when the electricty bill seems to creep up higher every month, etc. would sharpen the mind but it seems we’re oblivious and concentrate instead on tiny slivers of the population, the rich, bankers, etc.

    We’re all paying over the odds for the huge array of ‘services’ now provided by government. At some point it will grind to a halt, either when the money printing machine does or the consequences from it’s profligate use become too big to hide.

  2. lifelogic
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 6:51 am | Permalink

    They do not really do it to deter anything. They do it to raise tax for them to waste, often on themselves, the state sector or buying votes. The deterrent argument is just a ruse to try to justify the tax. That is why the C02 exaggeration is so very useful – anything you do even breathing is caught by it.

    It was interesting to read Christopher Booker “A dotty EU directive will help make Gummer richer” this Sunday.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/columnists/christopherbooker/

    I do find it very hard to believe that the green lobby actually believe a word of what they are saying themselves as they fly round the world like tv evangelists pushing their daft unscientific agendas.

    • lifelogic
      Posted March 26, 2012 at 7:03 am | Permalink

      The other side of the equation is the benefits then given by the state to encourage people to do unhelpful things such as not to bother to work or to encourage them to vote in certain directions.

      • Mactheknife
        Posted March 26, 2012 at 11:04 am | Permalink

        Correct. Labour assembled an army of benefits “voters” and it will be those, who have seen their benefits rise by 5% (!!!!) under this government who will put them back in power and then goodness knows what will happen if Millibean and Balls get hold of the government coffers.

      • Susan
        Posted March 26, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

        lifelogic,

        Now you have come off just the tax agenda, you are beginning the conversation which really matters. It really is nothing to do with tax directly, Governments like to meddle into everything in our lives. Their solution whenever they want to interfere is to throw money at any problem which comes along in society. You cannot be clever or not so bright anymore, you cannot be rich or poor anymore or drink and smoke yourself to death if you want to, in other words everything in society must now be controlled by the heavy hand of state. This then costs money as they attempt to cure all the ills of our evil society. So the public respond by relying on the state to deal with all their difficulties instead of taking responsibility for themselves. In the end of course it cures nothing and people rebel by doing just the opposite to what the state requires of them because they know there is this safety net from Government. From cradle to grave now our lives are controlled. Minority groups have hi jacked the agenda and big brother is with us to monitor all we say and do.

        Our freedoms have been eroded in the name of what the state deems is right for us, when really what it amounts to is a bunch of misguided politicians thinking they know best. Until the state takes a big step backwards to the days when people earned their own money, kept a fair amount of it to provide for their own needs and took responsibility for themselves in most areas of their lives nothing will ever change.

        • lifelogic
          Posted March 26, 2012 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

          Indeed there is no area of life that the state sector will not exploit to justify their jobs. It can only be a matter of time before people need a state approved training certificate, insurance and an expensive state licence before they can be trusted go to the loo on their own. For “health and safety” reasons as several people have recently died on their own in the loo clearly the state must do something!

          It will need to be renewed every month of so.

        • Mike Stallard
          Posted March 26, 2012 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

          Excellent thoughtful comment.

      • Rebecca Hanson
        Posted March 26, 2012 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

        or they could stop people who can’t get work and their families spiraling down into abject poverty (and a likely life of crime) and might keep them in a position where they can return to work when an opportunity arises and be a constructive member of society in the meantime.

        • lifelogic
          Posted March 26, 2012 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

          Perhaps but rather unlikely on balance they are not likely to become more employable sitting at home.

          • Rebecca Hanson
            Posted March 26, 2012 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

            Bach and cliffs?

          • Bazman
            Posted March 26, 2012 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

            So making them more desperate will give them an incentive them to get a job? It will not. Your middle class ideals can not just be put on them.

          • lifelogic
            Posted March 26, 2012 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

            Actually old, proud working class, ideals.

          • Bazman
            Posted March 28, 2012 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

            You believe they should be made to be more desperate like immigrants and this will get them a job?

        • Susan
          Posted March 27, 2012 at 9:09 am | Permalink

          Rebecca and Bazman,

          Oh dear not that old rhetoric again. Actually it is yourselves that show a lack of understanding about the problems on our large estates up and down the Country. Just throw some more money their way and they will be content and continue to be confined to a life of total worthlessness. Still I suppose it makes for an easy conscience just to say what is politically correct without offering any real solutions. These words from both of you are actually more in line with middleclass and rich people, by expressing miguided empathy towards a problem you seem to know very little about.

          • uanime5
            Posted March 27, 2012 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

            I’m afraid it’s you Susan who doesn’t understand. As long as there aren’t enough jobs for everyone (currently the UK need 2 million more jobs) people will be unemployed. Reducing their benefits won’t change this.

          • Bazman
            Posted March 27, 2012 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

            Nobody said anything about chucking money at them. The point was that making them more desperate will not help.

          • Susan
            Posted March 28, 2012 at 7:15 am | Permalink

            Uanime5

            Oh but I do understand you see. I can tell you that the same people that were on benefits during the boom years when there were plenty of jobs available are still on benefits now. Immigrants came in and did the work that British people were not prepared to do as they found it far easier to remain on our generous benefit system than to work.

            Furthermore I can tell you that immigrants even in these difficult times are still able to find work when British people do not.

            People like you just want to abandon people on benefits to a life of total uselessness where life has no meaning. You have to understand the situation before you can solve it and you definitely don’t.

  3. colliemum
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    You write: “Its main aim, in my view, ought just to be to raise necessary revenue to pay for public services.”

