R U A Meritocrat?

Well I think it’s shocking. Did you see those figures in the Telegraph last week?

What figures were those?

They were looking at what people paid towards welfare and pensions in the last Tax Year. Someone earning £15,000 would have paid over £700.

That’s a lot of money. No wonder the Government is trying to find ways to cut down the welfare bill.

Oh that’s nothing. Someone with £50,000 a year would have paid over £5000. That’s seven times as much!

I don’t think that’s relatively bad – after all the £50,000 earner is making so much money it’s peanuts to them.

Sometimes I despair of you Hilary. Leaving aside the fact that everyone’s circumstances are different it’s really foolish to confiscate so much of the earnings of successful people. We’re rapidly heading for a mediocre society of the lowest common denominator. This country really achieved prosperity by allowing the successful to get the rewards of their work. That’s only justice.

So you believe in the meritocracy?

What do you mean?

It means quite simply that you believe that the world should be run by the “fortunate” people – who might, if they have the mind to, chuck a few pennies at the less fortunate.

It’s not a question of being fortunate; it’s a question of working hard to be successful.

Tripe! One thing all the experts agree on is that the intelligence level is the most reliable measure of future success. And that, my dear Leslie, is inherited. Sheer chance who your parents are!

Just as a matter of fact only about 50% of IQ comes from parents.

Let’s not quibble about the exact figure – but the other 50% comes from upbringing. And that’s chance too.

How come?

Well we know that upbringing in a successful educated household is a huge advantage. The children get a big vocabulary. They come into contact with books right there in the home. The parents care about homework being properly done. And the children are likely to be encouraged all the way. Children in poor families are more likely to be reprimanded than encouraged. That’s the problem: well off parents tend to produce successful children, parents who happen to be poor and relatively uneducated don’t. So history repeats itself.

Come on. Hilary. There’s an excellent free education system in this country – and they all work to the National Curriculum. Everyone has a chance to get to the top.

You do live in fairy land, don’t you? I’ll leave aside private education – just remembering that it’s often paid for by family money. The fact is that the quality of a state school is hugely variable. If you want a good school you’d better live in a good area. But if you’re stuck in a poor area you’ll get a sink school. Parents, I’m told, run themselves ragged to get their children into a good school. And, believe me, middle class parents can run faster.

So what you’re saying is that well off and successful people depend on the good fortune of good genes and good parents. There’s no dam’ merit in it.

That’s certainly true. There are plenty of people who work hard and long hours in boring jobs to make ends meet. And plenty of others who tread a gilded path. And the difference is brought about by no more than chance. Of course I accept that you can’t put everyone on identical wages – but I shed no tears when the fortunate are required to contribute really quite large sums in taxation in acknowledgement of their good luck.

I’d like to stay and explain to you what damage your ideas would do to our society. Fact is, I’ve got my mid-week round of golf in an hour. It’s with Jem Wilcox, of Personnel. Remember, I promised to have a word with him about your boy. I’m sure he’ll find him a job. He owes me a favour

Oh..er… thanks.


This website allows you to see the contributions made at different income levels towards public services.


About Quentin

Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
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38 Responses to R U A Meritocrat?

  1. Iona says:

    It’s a bit late in the evening for mental arithmetic, but looks to me as though the £50,000 earner is paying proportionately a lot less in tax than the £15,000 earner.
    Given that the low earner will also have to spend proportionately more of his/her income on essentials (food, water supply, heating, rent or mortgage) than the high earner will, my immediate response is that this is unfair.

  2. Vincent says:

    Perhaps it depends on how you do your maths. I calculate that the £15,000 earner pays 13% in tax, while the £50,000 earner pays 28% – more than 2ce as high.
    I like the end of the exchange where Quentin implies that even Hilary will use her connections when it’s her own children who are involved!

  3. Singalong says:

    It does not seem possible for life on this earth ever to be fair, but we should try to share resources as far as our fallen human nature will reasonably allow.

