Tuesday 15 April 2003

Do soldiers pay tax?

The Daily Mail (no link) is running a campaign to improve the lot of British troops in Iraq. Although American soldiers get a lower basic pay it looks like this is more than compensated for by higher benefits. An example is the £175,000 received by the widow of a US serviceman killed in battle compared to the £26,750 that a British widow would get.

The Mail is asking readers to write to the Defence Secretary asking him to allow British soldiers in combat to be paid without deduction of income tax like their American comrades. This seems very reasonable.

I would, though, like to ask a controversial question. Do British soldiers actually pay any tax at all? I contend that no one who works for the state pays any tax. Let’s take two people both earning £20,000 pa. For simplicity ignore National Insurance and personal tax allowances and assume a flat 20% income tax. Mr A works in the private sector. He is hired because his employer estimates A’s value to be at least £20,000 to his company. After tax, A receives £16,000 and his boss sends £4,000 to the taxman. His neighbour, Mr B, works for the government and also gets £16,000 after tax. For the government, though, the cost of employing B is not £20,000 but £16,000 and that is all B needs to be worth to the state. It hands out £20,000 with one hand and immediately takes back £4,000 with the other. B’s “tax” is a mere bookkeeping adjustment within the state’s overall accounts. And where does the government get the £16,000? From the tax removed from four people like Mr A.

The truth is that Mr A and others like him are taxpayers and Mr B is a tax consumer. What the Mail is actually calling for is an increase in the already untaxed gross pay of soldiers. That may well be justified but we should never forget that the state's employees consume wealth that is produced in the market sector of the economy.