    I agree. But taxing ‘bad’ behaviour goes hand-in-hand with the concept of the famous ‘nanny state’. It is indicative of the view from Westminster, held by MPs, governments and above all Whitehall mandarins, that we, their constituents, are either stupid or bad, and need the firm, guiding hand of ‘government’ in all its forms to prevent us from doing damage to ourselves, of course with corollary that if we don’t do as told, we need to be punished by paying more, i.e. extra taxes.
    It seems as if the government in all its manifestations regards us, who are actually the employers of the MPs, government and mandarins, as their property.

    People who are ‘property’ know they are not free. People who are not free disengage from the political process because they know it is just a formality and that their wishes, their voices, are of no account.

    As you say, John – in the end, why would people want to work when their efforts and strivings are regarded as ‘bad’, and punished by a super-taxing government?

  4. Stephen Almond
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    John,

    Great article. I particularly like the final sentence, and hope the Chancellor is reading it at this very moment with a concerned look on his face.

  5. Robert K
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    I admire much of what you write, but this is a gem. Why can’t our cabinet take this line on taxation?
    Hardworking taxpayers have every reason to feel utterly worn down by the hectoring, bullying rhetoric coming from government and the opposition benches. High earners – i.e. those who have made a success of their careers – are not admired for their efforts or even thanked for their tax contributions (at least Blair had that bit right) but are treated as parasites from which as much cash as possible must be squeezed. All of this is accompanied by a nauseating type of self-serving sanctimonious populism that has been refined to perfection by the Lib Dems.
    Given the enthusiasm amongst legislators to strut about on their own little patch of moral high ground, I would like a bylaw in the Palace of Westminster that demanded the following be message posted at 10-metre intervals throughout the place: “Remember, it’s not your money – someone else earned it”

  6. alan jutson
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    What an interesting comparison !

    Even worse are perhaps those who drink, eat, live in big houses (or a second house), travel to all parts of the World (often in first class) and create carbon dioxide, at other peoples expense/subsidy.

    Now who who could that be ?.

    • alan jutson
      Posted March 26, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

      Perhaps

      Should perhaps have added, and then tell others what to do.

      Aware some of the excesses have now been curtailed, but the buck stops with the Politicians.

      Stop trying to move the goal posts, and just let us get on with living our lives how we want to (as long as its legal).

  7. Dr Derrick Fielden
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    I think a huge part of the Coalition’s problem is that, after much New Dawn spin-bollocks at the start, it has reverted fairly quickly to type: unpleasant Minister caught lying to police about speeding offence, yet another PM apparently in Murdoch’s pocket, Party Treasury in cash-for-access scandal…..and so forth. (Exactly the same observation can be applied to the Obama White House and the Sarkozy Elysee).

    And yet at the same time, the UK electorate shows no signs of flocking to Labour: because, I mean, er…weren’t they the clowns that helped get us into this mess? Depending upon the vagaries of the constituency model of electing MPs, one could project any of those polls and show Labour as the largest Party – but still short of an overall majority. (In the US today, Obama’s election spokesman referred to the GOP primaries as ‘a clown show’. Obvious political bias, but also horribly believable).

    Not too deep down among the West’s voting publics, there remains an appetite for real change. Oddly enough, the brief sky-rocket formerly known as Nick Clegg has convinced still more people that a much more radical shake-up of the political set is required. The main feedback I get from The Slog, and during conversations with people around the country, is that lack of trust in politicians remains at an all-time low: but further, that while the established Parties might claim to have “taken that on board”, in reality they either don’t get it….or even worse, they do – but they don’t care.

    Unless some serious and genuine element of trust is injected into mainstream politics (and soon) then the Antipolitics movement we see taking shape in Greece, Italy and Frankfurt stands every chance of taking over the levers of power in the UK, the US, and France.

    I know you are trying to inject John, but PLEASE get some help !!

  8. Caterpillar
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    “to raise necessary revenue to pay for public services”

    This is the reason that I might be moving towards support of taxing wealth* rather than of income. I believe one of the main things that a stable state provides (through defence, law and order, some social support) is protection of property and property rights. If I wish to take out insurance to protect an asset the premium increases with value of the asset. This I think is the first thing a state provides, so I am starting to think there should be some symmetry here. (One could argue savers are currently paying this, but it is neither explicit nor generalised)

    I am not sure whether anyone thinks taxation is not a disincentive to a free market. When I think of taxation on income I do think it deters economic activity, but at the same time I do think it raises revenue – hence the Laffer curve debates on here. The question is how much economic activity are we prepared to lose to raise how much revenue and for what purpse? With bads such as tobacco the objective might seem clearer, there is not a revenue-activity balance but rather, a relatively simple objective of deterrence. Nonetheless there are at least two ethical questions and one emprical. Ethically; (i) liberty vs deterrence and (ii) is there a free market solution anyway (e.g. insurance premiums, if there is not a social cost). Empirically I am more concerned with temporal changes to price elasticity and their origin e.g. alcohol was inelastic when fewer alternative drugs were readily available, it has now become more price elastic with the existence of affordable (illicit) alternatives. By raising the price of one bad people may switch to another.

    * I do wonder whether a whole system based on purely wealth and consumption taxes might be possible.

  9. Matthew
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    Often you hear politicians and commentators declare – “We need jobs” and “We need to get young people into work”

    You never hear them analyse the problem from the other end – as to why there are not enough good career jobs out there. (Other than taxing bankers’ bonuses – but then they don’t want bankers to have bonuses)

    We can only provide an infrastructure for industry, if we both prevent the best people leaving these shores and attract from overseas the best and the brightest and the wealthy –
    These people are not going to relocate here if we have some of the highest tax bands in the G20, high stamp duty land tax – on top end properties now 6%!

