Fraser Nelson Fraser Nelson

Tax versus philanthropy 

I was on the panel of Any Questions last night in Saltaire, the most beautiful town I’ve seen outside of the Highlands. Jonathan Dimbleby always warms everyone up with a test question, which lets the panelists make their mistakes early. The first question was this: the town of Saltaire was founded by a philanthropist, Sir Titus Salt. What can be done to make today’s rich pay their fair share?

Lucky for me that it was not recorded, because I went on for ages. Sir Titus was living in an era before the welfare state, where welfare was provided voluntarily, by people in the community. Had he been alive today, the government would be confiscating 52 per cent of what he earned – thanks to George Osborne’s recently increased tax. Would he be inclined to give so much? Or would he conclude that it was the government’s job to pay for the poor, and that he had paid richly to do so?

More government means less community. The horizontal ties, which bind people to each other, have slowly been replaced with vertical ties, which seek to bind individuals to the state. Society is weakened by this, because the government does a very bad job. And high taxes undermine philanthropic intention, and community action. The sheet vanity of politicians blinds them to the destructive effect of their interventions. Sir Titus built beautiful stone houses for his mill workers (where there was, until five years ago, not even a pub). The government shovels the poor in high-rise welfare ghettoes riddled with crime and drug abuse. The result is this very British phenomenon: expensive poverty.

In my more optimistic moments, I would say that David Cameron understands all this.

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