There’s a nascent revolt of Britain’s millionaire artists protesting the UK’s high taxes. Over the weekend, Andrew Lloyd Webber spoke out and now he’s been joined by Michael Caine.
Iain Martin for the Telegraph:
His name, as they say, is Michael Caine. And he’s not a happy bunny. The 76-year-old film star has revealed in colourful terms that he has had it, and will leave Britain if taxes get any higher. “The Government has taken tax up to 50 per cent, and if it goes to 51 I will be back in America,” he said at the weekend. “We’ve got 3.5 million layabouts on benefits, and I’m 76, getting up at 6am to go to work to keep them. Let’s get everybody back to work so we can save a couple of billion and cut tax, not keep sticking it up.”
Maurice Joseph Micklewhite – Caine’s real name – definitely knows all about raising himself up. Indeed, he strikes me as the embodiment of a very British kind of social mobility.
The star of Get Carter was born in Rotherhithe, south-east London, the son of a charlady and a fish market porter. He passed his 11-plus, winning a scholarship to a grammar school, left school at 16 and saw action in the Royal Fusiliers in the Korean War. From a job as a messenger, he worked his way into acting and became one of the sharpest stars of his generation – a crisply tailored contemporary of other working-class boys who smashed a social glass ceiling in the 1960s.
Not everything on his CV since has been beyond reproach: his appearances in The Swarm or Jaws: The Revenge spring to mind. But even on the subject of his bad films he is entertaining. “I have never seen the film,” he said of one flop. “But by all accounts it was terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific.”
Andrew LLoyd Webber took to the Daily Mail to outline similar thoughts and warn of an exodus of talent.
I am 61 years old. I have lived and worked in Britain all my life. Not even in the dark days of penal Labour taxation in the Seventies did I have any intention of leaving the country of my birth.
Despite a rumour put around some years back, I have never contemplated leaving Britain for tax reasons. But in the 40-plus years I have been lucky enough to work here, I’ve seen a bit. So I must draw your attention to what is really proposed in this Budget.
Here’s the truth. The proposed top rate of income tax is not 50 per cent. It is 50 per cent plus 1.5 per cent national insurance paid by employees plus 13.3 per cent paid by employers. That’s not 50 per cent. Two years from now, Britain will have the highest tax rate on earned income of any developed country.
I write this article because I fear the inevitable exodus of the talent that can dig us out of the hole we find ourselves in. It is inevitable, given that other countries are bidding for entrepreneurs. The Government must modify its proposals.
Rich artists are perhaps not best spokesmen for this cause, as they both have the appearance of speaking for their own interest and seem to some to make an extraordinary amount of money for relatively little work. Further, the threat of leaving one’s country over a tax increase comes across as a bit unpatriotic. (Although, those charges are rather hard to level at a combat veteran who started life in poverty.)
But Caine and Webber are carrying on a debate as old as income taxes: how much is too much?
Certainly, having half of one’s wages go to the government will strike most as excessive. To be sure, the United States has had top marginal rates as high as 92 percent, but our system is graduated and the top rate (currently at 35 percent with a proposed increase to 38.6 percent) only applies to a small band of a given individual’s income.
According to Forbes Magazine’s Tax Misery Index, the UK is less burdened with taxes than most of Western Europe, with Germany the only major European player with lower taxes. Both, however, pay far more than Americans. We let people keep far more of their own money than is the custom in Europe, in exchange for providing far fewer public services.
While I can’t speak on behalf of my government, I’m sure the United States would welcome either or both of these gentlemen. It’s a good thing they’re men of means, however. They’re both getting up there in age and our social security system isn’t all that great.
James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.