måndag 7 juli 2008

Stockholm restaurant tax fiddles

The Swedish tax authorities have had a crack-down on restaurants who fiddle their takings to avoid tax. A popular method has been by manipulating their cash registers. So far, over 100 restaurateurs have been convicted and 45 sent to prison.

Sweden enjoys high standards of public services, so much so that they can be taken as a benchmark for how such things ought to be. And though Sweden, unlike some other countries, no longer harbours the delusion of being a world power with the associated need to spend a fortune on military activities, it still costs a lot of money. Around 55% of the Swedish economy is in the public sector, which suggests that in the UK, with its much greater concentration of population, the figure needs to be much higher than the present 45% or so to bring the public realm up to the standard that people aspire to.

However, there are good and bad ways of collecting tax. Levying charges on products, goods and services is inevitably troublesome and the authorities are obliged to run these enforcement campaigns which in themselves add nothing to national wealth and tie down skilled personnel who could be doing something more useful. Apart from its deterrent effect, no useful service is performed by locking up restaurant owners.

Tax legislation round the world needs to take account of the simple fact that a tax on the annual value of land cannot be avoided or evaded, as land cannot be hidden or moved to a tax haven and its value is readily ascertainable without examining anyone's accounts. It is necessary only to keep a record of land transactions, which in many countries is already standard practice. The savings in administration by a shift to this form of taxation would be immense and nobody would have to concern themselves with what restaurant owners did to their cash machines.


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