Thursday, June 01, 2006

Tights In A Twist

Gordo's tax credit system remains in meltdown. 6 million recipients, of whom no fewer than 2 million have been overpaid. On top of that, there are an estimated 1 million who are eligible, but who don't claim because its all far too complicated. Overall, that's half of all target recipients who are failed.

Who's to blame? Well, the government obviously. But we shouldn't forget the men in twisted tights.

Big Government likes to see itself as Robin Hood. Taking from the undeserving rich and giving to the deserving poor. As a romantic image it's hard to beat: who wouldn't want to be on the side of justice?

Sadly, the real world is more complicated. For one thing, while I'm no expert, I don't reckon Gordo and Prezza in tights are the greatest homoerotic icons.

What's more, in Robin's day it was so much easier to work out who was who. The undeserving rich lived in huge eff-off castles, were grotesquely fat, and spent all day gorging themselves on meat pies, ravishing the serving maids, and playing croquet. Whereas the deserving poor were painfully thin, and spent all day tilling the soil, praying, and sharing their gruel with the Merry Men.

These days the rich are working 24/7 in investment banks, generating a third of Britain's income, and never having time to play croquet. Whereas the poor spend all day eating Super-Size BK's, necking Stellas and playing pirated copies of Grand Theft Auto.

Worse, if you take too much from the undeserving rich, they find all kinds of ways to get out of it. Like hiring those cunning tax accountants, or even moving to Ireland. And if you give too much to the deserving poor, they give up responsibility for themselves altogether, and just go on stuffing themselves until they literally explode. Leaving us to clear up the body parts.

It's all a lot messier than in Errol Flynn's day.

Big Government's response has been complexity. Instead of dishing out the dosh to all-comers, they target. The help must go to those who are really really really deserving. And there must be incentives for the poor to help themselves- flipping burgers rather than eating them. Hence Gordon's horrendously complex tax credits.

The problem is, we are simply incapable of operating such complexity. It's another manifestation of Socialist wishful thinking that ends up causing as many problems as it solves.

But at least some sense is breaking out in one area. The Child Support Agency is going to be scrapped. The whole monstrous carbuncle is to be replaced by a pared down operation that will just concentrate on errant fathers who refuse to settle privately. Which should get rid of two thirds of its casework. The redoubtable Frank Field says:

"Most people are grown up and accept their responsililities, and the CSA wastes its time chasing them. The power of the State should only be used against people who fail to meet minimum requirements of good parenting.”

If only Gordo and Tony had listened to Frank back in 1997. They might never have constructed that monstrous credit system at all.

As in so many other areas, the state is hopeless at being Robin Hood. Stealing from the rich may be easy, but giving to the poor turns out to do more damage than the Sheriff himself.

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