Thumb up or down

From Nick Jenkins
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Thumb up or down: Things I'd like to see more of, and things I'd like to see less of (or stopped altogether).

Thumbs-down.gif Dislike: Special-case tax legislation.

Case in point for greenslip insurance for car registration:

"Tax invoice green slips will cost more than standard green slips. If an Input Tax Credit can be claimed on the GST component of the premium, insurers will not receive a tax credit when claims settle. Insurers will also incur additional administration costs in implementing the GST legislation."

No! It's not supposed to work that way - there should be a flat rate charged, which people can either claim back or not claim back, depending on whether that money was spent as part of an income-producing enterprise. You don't get to ask people what it's for, and then decide that they should be charged more if they're using it in a certain way - that violates a basic premise of streamlining the tax system, which is why Australia undertook tax reform in the first place.

I'm not aware of any other industry that bills (or is legally ALLOWED to bill) in this way.

Thumbs-down.gif Deep Dislike: The US detainment of individuals in the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba, whereby people have been jailed indefinitely with no formal charges against them after being tagged with the made-up label of "enemy combatant."

My key objections to this are:

  • It is simply immoral - if these people are accused of a crime, then try them in a court of law like every other person accused of a crime, and if they are not accused of a crime (or if there is insufficient evidence) then set them free.
  • It sets an appalling precedent. The US has taken people from other nations, and forcibly brought them without extradition or charges being laid to be held in the US for an indefinite period of time. Would the US accept a foreign country coming to the US, taking it's citizens by force, without extradition or changes being laid, to be detained and interrogated indefinitely in that foreign country, then to face the death penalty for an ill-defined crime, in a closed military court where the normal rules of evidence, presumption of innocence and due process do not apply ? If the answer is no, then you are clearly doing something wrong.
  • We already know for a fact that awful mistakes have been made - completely innocent people have been held in Guantanamo Bay for extended periods and subsequently set free, and two people have been killed during 'questioning' (categorized as 'death by homicide' by the American's own pathologist). How much more has to go wrong before the American government accepts the bleeding obvious - that they can, will, and have already got it wrong, and that therefore they NEED due process ?
  • You don't protect or strengthen democracy by behaving illegally and ignoring due process. On the contrary, you weaken it, and devalue the very concepts of justice that you claim to be upholding.

Update: Saw that someone else also wrote an article on this topic here, and another one here.

Thumbs-up.gif Like to see: A levy of 5 to 25 cents on plastic shopping bags. [Such a system currently operates in Ireland]

Thumbs-up.gif Like to see: A deposit system (e.g. 5 or 10 cents deposit) on drinks containers to economically encourage recycling and collection of waste containers. [Such a system currently operates fine in South Australia]

Thumbs-up.gif Like to see: Anti-spam legislation in Australia, with teeth (legally enforceable penalties).

Thumbs-down.gif The war in Iraq being linked to "the war on terrorism".

Western forces are in Iraq on the precursor of combating terrorism generally, and Iraqi links to Al-Qaeda & Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction specifically. What a crock. Specifically:

  • I've not seen one shred of evidence that Iraq's weapons were a threat to Western countries.
  • The west has yet to find ANY undeclared weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. This may change in the future, but even if it does the embarrassingly long timeframe required to find anything, plus the obvious rarity of such weapons will only emphasise how limited a threat Iraq was.
  • I've not seen a single shred of evidence linking Iraq's prior regime with Al-Qaeda.

The simple fact is, the reasons used to justify the war have proven themselves false. The actions of the governments of the UK, US, and Australia to attack past or previous members of their intelligence organizations who pointed this out are also alarming.

A war in Iraq could have been justified on the basis that Saddam had to go, and that the short-term suffering inflicted by removing him would outweigh the long-term suffering caused by his remaining in power. Such an argument is morally sound, and one that I am in fully agreement with. However, this is was the never the argument used to justify the war until after the war, when there was a public backlash against it.

It has also become fashionable to label everyone doing something you don't condone as a "terrorist", to justify questionable actions by saying they are part of the "the war on terrorism", and to relate unconnected things to September 11. Any time this happens, I assume the person saying it is trying to bullshit me, and I am extremely sceptical of what they say until they can disprove this assumption.

Thumbs-down.gifDislike: High marginal rates of tax.

High Marginal rates of tax acts as a strong disincentive to earn more. This is a waste of resources. If people are capable of earning more, then why stop them.

The explanation of high marginal rates of tax is presumably the idea that it's OK to tax "the rich". (Of course earning $65,000 per annum whilst paying to live in major Australian city doesn't make a person "rich" by an reasonable stretch of the imagination.)

Strongly favour a flat rate of tax, or a tax structure where the top marginal rate of tax is lower (e.g. 30%), or kicks in at a sensible level.

Thumbs-down.gifDislike: Different rates of tax for companies and individuals.

Currently the Australian tax system is structured so that companies pay a flat 30% tax on their profits, and individuals up to 51% marginal tax.

This creates all kinds of silly distortions, such as whereby people defer income by holding it in a company. It's legal, but silly. People end up spending more on accountants, and the government doesn't get any more tax. Why not make the company rate of tax equal to the top individual marginal rate of tax, and thus remove the tax-related incentives of using companies?

Thumbs-down.gifStrong Dislike: Extending patents beyond 17 years, and extending copyright beyond life + 50 years.

If these legal protections are not long enough for you, then don't do whatever it is you thinking of doing. Really. Get out of the way so that someone else can do it instead. The world will go on without you. Experience has shown that these protections are already long enough for new innovations - extending them gives people less reason to innovate, not more - as it provides increased scope for rent-seeking behaviour, and less need for entrepreneurial behaviour. As such, extensions have real capacity to act as a disincentive, not an incentive, to innovations.

Additionally, such proposed extensions are almost always retrospective. Here's a hint: unless you have a time machine, then providing more incentives for past actions is useless! You can't make people in the past be more innovative - what's done is done - you can only influence the present and the future. The worst culprits are media companies (especially Disney), and the pharmaceutical companies, who are almost always motivated by some profitable Intellectual Property that is about to loose protection (the classic example is Mickey Mouse). Any such retrospective increases should be laughed out of the legislature as the totally self-serving disingenuous actions of big-business that they are.

Thumbs-up.gifLike to see: An Australian bill of rights. This would guarantee freedom of speech, freedom of religion, etc. People assume we have these rights in law, but it appears that we don't. Apparently we are the "only common law country without a Bill of Rights". See: NSW Council for Civil Liberties, [1], [2], [3], and[4].

Thumbs-down.gifDislike: When the government picks winners. For example, this SMH article about Qantas talks about their duopoly with United on the Sydney-LA route: "Right now Australians flying to the USA are paying on average 38 per cent more per kilometre to fly from Sydney to LA than from Sydney to London. How can you explain that? Simple: between Sydney and London, consumers have genuine choice. Between Sydney and LA, they don't." Telstra is also an offender in this category. What helps consumers helps the overall economy, and what helps consumers is competition. You simply do not improve your economy by eliminating choices that consumers would choose if given the chance.