    I do not understand why excessively high incomes and payments should ever be necessary to attract the right calibre of staff for any job or employment, or why large bonuses, or any at all, are added on top. Challenging and skilled work, conscientiously done, should be its own reward to a large extent, along with an income providing a reasonably comfortable living. Again, our culture requires differentials in pay according to status, a perceived hierarchy of value, and a distinction between manual and intellectual work, partly justified perhaps by the time and expense of training, but these do not need to be too great.

    A man/woman can only live in one dwelling at a time, or sail in one yacht, and no one really benefits from owning too many surplus possessions, while others have very little or nothing. More importantly we are custodians of our belongings, and any talents we may have, and must share them and use them for good. I am glad that we live in a country which tries to help the disadvantaged, and think it very important that we continue, and at the same time, that we improve the way we do so, particularly in trying to avoid opportunities for abuse of the systems put in place, and the danger of undermining self help.

    Our own children encompass both extremes, high flyers with bonuses, one in midstream, one in manual work, and one with a disability, funded (for how much longer?) by benefits, so we have plenty of opportunity to consider the issues of fairness and justice.

  4. ionzone says:

    Well, if you have more money the Christian thing to do is pay a bigger chunk of it so that people who are barely surviving have a better chance. Anything else is pure greed, IMO. That extra money the rich should may out might stop them getting that second home or the yacht. It would also help keep a few hundred people alive and warm.

  5. Singalong says:

    Personally, Ionzone, I/we have not got much spare money, relative to life in this country, but of course we are wealthy compared with the third world, or the homeless here. At our level, we find it hard to decide about replacing worn out, threadbare carpeting, for instance, or whether we should give the (bargain/sale price) money it would cost to ACN, and/or for the homeless, instead.

    On the other hand, all struggling firms are longing for customers to walk in and place large orders so that they don`t have to go out of business. These decisions are a minefield.

    Providing goods and services for money is a fair exchange, but I think there is an issue with great inequality, so that some can generously give, and others gratefully receive. We should aim for a system which does not need too much levelling out on an individual basis, fewer pay differentials, and fairer taxes and benefits.

  6. Vincent says:

    Here are. a couple of points I picked up from newspaper correspondence. Do we think they have any merit?

    1 The current ‘baby boomers’ had a much tougher life than young people have nowadays. Few of them went to university, they worked much longer hours, had far shorter holidays and they lacked many amenities we enjoy today. They built modern society by their efforts – and they don’t like being told that they are sponging off it by those who have benefited from their hard work.

    2 The Centre for Economic and Business Research has told us that the ‘silver pound’ is currently driving the recovery.

  7. Geordie says:

    I agree to a large extent, with Singalong. Challenging work contains its own reward. Excessive payment doesn’t attract the best candidates. It has the opposite effect. It attracts the con-men and main-chancers who invent their cv’s and inflate their past successes.
    With regard to Hilary and Leslie, I presume Hilary represents the left-wing. I find left-wingers never think things through to the long term conclusion. It is always the catchy sound-bite which impresses them.
    Take grammar schools as an example. They were a brilliant solution for clever, working-class children to become socially mobile. But they weren’t perfect, so the left-wing destroyed most of them. Leaving working-class children in sink comprehensive schools and middle-class children going to leafy comps. Comps are a disaster.

  8. tim says:

    Tax payment is always in some degree voluntary. My father had an argument with a tax inspector after the war. He took his case to the General Commissioners and won. But the inspector refused to budge. “I shall appeal to the High Court. And if I fail there, I shall go to the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords. Whether you are right or wrong is beside the point: you can’t afford that. I know, because I have full details of your financial affairs. So you may as well pay up now”. My father replied “Very well. But after this I’ll never pay you another penny of tax.” “You are obliged under the law to pay tax!” “Only if I’m resident in this country!” – and he moved to the Republic of Ireland. Taxpayers are like cows – you cannot milk them if they are unwilling to stand still.