    The government has missed the boat – after the election the country was in a mood for spending cuts, that the chancellor hasn’t delivered (the military got hit, but then they don’t have a union and they tend take it on the chin) and now the growth that the chancellor expects to cut the deficit looks to be unachievable.

    • Disaffected
      Posted March 26, 2012 at 10:47 am | Permalink

      Very good article by Jeff Randall in the DT on spending cuts compared to the lack of growth by the next election.

      I object to tax funded buildings being used for private benefit. On the surface of the latest Tory sleaze I want to know whether the taxpayer paid for the meals to be cooked, who paid for the food, gas and electricity? John, could you raise a question in the House or shed any light on this? The suggestion these were private dinners is a nonsense it was a commercial venture to get money for the Tory party. If the taxpayer has footed the bill in any way (food, electric, gas, no hire for the venue etc) Mr Cameron ought to resign.

      There are old age pensioners anxious whether they can afford to live ie buy food, pay energy bills, cuts in interest rate on savings, QE devaluing pensions, hit by the latest budget sting on their income. As I said before, Mr Cameron has not got to worry about pensions or saving for elderly life perhaps he does not care? To the rest of us it is an issue.

      The question needs to be raised why a person with an expensive education, like Mr Cameron, has let the situation arise? Did he not learn from the sleaze of the past like cash for questions under John Major’s term of office, cash for honours like that under Tony Blaire’s term of office, the expense scandal, Hoon, Byers and Hewitt sting, Cable’s sting etc. His judgement for employing Andy Coulson has been brought into question, becoming too close senior personnel at NoW was recently commented upon when discovering his passion to ride retired police horses. He even identified the scandal surrounding lobbying. Clearly there is something wrong with his judgement (ie emotional intelligence to make decisions) to make such poor decisions.

      Perhaps the standards are still so poor at Westminster he is confident nothing will happen whether that involves a party or parliamentary investigation? No wonder people will not come out to vote.

      Reply Successive Chancellors and PMs have lived in the flats within official buildings in Downing Street for many years. The state offers them the accommodation to reduce the costs of their security and to ensure they are always available at any hour of day or night should need arise. I think the same arrangements are made to distinguish between private and public use for the apportionment of the bills as under previous incumbents. If a function is said to be private not a public one then I expect it is being paid for by the individual and not by the taxpayer.

    • uanime5
      Posted March 26, 2012 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

      You do realise that ‘the best and the brightest and the wealthy’ can live in any country they want but still set up a branch of their businesses if the UK. Living in the UK is not a prerequisite for running a business in the UK.

      • Disaffected
        Posted March 26, 2012 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

        Only the stupid wealthy would live here to be robbed by successive socialist governments.

      • Matthew
        Posted March 26, 2012 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

        Yes but why build their infrastructure in a high tax economy?

        • uanime5
          Posted March 27, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

          Because their rivals are building their infrastructure here (businesses usually just copy their rivals to prevent their rivals gaining a larger market share).

          Also if you need qualified people you have no choice but to work in a high tax economy.

  10. Sue
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    All taxation is legalised theft, especially by a corrupt government. PAYE is the worst of them and hits the poorest of people. We are forced to pay taxes and millions are wasted, embezzled or used to fund projects which the majority of us do not want to fund.

    Bad taxes are immoral. Who on earth do you think you are to tell me what I should and should not be eating, drinking or smoking? Everything that can be taxed, you have taxed, even the air we breathe.

    TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION!

    We are “generously” told by Osborne where our taxes will go, when in fact he should be ASKING US WHERE THEY SHOULD GO AND REQUIRING OUR APPROVAL!

    The irony of all this?
    This and the last government are the most morally and ethically corrupt of all.

    • Mactheknife
      Posted March 26, 2012 at 11:08 am | Permalink

      I quite like the idea of showing where our taxes go. This will then show the working population the amount spent on benefits. The example of a 50K gross earner shown in the papers recently where nearly 5K of tax goes to benefits is absolutely scandalous.

      • lifelogic
        Posted March 26, 2012 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

        We already know it goes on over paid and pensioned state sector doing little of any real value, pointless wars, buying votes, barmy green tosh, jumped up school sports days, silly tram systems, HS2, gifts to the PIGIS …………….

    • APL
      Posted March 26, 2012 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

      Sue: “This and the last government are the most morally and ethically corrupt of all.”

      If we all chip in a couple of quid, perhaps one of us could, you know, donate it to the Tory Party and accidentally get a little tete-a-tete with David C thrown in gratis on the way out.

      sue: “should be ASKING US”

      Yes. Representative democracy is not a bad idea, so long as the representatives represent the Demos not their own little club .

      A bill like the finance act should be put to a referendum.

  11. English Pensioner
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    I am aware of quite a few people, including myself, who have refused promotion to a better job because they didn’t consider it worthwhile.
    At the time, on paper, it sounded a considerable pay rise, but after 40% tax plus NI on the increase it was suddenly halved. My wife and I decided that the net amount would not be worth the extra hassle – no way would it be life style changing (except for the worse), all it would have meant was perhaps the next car would be a more expensive model, or we perhaps could afford a slightly better annual holiday. So the answer was to stay at my present level which gave me no worries. Since I retired, I’ve discovered that quite a number of acquaintances had adopted a broadly similar approach.
    That’s what taxation does.

