The pain in Spain falls mainly on the sane

It seems that the Spanish are getting increasingly angry at their politicians's weasel tax-evading behaviour. The BBC reports that the mood among the Spanish has changed from "eh, it's the way things are" to "how dare they?":

For the last few months the corruption scandals have been so numerous that the television news began lumping them together in a swift round-up, rather than reporting on each one.
The latest is a claim that PM Rajoy bumped his pay by 30% even as government service providers are alleged to have given kickbacks to senior politicians in return for contracts.

Is this public anger healthy? Perhaps it is; at least some degree of accountability is being demanded from their politicians. I wonder though how well this anger is being transmitted in the Spanish media. In the end, newspapers and TV/radio have a love/hate relationship with politicians; they need access to the pols to get their scoops, and the pols need friendly journalists to hold back on stories if the timings are inconvenient. We should not pretend that most journalists are anything but self-interested; I hope that none of my readers are under any illusion that politicians are any better.

If everyone is cheating on their taxes, it seems a little rich to be particularly indignant about politicians. Why do you think Spain is running a spending deficit? Effective personal tax rates for 25K Euros per year should be comfortably north of 25% but Spanish personal income tax received in 2010 was €81bn and the VAT take was £74bn. With 21 million taxpayers (tax returns sent) out of a population of 50 million, that's under €4000 income tax per taxpayer and €1500 VAT per citizen. Spain's average salary is about $31K or €24K which implies that the income tax take is about 30% under what you'd expect (€6K or so).

Of course, the Spanish voted these politicians into power - did they have any reason to expect politicians to behave any better than their voters? Heck, expecting politicians to behave any better than the reference mendacious weasel standard shows an astounding level of optimism. Politicians will do whatever benefits them if they think they can get away with it, the law notwithstanding (see the travails of Chris Huhne as a prime example.)

What then should we expect Spanish voters to do differently as a result? Will they vote in politicians who promise to significantly cut spending and not take the piss in their tax payments? My arse, they will; most people - at least, 51% of people - want a free ride in state spending. They don't want to be told that the good times are over, even if they can feel that the bad times are here. Denial is a very powerful force.

Dodging taxes means that you don't feel the negative effects of spending - of course you're going to want the state to spend more. Perhaps this is positive for the UK, where at least tax evasion is a) difficult (PAYE) and b) usually rigorously chased, even if the Inland Revenue occasionally gets it wrong. UK tax payers have skin in the game of our politicians' spending - this is why the "tax the rich" game is popular; we don't want the politicians to spend less since we like our benefits, subsidies etc, but we don't want to pay for them so we realise that someone else has to make up for our omission.

The BBC quotes a Spanish voter on the subject of the guillotine:

One middle-aged, mild-looking woman, replied "you know the French Revolution, where they cut off their heads? Well something like that might do the trick".
This got me to wonder: why did they chop off the head of Marie Antoinette? Was it just envy? Reasonable sources indicate that it was driven by an attempt by the upper class to avoid additional taxation, so it's not such a bad precedent. It doesn't take much imagination to see the Spanish populace hanging politicians from lampposts, and indeed such an image would be a welcome reminder to politicians of other countries that their imagined immunity from the regular legal processes cuts both ways.

No comments:

Post a Comment

All comments are subject to retrospective moderation. I will only reject spam, gratuitous abuse, and wilful stupidity.