Less short-sighted times saw the rich writing cheques to help with the national debt.
For today’s super-rich, the only dilemma when it comes to giving money to the state is whether to stash one’s funds in Monaco or Panama in order to avoid doing so at all. In the decades after the First World War, things looked very different.
In fact, some wealthy patriots voluntarily wrote “huge cheques” in an attempt to help pay off the national debt, as Dominic Kennedy says in The Times. The newspaper proprietor Lord Dalziel, for example, left £400,000 from his will in 1936; and shipping tycoon Lord Inchcape set up the 50-year Elsie Mackay Fund with the £521,101 estate of his daughter, who died “while pursuing her hobby as an aviatrix”, with the intention of using it to pay off the national debt.
But no good deed goes unpunished, as we see in the current heated debate around the National Fund. This was set up in 1928 when an anonymous donor supplied £500,000 in response to a plea by then-Financial Secretary to the Treasury Stanley Baldwin for patriotic rich citizens to voluntarily help pay off the debt accrued as a result of the world war.
Nine years ago, the trustees of the fund decided that “there was no prospect” of it becoming large enough to pay off the national debt, notes Owen Bowcott in The Guardian, and “applied to the Charity Commission to change its constitution so it could donate money to charities around the UK”. In response, the attorney general “has applied to the high court to release at least £400m from a fund that has in effect been frozen, in order to reduce the UK’s massive national debt”.
Those who want to give the money to charity instead have a point when they argue that using it for its intended purpose “is tantamount to doing nothing at all”, as an editorial in The Times points out. Even if the national debt had not increased after the end of the war, today’s fund would only make a “small dent” in the total amount. As it is, it “will barely scratch the surface” of today’s £1.8trn debt pile. Nevertheless, “the many benevolent Britons who gave from their own pockets did so with clear instructions”. So the government “should stick to its guns” and help “bring its dream, of a Britain of fiscal rectitude 0.0002% closer”.
Playing the long game
There’s got to be a better way, says Tim Harford in the FT. “What might we achieve if only we were willing to play the truly long game?” Assuming the fund grows 3% faster than the wider economy, it will double as a proportion of GDP every 25 years. So in just three centuries, it will have grown 4,000-fold relative to the economy as a whole. As long as the debt stays roughly in proportion to national income, this means the fund would be sufficient to pay off the debt a mere four centuries after the original bequest.
But can we really expect a cash-hungry government to be this far-sighted? Perhaps the one lesson from all of this is that, whether one is contemplating the future of human life or whether to have that extra bit of cheesecake, “it is hard to take a truly long-term perspective”.
Tabloid money… Demelza tries some mining of her own
• Actress Eleanor Tomlinson, who plays “feisty” Demelza in television drama Poldark, believes she should be paid the same as Aidan Turner, the star turn as Captain Ross, says Lorraine Kelly in The Sun. She doesn’t know exactly how much he makes, but to be fair, “he tucks a heck of a lot more cash into his tight britches than her”.
Still, as Ross Poldark, Turner carries the show and his character’s name is in the title. He deserves to be making more, just as Claire Foy did for playing the title role of the Queen in The Crown. Bosses were eventually shamed into giving Foy £200,000 in back payments. So while I don’t think she has a leg to stand on, you can see why she’s a “bit miffed” and is trying her luck.
• “Weddings these days, whether royal or not, are more like a power production than a gentle joining of hands,” says Carole Ann Rice in the Daily Express. Back in the day, you would have a couple of close pal bridesmaids and a flower girl for the “awwww” factor. These days, you must have a battalion of friends, relatives and colleagues in full regalia, who have paid a small fortune in spa hen weekends from Barcelona to Bali.
A friend (a single mum) paid more than £30,000 for her daughter’s wedding only to find the bride living in her loft conversion after the reality of married life didn’t match the glamour of the preparation. Betrothed couples should remember the day is about them, and not about pleasing anyone else.
• Last week, after the watershed – and during a documentary on Liverpool striker Mo Salah’s scoring prowess, natch – came the first telly ad for Viagra in Britain, the only country where you can buy the drug over the counter, says Rachel Johnson in The Mail on Sunday. “It was a terrible ad. A true shocker.”
But it was important. Whereas pushers of the little blue pill had been targeting clubbers on the pull, selling it as a premium lifestyle drug, this ad sets much of this right. And it brings male impotence, a taboo subject, into the mainstream. “I personally feel very proud that this country leads the world in the marketing of Viagra to age-appropriate males. We’ve got to be best at something, after all.”