CUTTING ROOM: Tax cuts for lazy families; TV-shy millionaires; Belgium's dark-horse economists; hot air over the US; and good news for business travellers ... Evan Davis at large

CUTTING ROOM: Tax cuts for lazy families; TV-shy millionaires; Belgium's dark-horse economists; hot air over the US; and good news for business travellers ... Evan Davis at large - Is it just me, or is there something a bit irritating about the sudden pol

by EVAN DAVIS, the economics editor of BBC's Newsnight
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Is it just me, or is there something a bit irritating about the sudden political fashion, across the spectrum, for talking of targeted tax cuts for 'hard-working families'? Much as it would be nice for government to reserve its largesse for those who work hard, no political party has succeeded in drawing up a practical set of rules that could reasonably distinguish between the hard-working and the downright lazy. You can hardly ask people to tick a box on their tax return declaring whether they are married or single, and whether they are hard-working or a Mr Jobsworth who does as little as he can get away with.

In the absence of any sensible proposal for targeting the hard-working - and I suspect none will be forthcoming in this month's budget - lazy families can expect to benefit from an income-tax cut as much as their hard-working counterparts. Perhaps a more mature political dialogue would entertain the use of the phrase 'working families', if that is what politicians mean.

How many of you are rich? And where are you when we need you? The public appear to have an almost insatiable appetite for 'lifestyles of the rich and famous' TV programmes and magazines; they love to discuss fat cats, Posh and Becks, and dot.com millionaires. And the rich themselves, we are told, are more normal than they used to be: less ashamed, less ostentatious and more philanthropic. Oh yeah. Well, that doesn't mean we can persuade them onto Newsnight. For our recent Friday night 'rich' special, we couldn't persuade one rich person to face the camera live in the studio.

My suggestion of the hi-fi shop founder Julian Richer got nowhere, despite his having a name that seemed particularly appropriate for the subject matter. In the end, we had to settle for an aspiring-rich young entrepreneur. Even if the rich enjoyed 15 minutes of fraught-free fame last year during the height of the dot.com bubble, they have returned to form again now.

Good news on the economics front. It seems that a Swiss study has found that the Brits rule among European economists, with over half the total of the continent's 'eminent economists' coming from this country. Moreover, the UK had more eminent economists per head of population than anywhere else. Perhaps that is to be expected from the nation that gave the world Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes. The biggest surprise was that Belgium came second. Who can name five famous Belgian economists?

My friends at the New Economic Foundation have drawn an amusing league table to my attention. Produced by the World Economic Forum, it ranks the world's most sustainable economies. The Finns come out as number one, closely followed by the other Scandinavians. Fair enough. The Brits come 16th.

But the nation whose name flashes in bright neon in the table is, of course, the US. Amazingly, it comes 11th in the world. Surely there must be some mistake? Anyone who has been to America for more than 10 minutes can only see it as the globe's most extravagant consumer of depletable resources.

Indeed, according to the Key World Energy Statistics, the US comes 129th out of 135 countries in terms of per capita production of carbon dioxide.

The 5% of the world's population living in the US produce 24% of its CO2 emissions. Probably the only way the Forum could shoehorn America onto the leader board of environmental friendliness was by attaching a huge weight to California's recent, unplanned, policy of rationing electricity.

Talking of environmentally unfriendly Americans, news has crossed my desk of an obscure and bizarre US federal anti-trust case. The outcome of Continental Airlines versus United Airlines will please business travellers everywhere.

Continental has adopted what it calls 'friendlier carry-on baggage policies' that allow passengers to take more hand baggage onto their planes. United, however, has been found to have conspired with other airlines to thwart Continental by installing so-called baggage-sizing templates at the security gates at Washington Dulles Airport, designed to prevent customers from getting through security with heavy hand luggage. Fortunately, a court found in Continental's favour, ruling that the use of templates violated anti-trust laws. Those Americans just don't miss a trick when it comes to promoting competition.

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