Amber tree had an overview of the latest taxes our beloved government will put at the feet of the Belgian investors. Although this dedication of targeting the private investor is somewhat new, the broader trend of taxing the middle class is not.
Tax the middle class, always tax the middle class
It is pretty logical to tax the middle class. The rich are hard to tax because they can afford to spend money to find ways to avoid taxes (and if everything else fails they can always chose for the nuclear option and relocate to a more favorable country). The middleclass not so much. Spending 10.000 euro on a financial expert to avoid 100.000 euro in taxes is smart. Spending 10.000 euro to avoid a few 1000 euro’s in tax not so much. And the poor, well they are poor. Take away the little they have and you could face open revolt in the streets; And if there is one thing the government want to avoid at all cost it is a revolt (rulers tend to lose their head when Europeans revolt).
So the middle class it has been for the last decades! In those decades labor has been taxed so heavenly that an increase there would actually diminish total tax returns. Consumption too is taxed at its maximum: 21% on most products. Go higher and in a small country like Belgium everybody will start shopping in France or Germany. Since earning money and spending money are out, they are now looking at what is not earned or spend: savings and investments. Looking for ways to tax it and trying to determine the maximum they can tax in that category. I am afraid they have just begun with this exercise. Fortunately for us it will be an exercise in futility.
It has been my conviction for some years now that the increasing digitalization of our world is decreasing the taxable base for our government. A digital world is also a winner takes all world. As a government you either make damn sure your country hops on new innovations when they starts or you are left with nothing. A real life example to illustrate this point.
Sigarettes. When filter cigarettes came on to the market (the filter once was an example of great technological innovation and created an entire new, bigger market of smokers), as a government, you could afford to be ‘late’ to the party. No matter when you would allow them on your market (either soon after it was invented and commercialized or years later because you had a non-filter tobacco industry you tried to protect) once you allowed it, the follow would happen. Factories would be built in your country, an entire logistics/distribution chain would be created (wholesale – retail sellers) and marketing would happen in your country. Each and ever of those things could be taxed. The only thing you lost by being late to the party was the headquarter and part of the net profit (all those years you waited, foreign brands grew bigger and bigger. Once you allow it, they flood into your country leaving no room for local entrepreneurs to launch a national brand).
Fast forward to the next innovation on smoking: vaping. Being late to the party (as Belgium is because it first did not allow the sale of it and now has a very restrictive law) means that everybody just orders it at foreign web shops. Production, marketing, almost everything now happens in another country and the only thing the Belgian government can tax is the low paid guy in his delivery van who delivers your package at your home. But he is low paid, so taxing him more could lead to revolt. See above why that is a no no. In other words, being late to the party before the internet left you as a government with about 90% of this new market still to tax. Now, it leaves you with nothing to tax.
Digitalization also, in itself has the effect of either shortening value chains or destroying them completely. Renting a movie used to have a pretty decent chain to tax: wholesale, marketing, video shops (called videotheques in Belgium). A lot of parts to be taxed. Now it is Netflix. Same for music, games, banking … pretty soon we will have self-driving cars and instead of having 6 million individual owners to tax our government will have Google and such as an opponent. And Google is a hell of a lot harder to tax than those 6 million individual owners …
So digitalization leaves less parts of value chains to tax. But, and I circle back to the taxing of individual investors, it also increases the possibilities to avoid taxes. Even if you are not part of the wealthy. The internet is a gigantic information database where people share their wisdom. Which means that as soon as 1 person finds a way to avoid a certain tax, everybody knows of it.
I am member of Facebook group about frugal living where each and every day dozen of tips are shared on how to buy stuff cheaper. Remember, every euro not spend on consumption is 0.21 euro of VAT tax lost to the government. My dad, 64 years old, spends his day on cycling forums. As a result he is now buying cycling gear in China. Those new tax laws have not yet been voted and implemented, and already ways of avoiding it are appearing on line.
And if all else fails, the nuclear option is also a lot easier to use than in the past. Relocating has never been easier and cheaper than now. You can find tons of information on the internet. Keeping contact with friends and family in the mother country is easier thanks to social media and popping over the cheapest thanks to cheap flights or buses . All this means that where once you needed a couple of million to make it feasible to relocate, I now think that 1,2 million euro is sufficient. This would give you 24.000 euro a person to live off. More than enough to live a very comfortable life in most places on this world. With a wealth tax that starts at 500.000 euro and a nuclear limit that can be deployed at 600.000 euro that does not leave a whole lot of tax room for our beloved government to tax.
The sad thing is that they know it. But where our videotheques accepted their fate and quietly disappeared (or re-invented themselves as fast-food or mobile phone shops) our government seems to have no interest in slowly fading away. Just like the industrial revolution has come to an end and been displaced by the digital revolution. The government form that evolved with that industrial revolution will sooner or later be displaced. Just look at our history. There was a long time where the land nobility ruled our society. Then the industrial revolution happened and things changed. In most countries they accepted their fate, stepped aside and let progress follow it course. In other countries they resisted and were unwilling to relinquish their power. Those got their head chopped off … Personally I abhor the value destruction that a revolt brings with it. But hey, I am sure you can find the building plans to a guillotine somewhere on the internet….