    Tax fairness is difficult to judge. The country needs tax revenue (how much, and what for?). Obviously those who have more should pay more. How much more is more difficult. Life is unfair (you are better off if you have more money, a better job, spouse, heredity, environment, temperament). We cannot make it absolutely fair – we should try to make it relatively so, at least in tax matters. No doubt God loves a cheerful taxpayer – but this doesn’t solve difficult policy questions.

  9. Singalong says:

    One very topical aspect of tax is the use of tax havens by large companies, and some individuals, which may be legal but I think is mainly immoral. I have just read that the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development estimates that the poor in developping countries lose 3 times more money through this loophole than they receive in Aid each year.

    • John Candido says:

      Nobody is saying that one cannot have a view on taxation issues. However, the government has a right and an obligation to collect taxes on behalf of the community and the nation. All citizens have a duty to pay their fair share of the burden of taxation.

      ‘Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.’ Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

      The ‘Tax Justice Network’ is a good resource of ideas regarding tax evasion and tax avoidance.


  10. tim says:

    Singalong, you may be right. But frankly I doubt the figure. Any such figure must be based on very uncertain assumptions. [for example, you will often see it said that pirating cinema films/ computer programs costs Hollywood/Microsoft k per annum (where k is a large finite integer) But this often assumes that if the stuff hadn’t been pirated, Hollywood/Microsoft would have made their usual profit from each sale – which is obviously wrong, as most of the pirates’ customers wouldn’t have paid H/M’s prices].

    My main point is that there is no magic way of determining what is the fair amount of tax that anyone should pay. The amount of tax I pay – assuming I’m honest – is determined by the tax law. If there are loopholes, the remedy is to change the law. If I’m not honest, prosecute me and send me to prison. Probably tax law should aim for clarity and simplicity before equity. Too much ‘fairness’ means too many loopholes that the well-advised can exploit (indeed, may have a fiduciary duty to exploit).

    • Vincent says:

      Tim, I have to say that I agree with your last paragraph. Right now there is a free market in the choice of tax havens. Ireland deliberately set out to attract large companies by setting a low company tax rate.

      And here is Cameron on 14 June:’ Speaking at an innovation conference in London on Friday, Mr Cameron said: “We want all our businesses to succeed and we are actually changing our tax system to try to encourage more multinationals to locate in the UK.”
      Britain is on course to have one of the lowest corporation tax rates in the West from 2015, after it was cut to 20pc in the March Budget.’ (Telegraph)

      Sauce for the goose?

  11. claret says:

    The cynic in me accuses the Govt. of saying the right things and while at the same time encouraging the bad when it comes to taxation.
    The loopholes that allow for major companies to dodge the tax system did not appear by accident but were deliberately included in the relevant legislation by the law makers, Viz. M P.s

    This is where ‘lobbying’ ( another obnoxious legal loophole in itself,) comes in and why
    multi- national companies regard it good business to pay an MP ten thousand pounds a day for two days work.

  12. John Nolan says:

    Taxes are an imposition – in fact the French word for tax means just that. The idea that we have some sort of moral obligation to pay tax is simply cant. The government minister who suggested that paying a workman in cash was immoral was talking pernicious nonsense – any money I might give him comes out of taxed income, and most things he might spend it on are taxed; in the case of alcohol, tobacco and petrol punitively so.

    Socialism was once described as “both feet in the clouds and a firm grip on someone else’s money”. Didn’t the Labour Chancellor Roy Jenkins once have a top rate of tax which was more than twenty shillings in the pound?

