Monthly Archives: July 2012

Timing Is Everything

In New Zealand we have something called the Goods and Services Tax.  It is like a sales tax but it covers everything—all goods, including food, and services, including professional services.

It’s a part of life and one thing that’s really good down here is that all prices are quoted as “GST inclusive,” which means that you know exactly what things are going to cost and don’t have to worry in the checkout line that you won’t have enough money when the tax is added to the bill.

They have the same thing in England and, as you can imagine, there are some industries where a tradesman might say, “Just give me cash and we’ll call it even.” This saves you, the buyer, some money and also saves the tradesman the hassle of collecting tax from you and then remitting it to the tax man.

Of course, this is illegal and no big company with proper accounting systems is going to do it.  But the local labourer who is simply providing services can see it as a way to undercut the competition and, let’s face it, everyone wants to save a buck.  In the trade these are known as “cash jobs.”

I saw on the news last night that the British finance minister looked up from the wreckage of the global economy, the LIBOR and related banking scandals and the money pit that the Olympics have become and announced, no doubt as only the British finance minister can announce, that “cash jobs” are “immoral.”

Not to be outdone, the New Zealand finance minister agreed and announced that the tax authorities down here are going to spend $84 million over the next four years cracking down on cash jobs.  They expect to reap $384 million in extra tax.  In England, where the economy is much larger, they are expecting to bring in $1 billion.

Admittedly, that’s not chump change and ensuring compliance with the tax laws is the sort of thing that the tax authorities should be doing.

And painters and handymen and gardeners who are lucky if they gross $100,000 a year will be now paying their fair share of tax.

But what is funny is that the announcement of the finance ministers squeezed out of the headlines another story.  An organization called The Tax Justice Network has issued a report called “The Price of Offshore Revisited.”  The report says that somewhere between $21 and $32 trillion of wealth has been moved into offshore tax havens by “the wealthy.”  Who are those people, you ask?  We’re not talking about the 1%.  We’re talking about the .001%.

What that means is that a very small number of people have a lot of money.

The article that disclosed that fact also had some other interesting tidbits.  For example, the amount that has flown out of countries into tax havens is greater than the deficits of some of those countries.  The very deficits that austerity programs are supposed to be reducing.

Not only that, using conservative assumptions, if the authorities were able to tax the earnings on those assets hidden away in tax havens, they would bring in more money than rich countries pay out to the developing world as aid each year.

Unlike the British and New Zealand governments plans to bring in a few hundred million by cracking down on cash jobs performed by people just over the poverty line, there was no mention of a plan to collect any tax on the money in the tax havens.

Over the past year I’ve been working on a book which is in the final stages of publication and should be available in a few months.  It is called Identities and it is a satire on business, materialism and the way we construct our identities for the outside world.  It is about a businessman who begins to have second thoughts about whether the identity he has constructed as a rich, powerful captain of industry is really who he is.

Once he comes to the conclusion that he wants his legacy to be more than maximizing shareholder returns, he tries to bring about change in his corner of the corporate world. One of his clients is the most highly paid executive in America and they have a number of entertaining confrontations where they debate things like offshore tax havens.

Like the article I read about tax havens, I don’t have any answers and neither does the book.  But I’m happy to see that it is turning out to be timely and topical and I hope that it generates a lot of interest and discussion.  I’ll let you know when the book is available!

What Ever Happened to Life Skills?

What do you get when you combine a dating service with a personal assistant?  Assuming you would want to do that, the result is something called a “Romance Secretary.”

A romance secretary is not someone who handles Cassanova’s little black book and keeps him from confusing his multiple relationships.  It is a person who sort of manages your relationship, singular.

I suppose that the idea of a Romance Secretary was inevitable.  We already have Lifestyle Managers, who walk your dog and visit your sick relatives for you.  We have Retail Curators who do your shopping for you.  We have Sweatworking, so that you can work out while doing your office work.  And who can forget “ShameBeGone,” the people who will send an email on your behalf to get you out of difficult social situations.  Or FakeGirlFriend, where you can subscribe to a service that will send you “cute” text messages from your [non-existent] girlfriend to make your friends think you actually have one.

Sadly, the Romance Secretary is not an idea in search of a buyer.  The position was created when a “busy” couple (ages 27 and 24) advertised on the Internet for someone to help them manage their relationship.  According to the couple, they were about to call the whole thing off because they had no time to plan dates. 

If you are wondering how they have time to go out on dates but not plan them, you aren’t the only one.

Anyway, this unemployed guy stepped up and charges them $12.50 per hour to come up with “interesting” date ideas, work through scheduling issues and find a time that both members of the relationship are available and “calendar” the date, he will also send them reminders to respond to each others’ text messages, and will even pass messages between them.  So far, they have paid him “a small fortune,” and he has started a company known as “Couples Consolidated,” hired staff and has plans to grow the business.

As the Romance Secretary says, “Not everyone is good at planning dates, keeping track of someone else’s schedule or even communicating clearly.  The administrative tasks in a relationship may be small ones, but they add up to one big stress.”

How has the human race survived without people to handle relationship admin?

Reminding the couple to communicate with each other is a big part of the job, but according to the Romance Secretary it’s time well spent.  “It’s easy for both of them because I can harass the other without the other feeling annoying.” 

What that basically tells me is that you can now stalk someone and outsource the work!

A major selling point apparently is that the Romance Secretary will come up with “quirky” date ideas.  The article I read listed some of the quirky things couples can do:  “going shopping for things they think the other one will hate, giving flowers to strangers and children in the park and watching a foreign film without subtitles and creating the dialogue themselves.” 

I come back to the question of how you find time to sit through a foreign film that you can’t understand when you don’t have time to make a date to do that in the first place. Also, just between us, I think that creating dialogue in a foreign film would get old really fast.  And irritate the other people in the theatre.  And giving flowers to strangers and children in the park might result in the date ending differently than what you might have in mind.

Over the years, there have been many times when I’ve said, “I wish they’d had that back then . . .” You know what I mean.  Things like Google, GPS, DVDs would have, if not enriched, at least made life a little easier.

Thinking back to my dating days, maybe “Couples Consolidated” could have helped. But I doubt it.  You see, the women I dated were very busy.  It seemed like they were always (a) washing their hair, (b) babysitting their little sister, or (c) going to their grandmother’s funeral. And I can’t believe that even the machinations of a Romance Secretary would have enabled them to find time in their busy schedules. 

And in retrospect I’m really glad.