The Green Party, 60% Income Tax And Lessons From The West Wing


Natalie Bennett and the Green Party decided to use (or rather, waste) one of their rare moments in the media spotlight this weekend to announce their grand plan to levy a 60% marginal income tax rate on anyone earning over £150,000 a year.

The Greens are not even approaching the issue apologetically, with the tired old claim that confiscatory rates of income tax are necessary to fund public services. No, now they are suggesting that wealthy Brits should be hit with punishing rates of tax because apparently Britain’s brightest minds, shrewdest investors and most successful entrepreneurs “take too much” out of our society:

The highest earners would face a 60p top rate of tax under Green Party plans to make the richest “pay back” to society and deter companies from paying “excessive” salaries.

Britain’s top earners currently face a 45p rate on income over £150,000 but Natalie Bennett, the Green Party leader, claimed that they deserved to pay even more.

“What this 60p is for is really to identify the fact that some people are taking too much out of our society, they need to pay back,” she told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show.

You read that right. The Green Party actually believes that the people who invent things, make scientific breakthroughs, create jobs, run Britain’s top industries and make our art and culture the finest in the world take stuff out of our society. The people who already pay the most tax and keep our precious public services ticking over are nothing more than parasites, according to Natalie Bennett and the Greens.

Clearly Natalie Bennett is not a fan of hit US television show The West Wing. If she was, she would know that even starry-eyed left wingers like fictional President Bartlett’s speechwriter, Sam Seaborn, accept that it is unseemly to bash the rich while taxing them to death at the same time.

In one very memorable quote (see the video above), Sam Seaborn says to a union boss:

“Every time your boss got on the stump and said it’s time for the rich to pay their fair share, I hid under a couch and changed my name. I left [my old job before going into politics] making $400,000 a year, which means I paid twenty-seven times the national average in income tax. I paid my fair share. And the fair share of twenty-six other people. And I’m happy to, because that’s the only way it’s going to work. And it’s in my best interests that everybody be able to go to schools and drive on roads.

But I don’t get twenty-seven votes on election day. The fire department doesn’t come to my house twenty-seven times faster and the water doesn’t come out of my faucet twenty-seven times hotter. The top one per cent of wage earners in this country pay for twenty-two per cent of this country. Let’s not call them names while they’re doing it, is all I’m saying”.

Hard to put it much better than that.

Of course, the Green Party delight in the fact that their radically “alternative” politics place them far to the left of even staunchly left-wing opinion.

But given the harm that a 60% top rate of tax would do – and it would be a catastrophic act of economic self-harm, based on Britain’s historical experience and the cautionary tale now underway in France under President François Hollande – even supporters of greater wealth redistribution may well think twice before endorsing this ruinous policy.

Meanwhile, the rest of us are left to wonder exactly what kind of twisted mind convinces itself that success is a bad thing, to be punished and discouraged at all costs?

The West Wing Green Party Natalie Bennett Sam Seaborn - Taxing The Rich - General Election 2015

7 thoughts on “The Green Party, 60% Income Tax And Lessons From The West Wing

  1. angharadlois April 14, 2015 / 6:14 AM

    While I disagree that the policy itself is fuelled by hatred and envy, I admit to being a bit uncomfortable about the way it is being expressed to capture disillusioned voters – there is a lot of frustration out there, and the Green Party are currently the only party who offer an outlet for that particular kind of frustration. But before we each get too entrenched in our respective ideologies (I disagree with the concept of a “brain drain”; many of the most talented people I know work for less than an ideal wage, because they believe in what they do & want to make a positive difference to this country), it is worth considering the social case for reducing income inequality. Though perhaps taxation is not the best way to do it.

    …I need to get better at resisting the urge to comment over breakfast, with no information to hand!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Samuel Hooper April 14, 2015 / 10:48 AM

      I’ve just finished wading through the 70-odd page Green Party 2015 manifesto, so now I can look at the 60% top tax rate placed in the context of the overall Green agenda.

      I still come away feeling that the 60% top rate of income tax (and to a lesser extent, the wealth tax) are little more than lashing out at the financially successful, an attempt by the Greens to say that they have done something to reduce inequality but only by suppressing wealth creation at the top.

      On a whole host of other issues (nuclear power, tuition fees, healthcare) I can wholeheartedly disagree with the Greens but at least understand and respect where they are coming from. But the 60% income tax has me stumped. The language around it in the manifesto isn’t so bad, but when Natalie Bennett spoke about the richest “taking too much out of society” – effectively accusing the people who already pay the most tax of being parasites – I was left scratching my head.

      I see the “brain drain” not as an exodus of all talented people – as you rightly say, many of the most committed and hardest working people toil away for love of the job or commitment to their cause – but as a clear signal to a subset of these people, the ones who create jobs or the most economically dynamic, that they are no longer wanted here. That paying 45%+ tax isn’t enough, that despite their tax contributions and private philanthropy (something wealthy British people are quite good at, despite the already high tax rates) they are still seen as leeches on society.

