If you’re like me, you’ve spent a good deal of time lately looking at tax documents, scratching your head, and then thinking, “I can’t believe I owe Uncle Sam that much in taxes?”
But even as Americans dug deep into their pockets to fork over what the government told them they owed, the British have been dealing with their own tax issues.
A media circus has surrounded an English singer, songwriter and record producer Gary Barlow’s private tax affairs. The lead vocalist of pop-group “Take That” has served as head judge on series The X Factor UK, but he’s been making headlines after the Prime Minister publicly shamed him over his maneuvers to avoid paying taxes.
In June 2012, he and his Take That bandmates Howard Donald, Mark Owen (as well as over a thousand other Brits) invested £26 million in various music industry investment schemes, which were perceived as tax shelters. In other words, he was accused of tax avoidance rather than tax evasion, as the investment was not illegal. Two years later, a judge ruled that Barlow had avoided taxes by generating a loss of £336 million which offset his other earnings.
“We should be very clear: tax evasion is illegal, you can be prosecuted for that, you can go to prison,” David Cameron scolded.
Seemingly, this didn’t apply to Barlow, who only avoided paying his taxes instead of evading them. But Cameron continued.
“Tax avoidance is, in these cases, these very aggressive tax avoidance schemes, they are wrong and we should really persuade people not to do them and that’s why we have these court cases.”
Simon Heffer, writing for the Telegraph, disagrees:
I have long believed it is the duty of every citizen to ensure the state does not take from him or her so much as a penny in taxation that can be legally withheld. Contrary to a fashionable view among certain of the super-rich… this is not “immoral”. It is entirely moral to strive to keep what one has earned, and to stop the government from wasting it on, for example, disgraceful overseas “aid” projects.
Though I only pay a mere fraction of the amount of taxes that the famous star pays, this controversy resonates within the heart of any American who had to write a check last week. It is probably right and good that the poorest among us do not pay taxes. But let’s get real. When the super wealthy pay the lion’s share of taxes, we should be thankful to them — and not have our politicians tsk tsk tsking them while they fork over their hard earned money.
Ironically, Cameron benefitted from his own tax benefits when he finally admitted that he owned and profited from shares in his now deceased father’s offshore fund.
This whole controversy reminds me of this fantastic clip from West Wing where Rob Lowe’s character Sam explains why he won’t use the line “It’s time for the rich to start paying their “fair share.”
Watch this and think of it every time you hear this line being uttered by politicians hoping to take more money out of your pocket (it’s amazing who they call “rich”) while simultaneously refusing to cut spending.