Posts Tagged Tax

Mind Your Language

I am always happy to see my tax dollars at work printing expensive government brochures in exotic languages such as Tagalog, Vietnamese and Dinka, for people who can’t be bothered to learn the language of their adopted country. I would have thought that, as a matter of common sense or even self-defence, if I emigrated to a country the first thing I would do would be to learn the language, although I did meet an American who had been living in Costa Rica for five years and did not speak a word of Spanish. Personally I would prefer to see those tax dollars spent on English classes for migrants, such as my parents attended many years ago. I notice that none of these documents are presented in German but maybe that’s because the Germans feel they have caused enough trouble over recent years and actually make the effort to learn the language of their new country.

Who can blame the French for being upset that everyone expects them to speak English, even in their own country? Still, French linguistics does not easily lend itself to English pronunciation. Zoos seem to attract film crews and, on this particular occasion, we had a French one wandering about. At one stage of the shoot the director asked us to “put your turkey on the table”. Bemused, the keeper and I looked at each other and shook our heads. In the time honoured technique used by people the world over when the person you are talking to has no idea what you are saying, he repeated his request, only louder. “Put your turkey on the table!”

Exasperated, he finally pointed at the two way radios hanging from our belts, also known as walkie talkies. In French, the talkie obviously became a turkey.

Of course being completely ignorant of a language can have its advantages. Many years ago my wife and I spent over ten hours hiking through the jungle to a research facility situated in the Costa Rican rainforest. The day before we were due to hike out a small supply plane landed on the grass strip. Not being keen to repeat the arduous walk my wife asked about the possibility of being flown out instead. Being horrified by all forms of aerial transport I declined to join her, greatly preferring the walk, which turned out to be only six hours and gave us a wonderful encounter with a family of coatis foraging on the beach.

As the plane was in a rush to leave we hastily repacked, so that my wife took most of the heavy articles with her. Upon landing she boarded a bus bound for San Jose. The bus originated in Panama and had not yet passed its border check. Officials boarded the bus wanting to see everyone’s identification. My wife produced her passport only to be astonished to see a photo of me staring up at her. In our haste we had inadvertently swapped passports.

Speaking no Spanish whatsoever, my wife also feigned a complete lack of understanding regarding the gestures directed at her by the customs official, especially the one about coming back to his private office for further “discussion”. Fortunately the Costa Ricans are reasonably relaxed about such things (after all they have no army) and the customs official, realising today was not going to be his lucky day, eventually grew tired of the exercise and let my wife go. Fortuna, the Roman goddess of luck, was obviously smiling on her that day.

To close, I am reminded of the recently retired American couple who decided to embark on a rail journey across North America. Some days into the trip the train pulled into a station. The wife asked her husband to enquire as to their whereabouts. He accosted the station master who replied, “Saskatoon, Saskatchewan”.

Upon returning to the cabin the wife asked expectantly, “Well, where are we?”

To which the husband replied, “I don’t know. They don’t speak English.”

Dr. F. Bunny

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Accountable

“Counsellor: Mr Anchovy, you asked us to advise you which job in life you were best suited for.

Anchovy: That is correct, yes.

Counsellor: Well I now have the results here of the interviews and the aptitude tests that you took last week, and from them we’ve built up a pretty clear picture of the sort of person that you are. And I think I can say, without fear of contradiction, that the ideal job for you is chartered accountancy.

Anchovy: But I am a chartered accountant.

Counsellor: Jolly good. Well back to the office with you then.

Anchovy: No! No! No! You don’t understand. I’ve been a chartered accountant for the last twenty years. I want a new job. Something exciting that will let me live.

Counsellor: Well chartered accountancy is rather exciting isn’t it?

Anchovy: Exciting? No it’s not. It’s dull. Dull. Dull. My God it’s dull, it’s so desperately dull and tedious and stuffy and boring and des-per-ate-ly DULL.

Counsellor: Well, er, yes Mr Anchovy, but you see your report here says that you are an extremely dull person. You see, our experts describe you as an appallingly dull fellow, unimaginative, timid, lacking in initiative, spineless, easily dominated, no sense of humour, tedious company and irrepressibly drab and awful. And whereas in most professions these would be considerable drawbacks, in chartered accountancy they are a positive boon.”