      Just as I would not want to scapegoat the poorest in society (the unemployed, the sick) for the failures in our overall system, so I do not think it helps to scapegoat the rich. I would be marginally more open to Green Party or Labour tax policies if they were accompanied by any suggestion or acceptance that the rich already pay something like their “fair share” (whatever that means) toward our public services, and that increasing their taxes further is an unavoidable but (if possible) short term necessity. But it is never presented in this way – not only do the Green Party want the rich to pay more tax, they do so while accusing them of being greedy parasites who have essentially stolen more than their equal allocation of the country’s resources. And some of them may indeed be parasites – just as some unemployed people are genuinely lazy and happy to live off the taxpayer – but in neither case is it the majority.

      Yes, there are various studies that point to all the reasons why greater wealth inequality in a country is bad. But I’m more interested in raising the floor by lifting up the poorest and the lowest paid, not through artificial means like minimum or living wages but by doing the hard work of creating a better educated, more dynamic workforce.

      Anyway, those are my immediate post-breakfast thoughts!


  2. Clive Lord April 13, 2015 / 11:17 PM

    What happened to the ‘semi’? A Green Party member myself, I have reservations on how the Party has mishandled publicity for the Basic, or Citizens’ income scheme, but I cannot let your fully partisan criticism pass. The Basic Income is supported by some so-called ‘neoliberals’ because they recognize not only its fairness, but that it will be good for the bright as a button innovators you think the 60% tax rate will ruin.
    Most beneficiaries of the recent gross rise in inequality are mainly people who happened to be richer than most others to start with. Are you defending the tax avoidance of Amazon & others?
    I follow your blog. I also follow Johnny Void. Here are two recent posts giving a very different perspective from yours:
    Universal Credit is a failed sham. All the Basic Income will do is put the unemployed and the bankers – and the innovators and wealth creators – on the same tax/benefit regime. In fact it will make it easier for innovators who are not yet earning anything to get started.
    My second criticism of my own Party is that we could stress that a degree of redistribution is fair without spooking those who will lose through a lessening of inequality. The Party could be using our environmental roots to better effect. Some of us think that climate change should be top of the agenda. If we are right, then a recession is inevitable anyway. I have a track record of persuading well heeled people to vote Green by telling them bluntly that they will pay more in tax when we get in, but what they will get for their money is a planet fit for their grandchildren that has not been trashed

    Liked by 1 person

    • Samuel Hooper April 13, 2015 / 11:34 PM

      Thanks Clive as always for reading and for your comment, I respect your views and am always interested in what you have to say.

      I can’t help notice that you don’t seem to take issue with the main premise of my article – that the Green Party tax policy seems to be fuelled more by hatred and envy of rich individuals than any desire to lift the poorest up. Yes, there’s a focus on reducing inequality, but Natalie Bennett seems to want to achieve a more equal society by kneecapping the most successful people in the British economy – I find it hard to understand, let alone respect, such a position.

      Natalie Bennett herself admits that the measures will raise hardly any money (£2bn being peanuts in the grand scheme of things), and actually admitted that she thinks there has been too much focus on the deficit (I kind of agree with that much) and that she would rather focus on stopping people from becoming very rich – either by dissuading their employers from paying them a lot of money, or by taxing them to ludicrously high levels.

      On basic income, as you know I am very interested in whether some form of universal basic income could be implemented. As a small government conservative who lives in the real world, I think that a universal payment to every British citizen – in exchange for scrapping the entire welfare state and rolling back regulation on private industry, quid pro quo – could be a good way to get us past our current impasse. Too often we conservatives let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and universal basic income represents a way to strip away all the bureaucracy of a welfare state while retaining a form of social safety net.

      On Amazon et al, I absolutely do not defend them. You’ll notice my post confined itself to talking about individuals, not corporations. Where there is aggressive tax avoidance, and skirting around the spirit of the law, I believe in zero tolerance. But I also think that our current arcane tax system is so long and complex that it positively encourages avoidance and abuse. I want simple, flatter taxes for individuals and corporations, stripping away the tangled web of incentives and credits and tax breaks and loopholes that make our current system such a mess.

      I admire the fact that you are willing to call out your own party where you believe they are on the wrong track. As a Conservative voter myself, I hope you will have noticed that I am only too willing to do the same – you’ll find very few pro-Cameron posts on my blog, though there’s a good chance I will hold my nose and vote Conservative on May 7th. So though I may have come down hard on the Green Party here, I do cling to my status as “semi-partisan”.

      I’m also an occasional reader of Johnny Void, and will look back on the articles that you highlighted. Since Universal Credit has only been rolled out on a very small scale thus far I have been reserving judgement, but will look with interest at the details.

      Thanks again as always for the thoughtful and well-researched debate. If only there was a similar courtesy and attempt to understand and engage with opposing sides in Westminster…


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