    • uanime5
      Posted March 26, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

      Did this job ever get filled? If the answer is yes then taxation doesn’t stop everyone taking a higher paying job.

      • Mactheknife
        Posted March 26, 2012 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

        See the feeds have been coming from Liebour HQ thick and fast. You’re trolling well today Uanime5.

        • uanime5
          Posted March 27, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

          Upset that I destroyed the argument that high taxes always result in high paying jobs not being filled.

          Face it there’s no tax rate too high to stop someone from accepting a promotion simply because they want the status it brings. Not everyone works for the money.

    • Richard
      Posted March 26, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

      You are quite right, as I visit many SME business owners in the course of my job who are now scaling back and taking things easier as they re-evaluate their business plans in the light of the higher tax regime developing in the UK.
      With a little economising and budgetry adjustment they can work 4 days a week or much reduced hours and enjoy a more relaxed lifestyle, trading marginal extra money for extra leisure time and a better quality of life.
      These people are capable of creating the jobs we need and the growth we need but they have become disincentivised.
      It might create opportunities for others but that assumes demand for these products and services is there and with a lot of people doing the same (me included) I wonder if we are all going into a kind of national hibernation.

      • zorro
        Posted March 26, 2012 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

        Atlas shrugged….

        zorro

    • Bazman
      Posted March 26, 2012 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

      You would need a fair about of money for it to be life changing. Maybe it was because you have a life outside work and don’t need the hassle of talking to w12943s. Or maybe you are just bone idle. I for one will not be listing to the nonsense of a middle aged middle class managers.

      • Richard
        Posted March 26, 2012 at 10:39 pm | Permalink

        Dear Bazman,
        Could you translate your post into a language that can be understood
        Many thanks

  12. Alex
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    “Its main aim, in my view, ought just to be to raise necessary revenue to pay for public services.”
    I agree 100%.

    Sadly, your leadership does not, as exemplified by alcohol minimum pricing (or tax on poor drinkers, as I think of it). I had hoped that the last election had given us an administration less obsessed with managing people’s personal behaviour.

    By the way, in 2009/10 the long-suffering taxpayers of this country paid £5.7 million subsidy towards the House of Commons Catering, which includes the cost of running the 4 House of Commons bars.

    http://www.parliament.uk/site-information/foi/foi-responses/foi-disclosures-2011/foi-disclosures-july—september-2011/bars-in-the-house-of-commons/

    Should one of the purposes of taxation be to subsidise food and alcohol for MPs?

    • norman
      Posted March 26, 2012 at 10:52 am | Permalink

      They need to be drunk to do their jobs, how else could you listen to the stream of drivel from the front benches day after day and retain a vestige of sanity?

      Some carry it too far and have to be carried through divisions, or headbutt other members, or describe to female members lurid sexual dreams they have about said member but such is the heavy burden we ask them to shoulder I’m sure we can forgive the odd mis-step.

    • forthurst
      Posted March 26, 2012 at 11:41 am | Permalink

      How exactly is alocohol minimum pricing supposed to work? How would a drinker distinguish between a poor product that has been artificially uplifted and one which would naturally fall at the statutary minimum? Should not the government introduce a Reinheitsgebot to ensure a purer product for all beer drinkers? Obviously, the French have no equivalent law for their wine so perhaps a chemical test on its descaling properties might suffice.

      • lifelogic
        Posted March 26, 2012 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

        On achohol minimum pricing I am reminded of Enoch Powell asking Ted Heath “has the Right Honourable Gentleman taken leave of his senses?”.

        Do they have plans to extend it to other products glue perhaps or burgers?

    • Barry
      Posted March 26, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

      One wonders why this wasn’t taxed (as the rest of us would haver been) as a benefit in kind?

  13. Mactheknife
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    The Australian government promised no Carbon Tax when they went into power, but broke that promise. They also put a “Robin Hood” tax on the mining and minerals industry and withdrew government subsidy on petrol.

    Now look at the election results over there. Oh dear…..Labour massacre !!

    If you hit people in their pocket, especially on things they feel strongly about, its only a matter of time before it comes back to bite you. There is little time left for the government to turn things around.

    The Conservatives should look and learn from Australia.

    • lojolondon
      Posted March 26, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

      Beautiful isn’t it?? Lovely to see how, even though they held a very narrow majority, the Kinnock protege lied to her voters, did a full u-turn on carbon tax and railroaded unpopular policies through parliament enjoying the feeling of power and doing what she wants, ignoring the wishes of her voters.

      Now she will become the second Labour leader in 18 months to be kicked out of power without ever being voted into power.

      It couldn’t have happened to two nicer people!

  14. lojolondon
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    John, I don’t know if you ever go onto the Adam Smith Institute – http://www.adamsmith.org – it is fantastic source of common sense – I recommend this link covering the alcohol tax question.

    http://www.adamsmith.org/blog/healthcare/200-proof-perfect-that-were-being-ruled-by-s

    I also want to repeat my uk-taxpayer-burden comment – the tax rate is NOT 38%.

    Average marginal income tax is 38%.
    NI of 12% on the salary, employers NI at 13%, 12+13=25
    Most people pay VAT on almost everything they buy at 20%
    On fuel, alcohol and cigarettes we pay far more, up to 60% tax on diesel.

    So if a company has a budget of 100k for a job, they will offer 87k because they need to pay NI. After NI, you will receive £75k, less Income Tax at 38% = £46,500
    On this you will pay 20% VAT, leaving £37,200.