    • St.Joseph says:

      John Nolan.
      I was reading about the advice that Archbishop William E Lori gave to the Knights of St Columbus at their Annual Convention, California September 2012, he advises
      ‘The question to ask is this. Are any of the candidates of either party or Independents, standing for something that is intrinsically evil no matter what the circumstances? If that’s the case, a catholic regardless of his party affiliation shouldn’t be voting for such a person”.
      The message wasn’t just coming from the Chairman of the U.S Conference of Catholic Bishop’s new committee on religious liberty but also from a letter conveying greetings from Pope BenedictXV1 commending the Knights for their work specifically in defence of religious liberty.
      The advice from our bishops in the UK gave the exact opposite.

      • John Nolan says:

        I think the bishops would do well to concentrate on ensuring that the Faith is taught in Catholic schools, and that the liturgy is celebrated properly in Catholic churches, rather than giving impertinent advice on whom we should be voting for.

      • St.Joseph says:

        John Nolan. Your comment could be a very good SS Blog discussion on the responsibility bishops.

      • tyke says:

        John Nolan

        What’s the point of “ensuring that the Faith is taught in our schools and the the Liturgy is celebrated properly in our churches” if they just stay in our churches and schools? At some point they need to come into the real world and stand up for themselves.

        Perhaps _that_ is what the bishops should be concentrating on. And perhaps they are trying to (even if they aren’t always very appropriate or felicitous).

        Having said that, most politicians stand for at least some points that I would consider as intrinsically evil, so it comes down to an ethical choice in any case.

  13. John Candido says:

    ‘Taxes are an imposition – in fact the French word (l’impost) for tax means just that. The idea that we have some sort of moral obligation to pay tax is simply cant.’ (John Nolan)

    Ah John, John, John, John; you are making it ridiculously easy to rebut your position! Where on earth did you get these notions from?

    The following quotations are taken from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC):

    Paragraphs 2239, 2240, 2409 & 2436.

    CCC 2239:

    ‘It is the duty of citizens to contribute along with the civil authorities to the good of society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom. The love and service of one’s country follow from the duty of gratitude and belong to the order of charity. Submission to legitimate authorities and service of the common good require citizens to fulfil their roles in the life of the political community.’

    CCC 2240:

    ‘Submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good make it morally obligatory to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote, and to defend one’s country:

    ‘Pay to all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honour to whom honour is due’ (Romans: 13: 7).

    ‘[Christians] reside in their own nations, but as resident aliens. They participate in all things as citizens and endure all things as foreigners. . . . They obey the established laws and their way of life surpasses the laws. . . . So noble is the position to which God has assigned them that they are not allowed to desert it.’ (Ad Diognetum 5, 5 & 10, 6, 10: PG – ‘Patrologia Graeca’ – Paris 1857 – 1866: 2, 1173 & 1176)

    ‘The Apostle exhorts us to offer prayers and thanksgiving for kings and all who exercise authority, “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way.’ (1st Timothy, Chapter 2: verse 2)

    CCC 2409:

    ‘Even if it does not contradict the provisions of civil law, any form of unjustly taking and keeping the property of others is against the seventh commandment: thus, deliberate retention of goods lent or of objects lost; business fraud; paying unjust wages; forcing up prices by taking advantage of the ignorance or hardship of another.’ (Deuteronomy 25: 13-16; 24: 14-15; James 5: 4; Amos 8: 4-6)

    ‘The following are also morally illicit: speculation in which one contrives to manipulate the price of goods artificially in order to gain an advantage to the detriment of others; corruption in which one influences the judgment of those who must make decisions according to law; appropriation and use for private purposes of the common goods of an enterprise; work poorly done; tax evasion; forgery of checks and invoices; excessive expenses and waste. Wilfully damaging private or public property is contrary to the moral law and requires reparation.’

