A Volvo correction:

ABC Melbourne 774 presenter Jon Faine writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (18 April, item 6). Someone emailed me that you ran a piece — that I did not see — saying that I am calling for a Royal Commission into the Victorian Police and was “pulled up” in my old Volvo recently.

I have never called for a Royal Commission into the Victorian Police.

And regard it as little short of defamatory to be described as a driver of a Volvo — old or new.

I insist upon — nay, demand — that this be clarified

My reputation as an old CITROEN driver is irreparably harmed

Although the old car I was pulled over in was a 1974 BMW 3.0 CSi  — as many of your better informed subscribers will recognise this is the rare and glamorous two door pillarless coupe with bodywork by Karmen and a glorious fuel injected straight six from Stuttgart.

Tax:

Sharon Grey writes: Re. “Buffett slams super-rich tax rates, but what about Australia?” (yesterday, item 9). At the risk of descending into the Tamas-esque, Matthew Augur (yesterday, comments) suggests that I am implying that US corporations and high net-worth individuals are engaging in massive tax minimisation. He’s right. I’m not alone in this observation, of course (see Andrew Crook’s article on Warren Buffett). Nor am I alone in suggesting that tax minimisation is legal. Nor that enhanced US tax collection mechanisms, much less tax increases seem unlikely.

The real question is why. Although my reading of the IPS figures as derived from the IRS uses $US1million as adjusted constants in both 1961 and 2009, Matthew is correct in noting that the top US individual (and corporate) tax brackets in 1961 were significantly higher than they are today. At the outset of the Second World War, the top marginal tax rates skyrocketed — to about 96 cents in the dollar, if memory serves correctly — before ratcheting down after the crisis had passed.

What is interesting now is contemplating under what circumstances corporate and individual taxes in the US might ever be raised. If US government debt levels are at crisis levels, how should this crisis be resolved? The point the IPS was making was that should taxes on US corporates and personal income recipients in the $US1million-plus category be levied at 1961 rates, the current outstanding US debt would be retired in a decade or so.

It seems to me that the recent debt-ceiling debate highlights the fact that the US faces more pressing issues beyond just “focus[sing] on growing the economy”: it needs to redefine attributes of what it considers to constitute a civil society and the type of social contract it seeks. Indeed, this seems to be precisely what it is doing.  And it is doing so supported by an increasingly vocal group of anti-tax proponents. But, taken to its logical extreme, how does a civil society work without tax?

It is well known that the US health-care system abjures universal care as “socialised medicine”. Given the declining state of its infrastructure, does it also abjure, say, its interstate highway system and bridges as “socialised roadways”? Or its defence forces as “socialised military”? Or its public education system as “socialised education”? Under what circumstances is it foreseen that levying, much less applying collective taxes to the common good is permissible? For some, it seems the answer is under no circumstances.

To me, that is an extreme position that ultimately holds little regard for “growing the economy” — indeed, as Warren Buffet says in his article “I have worked with investors for 60 years and I have yet to see anyone — not even when capital gains rates were 39.9% in 1976-77 — shy away from a sensible investment because of the tax rate on the potential gain.  People invest to make money, and potential taxes have never scared them off.”

Debt reduction by expenditure cuts alone and outright refusal to condone even considering tax levers within US political ranks has interesting consequences. I guess we’ll see what happens.

Don Dowell writes: I’m sure with the use of expensive tax lawyers , the super rich of developed countries such as Australia can utilise offshore tax shelters to minimise their personal income tax or their companies corporate tax to a low percentage that the rest of us can dream about .

No doubt their lawyers will make sure it’s perfectly legal  too. But if they also  then loudly lecture the rest of us on how the government spends its tax revenue, then they are open to reasonable amount of scrutiny .

A perfectly legitimate question for those advocating this or that direction in government expenditure would be “do you now or have you ever used overseas tax shelters to minimise your tax.”

Of course I wouldn’t hold my breath for this to happen, since you only have to look who owns the media in this country.

Maybe BRW could do a top 200 tax minimisers issue each year.

Might be a few interesting to know how a few shouty billionaires/columnists/shock jocks, etc, would fare.