Taken from Monty Python’s “The Vocational Guidance Counsellor” (http://www.montypython.net/scripts/vocation.php, or http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=azkFz1ZbXyU, if you want to watch the video). One of my favourites. The piece finishes with the concerned counsellor turning to the camera with a plea:

“Well this is just one of the all too many cases on our books of chartered accountancy. The only way that we can fight this terrible debilitating social disease, is by informing the general public of its consequences, by showing young people that it’s just not worth it. So, so please… give generously… to this address: The League for Fighting Chartered Accountancy, 55 Lincoln House, Basil Street, London, SW3.”

They certainly have my support.

I am convinced that Australian government policy is dictated by accountants. Life used to be simple. I went to work, had my hard earned pay arbitrarily deducted by the government and, once a year, filled in a form to make sure the government had not inadvertently taken too little money from me. That was it. I did not even need an accountant. Worst case scenario, if life became too complex, I would still only need an accountant once a year.

Well, the accountants didn’t like that because it left them with nothing to do for 11 months. I don’t imagine the indolence bothered them but it is hard to charge people for doing nothing (I will discuss private medical insurance next time). So, what brilliant convoluted plan did they come up with? If you are a salaried wage earner you are still relatively safe (but for how long?). However, if you have a business, watch out. Tax needs to be paid four times a year and it has to be paid in advance based on what the government thinks you might earn, as opposed to what you actually did earn.

If that wasn’t enough we now have the delightful Goods and Services Tax (GST), which has turned us all into tax collectors. GST is added to income. I have to save up all that GST and, every three months, forward the accumulated total to the government. Why the government can’t extract it directly but has to use me as a middle man is beyond me.

The good news is that all this complexity and confusion means the accountants are now busy year round, and don’t they charge for it. It baffles me that a person who spends his working life adding up numbers can charge twice what a person who mends broken bones, and diagnoses and treats life threatening diseases does. On top of their already exorbitant fee, my accountant (soon to be ex-accountant) also charges for the privilege of talking to me by email or phone. I did not, however, know this until I received my first bill. Even though they pride themselves on being a paperless office, all my bills still turn up in the mail, despite numerous pleas for electronic invoices. Never mind the “War and Peace” size, bound tax return they mail to me each year. After all the money I pay them they still put a disclaimer on their work telling me they have based their return on information I have provided and can’t be held accountable (pun intended) for any errors (which they certainly make enough of) or miscalculations and that I should be sure to check everything before I sign off on it. If I was in any position to check their work or understand their calculations I could do the bloody thing myself in the first place and not have to employ their vast army of incompetent bean counters for $200+ an hour.

$200 an hour! Jealous? You bet. That will teach me to fall asleep during maths.

Dr. F. Bunny

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Ribbit, Ribbit, Debit, Ribbit

Apparently the Debit Tax is an Australian invention (http://debittax.com/). Its basic premise is to tax withdrawals from banks and financial institutions. This is done electronically each time a transaction occurs, so you won’t even feel it. The suggested amount is 0.33% of the total amount withdrawn. Why would we want to do this? If we had a Debit Tax of 0.33% in place we could scrap all other taxes. Imagine all the people living life in peace: no income tax, no GST, no sales tax, no capital gains tax, no stamp duty, no hassles. If you made and extracted $100,000 each year your total annual tax bill would come to $330. How does that compare with your current tax bill?

You are probably wondering how the government could function on such a miserly amount? How would the politicians fund their first class flights, pay for their drivers and afford their life time pensions?

It is estimated that each working day, in Australia, $200 billion is withdrawn from banks and financial institutions as a result of ordinary business and trading. A Debit Tax of 0.33% would raise approximately $660 million dollars for the government’s coffers each day. That sounds like a lot, but is it enough?

It is estimated that the Australian government needs $150 billion each year to function. If that daily Debit Tax amount is multiplied by 250 (approximately the number of working days in a year) it comes to about $165 billion, more than enough for the government’s operating needs with sufficient left over to pay off any outstanding debts.

So, if it’s so great, why don’t we have a Debit Tax? The usual reason i.e. the multinationals wouldn’t like it because it would force them to pay their fair share of tax. It has been estimated that about 90% of Australia’s current Gross National Product turnover is due to the activity of multinationals, who contribute only about 10% of the total tax take. As multinationals make significant political contributions it will come as no surprise that the politicians are not exactly falling over themselves to implement it.

More information can be found in this document from New Zealand: http://crash.ihug.co.nz/~tonycook/nzsdp/debittax.htm. If the Kiwis like it then it must be good.

Dr. F. Bunny

 

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