    I am sure the TPA could do a better job, but the fact is a UK taxpayer on 100kpa is paying in the region of 65% tax as a minimum.

    That excludes taxes like the BBC, council tax, duties on fuel, cigarettes and alcohol, parking meters, toll roads and other regional and national taxes.

    • uanime5
      Posted March 26, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

      NI is only 2% for those earning more than £817 per week so your answer is wrong. You also forgot to deduct NI when you deducted income tax.

      Also can you calculate how much someone working in a minimum wage job had left after taxes for comparison.

      • libertarian
        Posted March 26, 2012 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

        uanime5

        As normal you are wrong, do you never bother to do any research?

        Here is the official entry on the HMRC website

        If you’re employed you pay Class 1 National Insurance contributions. The rates are:
        if you earn more than £139 a week and up to £817 a week, you pay 12 per cent of the amount you earn between £139 and £817
        if you earn more than £817 a week, you also pay 2 per cent of all your earnings over £817..

        the key bit is ALSO PAY that is ON TOP of the 12% you ALSO pay 2% UNCAPPED on everything else

      • lifelogic
        Posted March 27, 2012 at 4:52 am | Permalink

        Wrong again.

    • Bazman
      Posted March 26, 2012 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

      Do you think we should have a minimum wage or do you think it is acceptable for a person to work for anything after bleating about how poor someone is when they are on 100k. Ah! that will be separate issue? Not here it isn’t.

      • Richard
        Posted March 26, 2012 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

        You have the power, dont take any job you feel has a level of pay which is too low for you.
        Or try self employment and see how much you can earn for yourself instead.

  15. Bob
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    Why is vat levied on bicycles and water butts?
    Does the govt not want us to collect rain water and get more exercise and reduce the use of fossil fuels?

    • alan jutson
      Posted March 26, 2012 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

      Bob

      “Why is VAT levied on bicycles and water butts”

      Same reaon as it is levied on insulation products, more money for the government to spend, 35% of which appears to go on Benefits.

      No joined up thinking.

      We have housing stock in the millions which is sub standard, so we charge 20% VAT on improvements and repairs.

  16. Pericles
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    Right in concept, Mr. Redwood — I question however the order in which you rank the tendency to tax, which, because merely comparing the amount of funds generated from taxing each activity, is derived from its volume.  What would be more revealing would be a ranking of the rates of taxation.

    The problem with taxing things considered bad is that doing so generates addiction to them – on the part of the government.  Imagine what would happen to the Treasury if people actually followed the government’s advice and stopped smoking or gave up using their motor-cars.

    ΠΞ

    • uanime5
      Posted March 26, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

      Alternatively you could determine the taxation per capita by dividing the amount of tax collected by the number of people taxed. This would easily determine which activities attract the most taxation.

    • uanime5
      Posted March 27, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

      Good news I found the HMRC figures John was referring to but sadly it doesn’t explain how many people paid these taxes so the per capita amount can be accurately calculated.

      http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/stats/tax_receipts/tax-receipts-and-taxpayers.pdf

      Fortunately as the number of people in work in the UK is 30 million I can calculation fairly accurately how much tax is paid per person.

      So if 30 million people paid £153.5 billion in income tax then the average person paid £5,117 in income tax. Given that the median salary is £26,000 this means that the average tax rate is 19.7%. Not as crippling as John implied.

  17. Polly Ethel Leane
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    JR – If they think higher taxes on drink deters drinking, higher taxes on tobacco deters smoking, and higher taxes on motoring deters driving…

    Then frankly they must be barking mad, these are some of the most price inelastic behaviours we have. Of course it does mean the wastrels get to spend even more of my money, so they’d view that as a gain, no doubt.

  18. Paul Chambers
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    How I agree with the recent remark by Mr Redwood where he commented that you can’t tax a country into prosperity. Our problem is not a lack of taxes – it is the much too high level of public spending much of it inappropriate and wasteful. The public sector should not occupy more than about 30% of GDP and should be wholly funded by taxes ( i.e. NO borrowing). So where is the Quango bonfire and the sweeping away of political correctness etc etc as promised. I will not dwell on the perverse incentives by our current tax credit system – a typical socialist means test of the worst kind . The tax system should be able to be comprehensively described on two pages of A4 paper and not require a trolley to pull the current massive tome!!.

    Paul Chambers

  19. forthurst
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    Why is there no tax on synthetic collateralized debt obligations? Are they considered more essential to life than carbon? The first skill developed by our early ancestors was that of the controlled oxidation of carbon; did we take a wrong evolutionary turn at that point?

    I have never really understood why all printed matter should be free of VAT. Some of it needs taxing at much higher rates; e.g. red tops should be taxed at somewhere between 36 and 38 pc. Only printed matter which cannot contain a political opinion such a maths textbook should be VAT free. All other printed matter should be taxed at the standard rate except those which contain politically correct opinions which would be taxed at 1000% . Blogs would not be taxed as some of them attempt to give a true interpretation of events and many are run on a shoestring anyhow.

  20. backofanenvelope
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    If I was Chancellor of the Exchequer I would reduce taxation on fags, booze and Cornish pasties in order to increase consumption, thus increasing revenues. And making the voters happier.

  21. James Reade
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    So if you believe taxes serve just one purpose, namely raising revenue, you should be of the believe that they should be levied on the areas most likely to raise revenue, all other things held constant? In which case we’re talking about activities that are least sensitive to taxation.

