Socking it to Santa
Experience suggests that my telephone conversation with some extremely pleasant folk from Colorado last Thursday will prove one of my last international work calls before Christmas. Although I have never visited Denver or its environs, I am assured that their courtesy was typical of that, and other, Western States. My research suggests, however, that if you ever happen to be passing through the Centennial State and, in need of directions, knock on a random door that happens to be unlatched, DO NOT STEP OVER THE THRESHOLD. If you do, your nostrils are likely to come face to face – so to speak – with the twin barrels of a double-barreled shotgun. Unless you believe in life after death, the memory of that slightly boss-eyed view of the gun’s chambers is likely to be your last. You see, Colorado has, what they refer to as, a Make-My-Day law so liberal (or should that be, conservative?) that the vaguest threat of the vaguest violence by an intruder in your home is sufficient reason to blow them to eternity, Dirty Harry style.
The source of this Stand-Your-Ground law is the English Common Law doctrine of “An Englishman’s Home Is His Castle”, although the English are far more conservative (or should that be, liberal?) in applying this in practice. That English approach should be particularly comforting at this time of year to a certain rotund Finn in a wooly jumpsuit who annually breaks into most of the homes in the western world. Particularly disturbing to the 21st century psyche, but somehow lost on several billion people, is that he specifically creeps into the children’s bedrooms and creepily stuffs gifts into their socks and stockings. It is all accompanied by a “Ho-Ho-Ho!” – enough reason, on its own, to call the boys in blue.
But the connection of Englishmen and Castles has become strained in recent years. High-end real estate has increasingly found its way into the hands of Foreigners (a broad term meaning Russian Oligarchs and Arab Sheikhs) who have the ready cash to help inflate prices.
For no apparently coherent reason, other than it seemed a fun thing to do at the time, George Osborne – Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer – announced in his Autumn Statement earlier this month that, for the first time, foreign resident individuals are going to be charged to Capital Gains Tax on sale of residential property in the UK. Tax is to be applied on increases in value from April 2015 and it is estimated that the tax revenue raised will barely cover the costs of administration.
In truth, I have never fully understood why Britain, as opposed to just about every other country in the world, has not exercised the right enshrined in double tax treaties around the globe, to tax the ownership of real estate, irrespective of residence. It was only this year that foreign resident companies owning property were brought into the tax net. I suspect, but have no proof, that it has something to do with Empire. When Britannia ruled the waves before the First World War, British governments thought of the island of Great Britain as a sort of Aircraft Carrier (without , prior to 1903, the aircraft) for launching British colonists around the globe. Half the world was British, so why would anyone be nitpickingly proprietorial about a few bits of the mainland? As treaties took shape after the War, Britain still hung on to its Empire even though its Navy had lost its supremacy.
Well, substantially the only Empire Britain now has left is the Empire, Leicester Square (where I once saw a Clint Eastwood movie) and, tax efficient or not, it is time for George Osborne to bring his nation in line with the rest. There is, however, no indication that he is planning any restrictions on Santa Claus since British Parliamentarians are generally very tolerant of suspicious old men in red fur-trimmed cloaks, who regularly fill their second chamber.
Late one night, around the turn of the current century, when the members of the Taxbreak family were fast asleep in their beds, I heard noises way downstairs. Deciding not to disturb Mrs Taxbreak, I crept nervously out of our bedroom and descended the first flight of stairs to the middle floor, carefully negotiating the 180 degree mid-flight turn . Nothing. Now in a cold sweat, I started down the lower flight. As I reached the turn I was confronted in the dark by an unshaven 17 year-old I quickly identified as a friend of my eldest (soundly sleeping) son. “Hello!” he greeted me cheerfully. “What are you doing here?” I asked in an exclamatory manner (or words to that effect in an exclamatory manner). “I came to play on the computer”, he coolly replied. “But it’s 3 o’clock in the morning! How did you get in?” I enquired in a no less exclamatory manner. “Through the window”, he retorted matter-of-factly. I gently suggested he go home (in an exclamatory manner). Had this been Colorado, there might have been one hell of a mess to explain on the stair carpet the following morning. As it was he lived, so that I could tell the tale and he could become a software developer. We are still in touch and he continues to be a welcome visitor to our home, though these days he always uses the front door.