Saturday, 23 April 2011

What is a Billion?

The other day I received an email, one of those that get sent around between friends which are sometimes funny, sometimes sentimental, sometimes informative and sometimes someone’s rant.  This one comes under the rant category.  It started off quite interestingly, asking the recipient to consider the enormity of the number one billion.  I must admit I was concerned when politicians and others started throwing the figure One Billion about as if it were nothing.  I can remember when the national deficit was measured in Millions not Billions.  Anyway, the beginning of the email went like this:

 ‘I find this quite staggering and really brings into perspective the actual figure of one billion.

This is too true to be funny.
The next time you hear a politician use the word 'billion' in a casual manner, think about whether you want the 'politicians' spending YOUR tax money.

A billion is a difficult number to comprehend, but one advertising agency did a good job of putting that figure into some perspective in one of its releases.

A billion seconds ago it was 1959.

A billion minutes ago Jesus was alive.

A billion hours ago our ancestors were living in the Stone Age.

A billion days ago no-one walked on the earth on two feet.

A billion Pounds ago was only 13 hours and 12 minutes, at the rate our government is spending it.’

That part of the email made me smile and nod in agreement.  Then it continued and I could not believe what followed :

‘Stamp Duty
Tobacco Tax
Corporate Income Tax
Income Tax
Council Tax
Unemployment Tax
Fishing License Tax
Petrol/Diesel Tax
Inheritance Tax
(tax on top of tax)
Alcohol Tax
Marriage License Tax
Property Tax
Service charge taxes
Social Security Tax
Vehicle License Registration Tax
Vehicle Sales Tax
Workers Compensation Tax
  Not one of these taxes existed 100 years ago and our nation was one of the most prosperous in the world.

We had absolutely no national debt.
We had the largest middle class in the world and Mum stayed home to raise the kids. 

What happened?’

Now the claim that not one of the above taxes existed a 100 years ago shows a lack of research on the part of the writer. 
Stamp Duty – there has always been some form of duty for large financial transactions.
Tobacco Tax – this has existed in one form or another since 1660.  It has varied in amount but has always been there. 
Income Tax was first introduced by Williams Pitt the Younger to raise funds for the Napoleonic Wars.  It was brought in as a temporary measure but apart from a brief gap between 1802 and 1803, when it was rescinded, it has been in existence ever since.

Having got this far after a mere twenty minutes research, I lost interest in looking up the history of all the other taxes mentioned above.  I think there has probably been a License fee for marriages for a long time, someone had to be paid for keeping the registers for Births, Marriages and Deaths.  Lucky they did, else all those people now tracing their ancestors would have nothing to go on.  Land owners have always charged for fishing on their property, that’s why you get poachers.  Some of the other taxes are obviously modern.  Social security did not exist and some of the other things like Workers Compensation Tax and Unemployment Tax I’ve never heard of.  And if any of these taxes sound unfair consider some of the things that have been taxed in the past.  Salt and windows to name just two; the government has never failed to find something to tax.

But the thing that really amazed me was the last paragraph.  ‘We had absolutely no national debt.  We had the largest middle class in the world and Mum stayed home to raise the kids.  What happened?’

We may have had the largest middle class in the world, and those Mums were probably very comfortable with cooks, housekeepers and scullery maids looking after their needs.  The working class, on the other hand, were much less lucky.

Life expectancy for people in 1911 was just 54 years for women and 50 for men.  Families were often large and living on the breadline.  Children were lucky to have their own bed let alone their own bed room.  There was no health care, if you were poor and ill, tough.  You had to pay for the services  of doctors, dentists and midwives and tried hard to do without them.  There were no pension schemes – but then people didn’t live long enough to need a pension.  Clothes had to last for years, not fashion seasons.  You were lucky if you had shoes.

Industrialists made lots of money and created the new middle class at the expense of factory workers who worked long hours, often in dangerous or noisy conditions with no recompense if they were injured.  Children were still being used in factories and down the mines.  Maybe they weren’t as young as those working in the previous century, but they were still working at an age when modern children are expected to be at school.  And talking of mines, the miners had to crawl, sometimes for hours, without pay, to the coal face before they could start work and start earning.

We ruled the world with our Empire!  Or, to put it in modern terms, we subjugated the peoples of Africa and Asia, taking the natural resources, the produce of the fields, the treasures of the past, all for the benefit of the homeland. 

True, there was no Vehicle Registration Tax but then again, there were very few vehicles and virtually no roads outside the towns and cities.  What roads there were, were narrow, rutted and often gated to allow farm stock easy access from one field to another.  People worked within walking distance of home.  Families lived within the same neighbourhood. 

So what happened? the email asked.

Conditions for the workers improved so that now everyone shares a decent lifestyle.  Home ownership has increased.  Healthcare is available for everyone.  Education is available for everyone.  We have decent roads (don’t complain about the pot holes, they have been the blight of travellers for centuries and you should see the state of the roads in America!)  Nearly everyone owns or has access to a car.   Every home has a washing machine and TV, probably a computer or two.  In short we have become much richer.

We need the taxes to pay for the things we now take for granted.  How else will roads, schools and hospitals be built?  Given the choice between paying taxes and having the living standards of the masses in 1911, I am happy to pay the taxes.  Whether the money is spent correctly is another argument.  How we can regain our position in the world as an industrial, profit making, country? I don’t know.  Service industry, banking, IT – these are the areas that have replaced the dark satanic mills of Blake’s time and unfortunately they do not provide enough jobs for the expanding population.  Again, this is another topic and nothing to do with the email.         

I doubt very much that whoever wrote the email in the first place will ever read this.  I wonder who he or she is.  What sort of environment they live in.  Have they ever read Dickens, or maybe more relevantly, The Road to Wigan Pier?  If they had I doubt they would regret the taxes we pay.  And remember, if you look at the list above not everyone has to pay all the taxes.  I’m not selling my house, I don’t smoke or fish, the marriage licence is only paid once (unless you are in the habit of getting married more often), I am intent on skiing (that’s Spend the Kids Inheritance, not anything to do with snow) so the government won’t make much out of me when I die!  Now I’m just off to the pub to do my bit for the brewing industry and pay my dues to the exchequer.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Headache on a Monday afternoon - 2nd try

Having decided to change the title of my book I have been sitting here all afternoon trying to design a cover.  Suddenly realized I needed a back as well as a front.  Think I have managed something.  Time will tell.  One of these days I might be able to afford a real designer, but so much has happened in the last 3 months I don't know if I could cope with going that far.
Think I'd better take the dog for a walk and clear my head.  She got all excited when I tripped over her when I was trying to get to the printer, but she's snoring again now.  Won't last long.  As soon as I stand up she will be awake and eager to go.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Lazing on a Sunday afternoon

The sun has been shining.  The washing is dry.  Looks like spring has well and truly sprung.
I am now trying to find out how to make myself known because in July my first book is coming out!
I can hardly believe I am saying that.  Look out for more news, soon.