    Hence (to an extent) earning a living, earning profits, and shopping for things viewed as necessities.

    Surely, therefore, you shouldn’t have a problem with the current relative levels of taxation?

    • Richard
      Posted March 26, 2012 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

      In the short term these increased taxes seem to provide the answer but it assumes no reaction by those being taxed.
      Most will modify their behaviour to avoid taxes they feel are punative.
      The long tem result, based on results from the seventies is reduced tax revenues and rising unemployment.

  22. Bernard Otway
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    Question John to you and all commenters, WHERE IS JAVELIN.
    Maybe he has taken his OWN advice and others like mine ,removed his considerable talent and abilities to a much fairer tax regime.If so OUR loss is that tax regimes gain,especially the
    comment and analysis based on his being able to observe from within.His comments and especially forecasts including accurate dates were PROPHETIC,and sometimes SCARY,one instance last year helped a friend make a tax free gain of a very large sum,which now resides in a bank overseas where the currency has also increased in value against the £ ,WIN WIN.

    • Electro-Kevin
      Posted March 26, 2012 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

      I agree, Bernard.

    • alan jutson
      Posted March 27, 2012 at 8:07 am | Permalink

      Bernard

      Perhaps he is on holiday, and like me when on holiday I can completely switch off, and chill out completely.

      Or

      Perhaps his Company have worked out his identity and do not like him blogging ?

      Whatever, I wish him well.

  23. Alan Wheatley
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    How fascinating! This one could run and run.

    The presentation is as seen by the tax imposer (the government), which is OK. If an intention is to change behaviour, then there also needs to be an analysis from the point of view of the taxed. This falls into two categories.

    First there is tax on income, not just earnings, which may influence the choices people make as to obtaining it. Second is tax on spending, which may influence choices people make as to what the buy.

    I would suggest that spending choices are significantly influenced by how much money is available to be spent. For instance, 37p on a packet of cigarettes may be VERY significant if you do not have the extra 37p, but of no significance if spending, say, £100k per annum.

    Money is not the be all and end all of everything, but it does make available more choice.

  24. Phil A. Grey
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    “why don’t they see that higher taxes on earning and working hard deters working, and higher taxes on profits and enterprise deters job creating investment ventures”

    Because, it does not suit their purpose, which is to extract & spend as much of our money as possible. The ‘deterent’ excuse used with drink & tobaccov, is simply window-dressing, designed to make people think that we are being taxed for our own good. TAXED ENOUGH ALREADY.

  25. Alan Wheatley
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    Wealth of itself is not inherently bad. Rich people’s spending distributes their wealth to others. For instance, the big bonus spent on a new Aston Martin helps support employment at Gaydon making what is a relatively labour-intensive product.

    There should be safeguards so that money can not be used by the rich to coerce the poor, and in some are things should be much better: for instance a rich person serving a claim on a poor person is at a big advantage within civil litigation, almost irrespective of the merits of the case.

    And dare I mention party funding?

    But by and large wealth should be seen as a good rather than a bad.

    • Bob
      Posted March 26, 2012 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

      @Alan Wheatley
      – Agree yr first para.

      – Second para re justice, the judicial system needs a refurb, the judges live in a wonderland of their own, and the court system favours the wealthy, which cannot be right. I’ve yet to meet a lawyer that wasn’t more concerned with racking up billing time than making sure my interests were being properly served. In one instance they tried to charge me £35 for a covering letter which read “our invoice is enclosed” and the £35 was included in the invoice! Needless to say the charge was obscured in jargon and billing codes.

      – Party funding, that would make for an interesting blogpost!

      “But by and large wealth should be seen as a good rather than a bad.”

      In a healthy society, the less well off look a Rolls Royce and say “one day, I’ll own one of those… and the thought spurs them to work towards that goal, and even if they don’t make it they will have improved their lot in the process. Unfortunately that attitude is not so common in the UK.

      • uanime5
        Posted March 27, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

        Unfortunately in the UK the workers look at their bosses’ Rolls Royce and think “Why should I work hard when they get all the benefits”. Which highlights a major problem with the lack of rewards for hard work in the UK.

  26. Lindsay McDougall
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    There was a time when a Tory principle was to pass laws preventing behaviour that was unacceptably bad and to leave private organisations to EXHORT people to do the right thing otherwise. This is now regarded as extreme. For two different versions as to how it might pan out in practice, read Victorian history and read “A voyage to the Houyhnhnms”, the last – and most definitely misanthropic – of Gulliver’s 4 voyages.

    In modern times, the purpose of taxation is to raise as much revenue as possible in order to carry on with grossly excessive state expenditure, which explains the top 5 items on your list. This applies to so called taxes on bad behaviour, including taxes on alcohol and smoking. It’s just that now the state has got wiser; it realises that drinking and smoking damage health and put up the bill for free-at-the-point-of-consumption NHS treatment, so is hitting them harder.

    The top revenue raising taxes target people with wealth. This should not surprise us. An early question asked of a client by any consultant or other supplier of services with half a brain is “What’s your budget?”. All of us look at ability and willingness to pay.

    Let me challenge Mr Redwood. If public expenditure were to be reduced to 35% of GDP and you were to follow Nigel Lawson’s two principles (1) Taxes should be simple (2) Taxes should be low and everybody should pay them, which taxes would you get rid of and what loopholes would you close?

  27. Popeye
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    I presume, because of your presentation, you are not one of these MP’s?
    So what are you doing about it? I only have 1 vote and I use it, but you have more influence than me, so what do you propose Sir?

