I was sorry to hear that former US president and Nobel Peace laureate Jimmy Carterhad broken his hip last month. I was not sorry to hear that the incident had ruined his planned turkey hunt in his home state of Georgia. I – like the lion’s share of the western world – have a visceral dislike of the pointless suffering of wildlife.
The Americans continue to do things their way, while the rest of us are becoming more and more constrained by multinational consensus. The latest example came last month when a Swiss referendum ensured the application of a new corporate tax regime, as well as restrictive gun laws. On the face of it, this was an example of absolutely raw democracy in action. In Switzerland, all it takes is 50,000 signatures on a petition to guarantee a national referendum on parliamentary laws. And that was the case here.
But, beneath the surface, the reality was different. Both proposals had, broadly, been up for national vote previously, and both had failed. This time, the people knew that Switzerland’s much-loved-by-foreigners tax friendly principal companies, finance branches and private tax rulings were dead in the water, thanks to BEPS and related international agreements pushing for a level playing field for domestic and foreign businesses alike. Meanwhile, persistence with the country’s liberal gun laws would mean exclusion from the EU’s much-prized border control free Schengen Area.
Companies of all stripes will now be subject to the same rate of tax, deductions being given for EU friendly R&Dcosts, patent box and the write-off of hidden reserves. To help cover the expected shortfall in tax revenue, and pacify the lefter leaning elements of society, there is to be an increase in social security related taxes. At the same time, residents of Switzerland will have to get used to less freedom to bear arms.
The message to the Swiss from the international community was loud and clear – you can vote any way you like, as long as it’s ‘yes’. Two thirds of voters duly obliged in both referenda; the rest are helping police with their enquiries (that bit isn’t true).
Careful thought about the Swiss situation raises the long-standing question of the importance of nations and, with it, the importance of citizenship. Before the ascendancy of the nation state, the 17th century poet John Donne meditated that, ‘No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the Main’. Napoleon, Bolshevism, two World Wars, Apple and Amazon later, and nations have limited control of their own destinies, while hundreds of millions of their citizens live beyond their borders. Despite the passing centuries, we are evidently not done with Donne. And, despite a declaration of the League of Nations scarcely 90 years ago that: ‘Every person should have a nationality and should have one nationality only’, growing numbers of people collect citizenships like their grandparents once collected cigarette cards.
The time has surely come to reassess the State/Individual connection. In a world where -with a few prominent exceptions – compulsory conscription to defend the nation is no longer necessary, too many people fit Stanley Baldwin’s assessment of: ‘Power without responsibility – the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages’. An excellent candidate for consideration to, at least partly, replace citizenship in assessing an individual’s rights and responsibilities vis a vis the State, would be long-term tax residency.
Who knows? Monaco might one day be a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.