Tag Archives: Wodehouse

Let’s Talk About Tax, Baby: Part 5

“In the 20th century, although country houses continued to be built and lavishly remodelled, and although King Edward VII and his descendants continued to rework Buckingham Palace and other royal residences, many landed families struggled to maintain their houses and estates. Taxes mounted, depression in agriculture ran almost continuously from 1875 to the outbreak of World War II and rental income from land declined. As a result, art collections were broken up and rare library collections sold off to pay for repairs and meet demands for taxes and death duties. Eventually, in the interwar years, some people began to focus on ways to preserve the more historic houses and their collections.”

From “The Complete Illustrated Guide To The Castles, Palaces, & Stately Houses Of Britain & Ireland” by Charles Phillips, Chapter Twelve (p229)

The previous paragraph mentions the National Trust, and the Country House Scheme of 1937, “which enabled owners to leave their property to the Trust in lieu of death duties.”

The book phrases it nice and neutrally, don’t you think?

So these people who owned land used to get a reasonable income from renting their land, and/or profits from farming the land. Both parts of the economy slumped, and taxation on property and inheritance increased (possibly to make up for the lost tax revenue from the rental and the farming, does anyone think rental prices then didn’t increase to help try meet the costs?).

Pumping from a pool that isn’t being refilled.

People had to sell off their possessions to pay tax. Imagine you had to do that, this month sell off the TV, next month the DVDs, then the computer, then the CDs, then the books. How sustainable is such a system?

We’re taught about basic human needs, including water, food, and shelter. (I’ve seen wifi added to that list in recent times.) We might perhaps see that taxing the poor could threaten those things. We might concede that taxing the landlord more would increase the rent for his tenants. Here we see “tax the rich!” turn into making the rich poor, and taxing them out of their homes.

Is that not just as wrong?

That curious concept, the broke “rich” person, recurs in P.G. Wodehouse stories.

The National Trust didn’t come to the rescue here. They were the beneficiaries of a swindle. I think it’s too nuanced to be able to say something like “they were guilty of receiving stolen goods”, though I think it’s still a pretty good illustration of the phrase “tax is theft”.

The properties had been protected pretty well in private hands, over hundreds of years. It was only because of the giant governmental leech that they were under threat. So government swings in to solve the problem that they themselves caused.

Setting the rich and poor against each other is harmful to society, and breeds resentment.

It’s not a hundred years ago that this was happening, And so many are committed to the same course. I can’t say I don’t understand; at one point I would have entirely agreed. I can no longer sympathise with the sentiment.