  28. David Langley
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    The chancellor does not talk to me, he might to you. If we think of giveaways as bad put Foreign Aid and EU project donations/fines top of my current list.
    The chancellor prattles on about how he is fair and only thinking about the countries welfare, so tell him to get his hands out of our pockets and stop borrowing money we cannot repay.
    If you and your party members in the coalition are so supine what is the point of MP,s? You said a while ago that there is little point in Ministers coming to the commons with their cunning plans, as they are largely irrelevant. I feel totally useless to do anything about the damage the political elite are doing to us all. Lets borrow to the hilt and then ask the lenders to take a 90% haircut like Spain seems to be getting away with. Only Joking John!

  29. oldtimer
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    The other side of your equation is the level of taxation levied on what is deemed (by the ruling political class) to be good – some activities (some like so-called green initiatives are little better than scams) even attract subsidies.

    The recent budget statement is notable for the way the Chancellor is seeking to attract foreign investors (including sovereign wealth funds) to invest in the UK – notably by reducing rates of Corporation tax. It is a sad commentary that while on the one hand he taxes the “rich” and not so rich who live here until the pips squeak (trademark Dennis Healey), with the other hand he finds it necessary to lower corporation tax rates to attract the overseas “rich”. As for the 15% stamp duty to be levied on homes purchased through overseas companies, that will simply be charged as an expense against the profits on which these ultra low corporation taxes will be charged.

    Let us be clear. The inhabitants and taxpayers resident in this country have been, and continue to be, treated with contempt by successive governments. The current leadership of all the main parliamentary parties are all in this together. No doubt the latest cash for access scandal will be used to brainwash us all into believeing that we must pay the part expenses of these same politicians so that they may to continue to dupe us with our own money. I can only see change coming if there is revolt from within these parties.

  30. JimF
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    Well it’s you asking the questions.
    Perhaps they should be addressed to your colleagues in the cabinet to answer.
    If they need any help there are a few UKIP voters out here to guide them along.

  31. uanime5
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    “The biggest bad according to the tax system is going out to work. If you dare to work hard and be successful you are commiting the biggest crime of all.”

    So by increasing the number of people who are unemployed the Government is helping these people? This could be the Conservatives new slogan when unemployment reaches 3 million.

    “If they think higher taxes on drink deters drinking, higher taxes on tobacco deters smoking, and higher taxes on motoring deters driving, why don’t they see that higher taxes on earning and working hard deters working, and higher taxes on profits and enterprise deters job creating investment ventures?”

    Well working is more profitable than drinking, smoking, or driving. Also even with a 95% tax rate on earnings you’re still financially better off by working or innovating because you’ll always get more money for your extra work. You’d need a tax rate of over 100% before it became detrimental to work or innovate.

    John earning large amounts of money and working hard are not the same thing and it’s immoral for you to claim that it is. Just because tens of millions of people in the UK don’t earn over £150,000 per year doesn’t mean that they’re not working hard enough.

    Also didn’t the Government says that trebling tuition fees to £9,000 per year wouldn’t put the poorest off going to university. If so then either the Government was wrong or high taxes won’t put people off working.

    • Bob
      Posted March 26, 2012 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

      uanime5
      “You’d need a tax rate of over 100% before it became detrimental to work “
      Wrong !

      “Also didn’t the Government says that trebling tuition fees to £9,000 per year wouldn’t put the poorest off going to university. If so then either the Government was wrong or high taxes won’t put people off working.

      Wrong again !

      Tuition fees are not repayable until you reach an income level of £21 k.p.a.
      They are also not repayable if you leave the UK, and I’m sure there are many other ways to avoid paying them.

      • APL
        Posted March 27, 2012 at 6:44 am | Permalink

        Bob: “They are also not repayable if you leave the UK .. ”

        There is a perverse incentive if I ever saw one.

        The UK educates to a high standard, piles the debt onto the student then, just as a student is starting to reap the rewards of his labors, he notices he doesn’t have to pay the £20,000 back if he leaves the UK.

  32. stred
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    The Prime Minister’s PR machine must be having a difficult few days. Following the ‘Granny Tax’ and the move to put modest earners into the doubled income tax rate, along with the complex removal of child benefit for these taxpayers there was much criticism. It has now become clear that this change will result in many more people having to make a self assessment tax return and their savings will be subject to additional tax.

    The day afterwards we had the announcement of the ban on bargain booze, presumably in order to please the aged and middle classes. Then it turned out that the domestic Sagalouts were as keen on a cheap bottle as the Lager variety.

    Next day we had Premiershipgate and the prospect of relegation. So this is followed by the increase in funding for Alzheimers. An oldie bonus if there ever was. They must think we are well on the way already.

    • backofanenvelope
      Posted March 27, 2012 at 5:58 am | Permalink

      Sagalouts? One to remember………

  33. Jack Thompson
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    They could bring environmental taxes way up the league table by putting a carbon tax on breathing – a big source of carbon dioxide.

  34. Alan Radford
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    You are causing embarassment, John. Far too much good old common sense. The government relies on lies, obfuscation, spin and deceit.

  35. Electro-Kevin
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    A brilliant post, Mr Redwood.

    • Electro-Kevin
      Posted March 27, 2012 at 4:27 am | Permalink

      The worst of it isn’t the taxation, but the feeling of being a stranger in one’s own country – as well as seeing it becoming a corrupt country too.

  36. Boudicca
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    The biggest evil is imposing one tax on top of another; the obvious example is fuel duty.