Google+ name policy:

Barry Breen (I’d get by, but not if I used the original Irish O Braoin) writes: Re. “To Google, we are data fodder, and I am an unperson” (yesterday, item 16). The Google+ name policy is marvellous — one of the best pieces of comprehensive discrimination of all time!

Consider.

No space: e.g. no van Dyke, no da Silva etc. Goodbye to vast numbers of Dutch, Italian, Spanish and French names. Not to mention Irish and Scottish Mcs and Macs.

No apostrophes: e.g. no O’Brien. No Irish need apply. Nor more of the above mentioned continentals, with their d’.

Nothing that sounds like two given names: David Davids, Owen Owens and the rest of the Welsh go away.

No famous names or gods or whatever: so many South American Jesuses are gone, along with maybe all the John Howards and Ian Smiths of this world.

No single names: so goodbye Madonna.

And what about all the Asians with three names? Nguyen Thin Than would cause complete confusion.

Moronic.

Sydney University:

Bradley Smith writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (yesterday, item 7). The comments about quality of teaching at Sydney may or may not be true, but are irrelevant to the academic world ranking of universities that were released on Monday.

This annual ranking — better known as the Shanghai Jiao Tong ranking — is the best known of several different world university ranking systems. Each uses a different methodology and thus there are usually considerable variations between them once you get past the top handful of Harvard, Berkley, Stanford, MIT, Cambridge, etc. The Shanghai rankings are entirely based on performance in research, and particularly the sciences. This has the advantage of being fairly transparent as KPIs are relatively easy to measure through citation rates, publications, Nobel prizes, etc.

One disadvantage is it under-represents research in the humanities and creative arts but also completely ignores all the other functions of a university including teaching and learning and engagement with industry, governments, NGOs and community. All of which are notoriously difficult to measure in a robust and transparent way.

In fairness to Sydney, a drop from 92 to 96 is essentially a statistical blip. Wait another year or three to see if there is a trend then you might start to ask questions; and not just of Sydney.

Qantas:

J Gleeson writes: Re. “Qantas: Katter says buy it back, Xenophon wants audit of losses” (yesterday, item 2). Thank you for keeping us informed of the dire situation at Qantas. This is all déjà-vu to me, as my colleagues and I see it is a rerun of the decimation of the Australian marine industry. Lousy management, workforce blamed and ordered to accept “Efficiencies”, the fleet decimated, and Third World shipping invited on the coast-such as the “Kirki“, whose bow fell off.

A fine, world’s best workforce dumped for unsafe Third World convenience, sympathetic media allowing the Howard government to get away with it, and a proud tradition ruined.

Howard may have gone, but the damage is permanent. Will Qantas go the same way?

Dog whistling:

Amelia Ditcham writes: Justin Pettizini wrote (yesterday, comments) that identifying Miranda Devine and Tony Abbot’s chief-of-staff Peta Credlin as “Catholic” is dog-whistle writing but I could not disagree more.

Considering Devine self-identifies as a Catholic in the article discussed by Brian Greig and Credlin’s esteemed employer uses his Catholicism as a part of his political identity, I think it is perfectly valid for the writers of these articles to note their subjects’ religion as a part of their character or actions.

Simply identifying a point of difference or individuality does not a dog-whistle make.

Political donations:

Justin Templer writes: Re. “The Power Index: Yabsley says ‘ban political donations’” (yesterday, item 3). Paul Barry’s piece on Michael Yabsley’s argument against political donations is cogent — as Yabsley said (of the potential for political scandal) “It is an accident waiting to happen”.

We all know that the existing framework of political donations in Australia fails the “smell” test.

In a truly democratic society why should I be able to buy access to ministers and powerbrokers because I can afford to write a bigger cheque than my neighbor can? It’s that simple.

The ABC:

Gavin Robertson writes: Re. “Last night’s TV ratings” (yesterday, item 18). Glenn Dyer wrote:

“The ABC’s UK documentary, Japan Tsunami: How it Happened, at 8.30pm averaged 858,000 viewers and ran second in the timeslot. It was very good, but raises the question, why couldn’t the ABC have organised something like that? … Obviously it was cheaper to buy it in than make it, which is where criticism of the ABC cost-cutting should be directed.”

And if they’d made their own program, there’d be accusations of profligacy that they could have bought it in for less than it cost to make it in house.

Damned if you do.  Damned if you don’t.

Peter Fray

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