    CCC 2436:

    ‘It is unjust not to pay the social security contributions required by legitimate authority.’
    ‘Unemployment almost always wounds its victim’s dignity and threatens the equilibrium of his life. Besides the harm done to him personally, it entails many risks for his family.’ (Pope John Paul II, Laborem excercens: 18)




    • John Nolan says:

      The CCC is not a cant-free zone, and we have all heard cant from the pulpit and from politicians of every hue; one needs to be able to recognize it for what it is. Talk of “a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity and freedom” sounds warning bells, and to say that it is morally obligatory to exercise “the right to vote” is quite simply wrong. In Britain the franchise has traditionally been regarded as a privilege, not a right, and more-or-less universal adult suffrage was only established in 1928. Evelyn Waugh justified his refusal to vote on the grounds that “it is not the duty of the subject to advise the Sovereign on her choice of ministers”. An exaggerated opinion no doubt, but if for instance at a General Election all the candidates in my constituency supported morally repugnant policies on, say, same-sex marriage or abortion, I would be morally justified in not voting for any of them.

      • John Candido says:

        If you can pick and choose what parts of the faith apply to you as you see fit according to your conscience, the same right must also apply to me and others.

  14. Singalong says:

    Thank you JC for all your well researched information and links. I do think it is really important that we realise the importance of contributing to the welfare of others in our society by paying taxes. We can of course join in campaigns to adjust or change any particular taxes which we may consider to be too harsh, too lenient, or anomalous. I do not think Job Seekers Allowance in the UK should be taxed for instance. Paying in cash, although widespread and very tempting, I think is wrong, even though JN is quite right, the money has already been taxed. Campaign about it, if you think it unfair, but in the meantime, Give unto Caesar etc.

    • John Candido says:

      Thank you for your reply. I also feel that being paid in cash is suspicious. I think that this will be dealt with very adequately whenever we evolve to a cashless society, somewhere in the not too distant future.

      • St.Joseph says:

        How would one pay a handyman if one did not have a cheque book or Card..
        I think it is up to the person who is receiving the payment to tell the tax man.
        Ask for a receipt if one is so scrupulous.

  15. St.Joseph says:

    Also if one gives someone a tip for doing a favour. does one have to pay tax on that?

    • St.Joseph says:

      Also. I would rather give my money to help the unborn when the Government pays our tax money to abort babies. I take that as give to God what is God’s etc;
      In other words spending my money on Gods work instead of Caesar’s! I don’t think one will end up in Hell for that-at least I hope not!

      • Singalong says:

        I had thought of that sometimes, St. Joseph, and Hell certainly was not in my mind, nor every small job, particularly anything done as a favour. As you say, it is the responsibility of the worker or firm to be honest.

        It is rather a grey area on some occasions, though, and I don`t think it is being scrupulous to be honest. What should we do for instance when a plumber says that a job will be £50 cash, or £65-70 if it goes through the books? It is rather like repairs to cars after slight accidents, one figure, over £400, if the driver is paying himself, and an even higher quote if it is going through the insurance company, and all for a job which a little sand papering and a spot of paint would do, in our experience recently.

  16. St.Joseph says:

    Entering into a criminal offence is something different. That is dishonesty and open to deception.
    I am not speaking about’ business deals’ Ones conscience ought to be in tune with the conditions to which it is used Nothing dishonest about that It depends on the circumstance.!!.
    However whilst we are on the subject of taxes and dishonesty-things that happen that are out of our
    We can speak about the way our tax money is misused.
    I have had 2 broken coil springs and shock absorbers broken in my old ‘car’ 3 punctures one bent wheel never involved in an accident never had a parking or speed fine all the years driving thank God-however who pays for the repairs when this has been caused by the dreadful road conditions with pot holes.? Not forgetting years of paying insurance stamps and taxes-hoping that when it is needed the hospitals will be able to be a safe place to be cured and not like my late husband who had to endure the infection he caught 2 days after his operation like so many who went under conditions that cost them their life.
    What about the millions of pounds the government pays to Marie Stopes in China I could go on so no I don’t worry when someone does me a favour particularly who like myself struggles today with cuts and can make life a bit easier if a few pounds is giving to them for some of their time doing me a favour. Or if someone gives me a few pounds (I say ‘if’ as I am fortunate to be able to manage) I don’t begrudge them that and ask for a receipt. And presume they are being dishonest.