    Fuel is paid for with money which has already been subject to Income Tax. Fuel Duty is then levied and finally VAT is imposed imposed on top. This is sheer greed from a political class that is insulated from the effect it has, because it qualifies for travel expenses.

    I am on spending strike. I am reasonably well off and could afford to spend, but I am limiting it as much as possible. I am not paying 20% VAT unless I really need the product or service. I am using Charity Shops; freecycle; swap sites etc. I have taken steps to limit my contribution to the Govts ‘green energy scam’ and I am changing my behaviour to reduce my car usage.

    All the time Cameron thinks it is OK to tax us into the ground instead of cutting spending and in order to increase funding to the EU; Euro bailouts; Aid to India and anywhere else he visits I will remain on spending strike.

    He won’t get my vote. I’m a conservative – I’m voting UKIP.

  37. Jon
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

    A good point well made. Take smoking, my figures are out of date but cost to the NHS was £4bn and revenue raised £9bn. Smokers don’t live as long so lets say 8 years less state pension to pay, say £60,000 minimum saved in addition.

    Another area is the tax threashold, okay £10,000 maybe but not the £12000 + being talked about. A larger and larger proportion of the voters not paying tax is a road we don’t want to go down. They will have a bigger and bigger say which = a higher tax threashold which the rest have to make up.

    It didn’t take a genius to work out that with all the tax rises on smoking that they would turn to the fat tax, the biggest cost to the NHS. What after the fat tax? a tax on sport for the injuries, a tax on walking coz some need rescuing in the dales and hills, a tax on the playgrounds and fields as kids end up needing stitches in a hospital.

    Some of these political ideologies are given grand names like socialism or communism but its nothing more than envy and greed.

  38. Jon
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    Whilst this government is way better than the loonies on the left I did feel it was sad to tax hot food. Occasionally I treat myself to a hot bacon roll before work and yes that really is a treat when it happens. Just a bit sad even that is now taxed to because the greed of the public sector.

  39. Richard
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

    I’m old enough to remember the sharp decline in the fortunes of this nation in the late sixties and seventies when “taxing the rich until the pips squeaked” was the order of the day.
    The result was “the brain drain” as it was named by the press, as the top business leaders, the stars of stage, screen and music industry left rather than pay over 90% tax.
    It led to a reduced tax take, a declining economy and increased unemployment.
    We could do with few more historians in the Government rather than PPE graduates as we seem to be repeating the same mistakes.
    An economy that has a level of Governmentspending hovering around 50% of GDP is unsustainable and will only lead to decline against more efficient nations.

  40. Mike Stallard
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

    I am full of silly ideas at the moment.
    Another one is to abolish all taxes entirely and replace them by Income Tax at a certain blanket level so that everyone pays a percentage of their income.
    Laffer curve – I have looked it up now although I still do not understand it – enthusiasts might agree.
    National Insurance could then perhaps be collected and used solely for the Welfare Bill. In Singapore the money is used to allow people to buy their flats and pay for their health insurance individually.
    All other taxes – get rid of them.
    And what would the Treasury have to say about that?

    • Manicbeancounter
      Posted March 26, 2012 at 11:08 pm | Permalink

      A flat tax to replace “progressive” income tax may raise extra revenue, but it is not enough. Even doubling the revenue from income tax / NI will only still mean cutting expenditure by > 50% – even before you tackle the deficit.

  41. Andrew
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

    JR -What would your ideal (or least unattractive )tax “menu”, –plus rate for each item on the “menu” look like ?.

    Given that all juristictions have to levy taxes of some sort at some particular rate , this seems a fair question.

    How the Laffer Curve work (or not) for each tax and its own particular rate ? Would this be one of your considerations ?

    Your frustrations with nocturnal media phone calls is very understandable but surely this indicates that your views are least attracting attention , however this does also mean that you will probably be asked to put forward alternatives.

  42. Bazman
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

    Low pay is a form of tax. Do many of these companies making massive profits seriously expect to find anyone other than the desperate chancers to do work for them at the rates they are offering?

  43. Rupert Butler
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

    “Third on the list is property, accounting for 10.5% of tax raised. The taxes are higher if you dare to buy a bigger home or live in a favoured district.”

    John might have added that, out of the 10.5% of taxed raised, perhaps two fifths are raised as UBR from commercial occupiers. Moreover the rate that is levied on them indicates that businesses, far from being valuable contributors to the GDP, are roughly five times as “bad” as private households.

  44. Manicbeancounter
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

    The moral dimension of taxes needs to be weighed against the substitution effect. A tax will be most effective in raising revenue for the very reasons that it is least effective in influencing behaviour – that is where there are no close substitutes. Tobacco is addictive. Once people are hooked it is very difficult to kick the habit. The closest substitute is illicit supplies from low tax countries. Alcohol is (arguably) less addictive, but again no real close substitute (though there is a huge disparity in cost per unit of alcohol). Fuel for cars is now increasingly being viewed as a sin, as is keeping one’s home warm and well lit. Both have no close substitutes in most consumer’s eyes.
    There are, however, close substitutes. Taxes on the rich means they can pay themselves perks, or move their wealth overseas, or spend less time earning, more time enjoying themselves. Carbon taxes mean extra costs for manufacturing, so increased incentives to move abroad. So the “sins” of wealth creation are often easier to counter that the sins affecting health.

  45. Alexis
    Posted March 27, 2012 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

    Taxing ‘Bads’ – I like that concept 🙂
    A brilliant article; and the last sentence is an absolute corker. Bravo Mr R.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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