Bob Geldof is a rich man. According to the Sunday Times rich list he is worth £32 million and like most rich people he is understandably keen to hang on to his fortune. That’s why, very sensibly, he gives no more of his money away to the Government than he has to. As a registered non-dom he is legally entitled to avoid income and capital gains tax on international earnings. Those of us without non-dom status may envy him the privilege, but we can hardly blame him for it: after all we most of us know that we’d do a much better job of spending (and saving) our money than ever the poltroons in the various agencies of government do.
Where we can – and should – criticise the saintly “Sir” Bob (his KBE is honorary) is over the position he takes on aid to the third world. Geldof believes that our government should give more of it. But since our government has no money of its own – only what it borrows, takes through taxation, or prints – what he’s actually saying is that he thinks that we poor bloody taxpayers should give more of our money to the third world. Those of us unfortunate enough not to have non-dom status, that would be.
In today’s Times a very courageous interviewer takes Geldof to task on this issue. Here’s the relevant bit:
So how much is he worth? “I’m not telling you. But I am rich, let’s be clear.”
Anyway, he says, that is irrelevant. Is it? He wants governments to give more aid. But aid comes from tax. Wealthy people want to be as tax efficient as legally possible, restricting the amount of aid governments can afford to give.
Can he understand why some might get annoyed when rich rock stars campaign about poverty?
He explodes with rage. “I pay all my taxes. My time? Is that not a tax? I employ 500 people [through his production companies]. I have created business for the UK government. I have given my ideas. I have given half my life to this.”
People are beginning to look. His advisers suggest we take it somewhere more private. He is now yelling, jabbing his finger at me, as he demands to know how many irrigation channels I’ve built with my salary. Having been so candid throughout our trip, he seems offended that I have raised the issue. “How dare you lecture me about morals.”
But isn’t there an inherent contradiction there?
After much swearing, hissing and spitting, it’s clear the conversation is over. It is a shame. I like him. He has done so much more than many others. Without Geldof, let’s face it, I wouldn’t be writing about Ethiopian farming policy. For four days, Ethiopians have rushed to greet him and have their photograph taken. The previous night, staff at his hotel surprised him with a cake, saying “Thank you”.
But the aid debate is messy, complex and contradictory. They are legitimate questions.
Indeed they are. Geldof seems to have fallen victim here to Bono syndrome: the delusion that his saintly outreach work among the world’s poor and oppressed somehow renders him beyond the realm of ordinary mortals.
So, for example, when you or I slave away at our jobs, the time we spend at work is just time.
But when Geldof expends his own time it’s so valuable it magically transubstantiates into a form of taxation.
Give us a break, Bob.
You’ve earned your money and you’re welcome to spend it on as many irrigation ditches as you like – satin-lined ones with special little juke boxes attached which play I Don’t Like Mondays, if that’s what takes your fancy. It is, as you would no doubt say, your ****ing money, and what you do with it is – or ought to be – your own ****ing affair.
But here’s the thing: when it comes to the issue of our money, that is not your affair, but our affair. It is not for rock stars to urge our government to squander it on schemes to help struggling Indians to buy more fighter jets or African dictators to buy more ebony and platinum statues of themselves modelled on Julius Caesar because most of us who have read anything about the subject happen to be aware that it is a complete ****ing waste of time.
Trade, good. Free markets, good.
Aid, bad. Tax, bad.
Economics 101 over. Now shut up and leave us alone.
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