  17. Singalong says:

    A Nobel prize should be awarded to the genius who can devize a system allowing us to target our taxes! A variation on “No Taxation without Representation.”

    The point of the 2 prices offerred by tradesmen, is that they will not lose out, the onus, and the temptation, of avoiding VAT is passed to the customer.

    Of course it is not big business, but “little drops of water mighty rivers make.”

    • St.Joseph says:

      Singalong I agree with you there. However if a Tradesman gave me an estimate to clean my roof and guttering which I have (living in the country) for £75 and a unemployed family man with children would do it for £20 therefore denying the Government the VAT who would you choose?
      Would you feel guilty that you denied the Government his Tax, also feel you were sharing the other mans guilt because you were not scrupulous or honest or even be concerned that that £20 might pay for clothes for his children.?

      • Singalong says:

        Probably the latter, the issues are even more complicated when Benefits are brought into the equation, and employment is not available.

  18. Iona says:

    I can’t think that I’m under any obligation to ensure that someone to whom I pay cash declares that payment for tax purposes. The obligation is his (or hers), not mine. Of course, if I am offered two prices as described by Singalong, and if I choose to pay the lower one (in cash), that makes me complicit in his/her tax evasion, so I shouldn’t do it.

    But as St. Joseph says, some of what I pay in tax goes for purposes which are actually sinful (over and above being perhaps wasteful or inefficient); paying for abortions, for example. I have no way of knowing what proportion of my tax payments goes towards abortions, and even if I had, I have no way of withholding that proportion, and even if I had, that isn’t to say that my withholding of it would reduce the number of abortions. All I can do is contribute money to charitable organisations that focus on supporting women who may otherwise be pressured to choose abortion against their real wishes; and to gift-aid that money so that the charity gets a bit more and the government a bit less.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Singalong Yes you are right,and we do have to be aware of the situation.Also compassionate to the other persons needs, not just for the quick easy buck for ourselves ,although the more money we can save the more we can give to deserving charities.
      We have to strive to be prudent one of the 4 Cardinal Virtues.

  19. John Nolan says:

    During the 1980’s CND campaigned for the right for people to choose to divert the amount of personal tax that would go to nuclear weapons to go instead to overseas development. I believe the Inland Revenue acceded to this in certain cases, since all taxes, direct or indirect go into a big pot (the Treasury) and then funding is allocated to individual departments on the basis of political and economic expediency.

    Income tax as presently administrated is probably immoral since it kicks in at too low a level, and taxes incomes which are barely enough to live on in the first place. When introduced by Pitt and reintroduced by Peel it was a tax on higher incomes only, and even so Gladstone would have dearly liked to abolish it.

  20. John Nolan says:

    John Candido

    There is a difference between derogating from fundamental issues of faith or morals and deprecating the kind of cant to which clerics are often prone, particularly when they are off-topic. Given your expressed dissent regarding the former, you are hardly the person to quote the CCC as being definitive.

    • Singalong says:

      John Nolan, In response to your reply about the statements of bishops during elections, I do think they are qualified to give general advice in principle, and I see nothing wrong in what St. Joseph quoted. That does not stop them also dealing with the teaching of the Faith, or the celebration of the Liturgy. There is a long tradition of the hierarchy being honourably involved in social issues.

      • John Nolan says:

        Indeed there is, Singalong, and Cardinal Manning immediately springs to mind. But he did not regard it as his primary duty as a Catholic bishop.

  21. St.Joseph says:

    Unless we laity know what our duty is as a catholic, that is to defend our faith in ‘season and out of season’ in the home, in the school, in society, all speaking in one voice.
    There are so many controversial issues today about out faith perhaps that is why people don’t listen. Only to our own opinions-even amongst bishops. Perhaps things are improving now as we see the consequences.
    Is it too late?

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