U.K. Proposes 50 Percent Tax For Rich

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is backing a new 50 percent tax bracket for the country's wealthiest earners. But big names like composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and actor Michael Caine are speaking out against the increase. Simon Hoggart, a columnist with the The Guardian newspaper, offers his insight.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris. And this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

SIEGEL: While Barack Obama has drawn the ire of diehard tax cutters by proposing a top income tax rate of 39 percent, his opposite number in Britain has outdone him by 11 points.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has proposed raising the income tax rate there on the wealthiest Britons to 50 percent. Members of Brown's governing Labour Party seem to approve of the idea. But dissenters have warned of everything from an exodus of creative talent to the demise of England's premiere soccer league.

Well, when we hear ominous warnings in Britain of the end of civilization as we know it, we call Simon Hoggart, columnist for The Guardian newspaper.

Welcome, Simon.

Mr. SIMON HOGGART (Columnist, The Guardian): Hello.

SIEGEL: And did I catch you while you're packing to move to Monaco?

Mr. HOGGART: That's right. Yes, my income from The Guardian is so enormous that I will be absolutely crippled by this. I'm going to have to sell several Ferraris in the Gulf...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HOGGART: ... that say nothing of my mansion in the country with its 82 bedrooms.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: Who are the leading and loudest complainers there in England about this?

Mr. HOGGART: There are lots of complainers. Yes, that was baffles me a bit actually because, really, they're not being asked to spend very much, indeed. And you realize when you get to a certain level of income, it doesn't make very much difference. So it puzzles me. We always get this stuff about we'll be leaving the country: movie stars, rock stars, businessmen and, as you say, sportsmen. And somehow they never keep the promise. The tax goes up and they keep on staying.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HOGGART: You know, maybe it's just too much trouble to move.

SIEGEL: Well, I read that Andrew Lloyd Webber is up in arms about this.

Mr. HOGGART: I know. Wouldn't it be tragic if we lost him? I wonder if you'll gain him and have some of those terrible, dreary songs to listen to?

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: He might discover that we pay state income taxes here also, and the rate gets pretty high. Now, run us through the argument that, I guess, was voiced by a leading soccer coach, we would say football coach, in Britain, that this really could lower the level of playing in Britain, which is considered the highest in the world.

Mr. HOGGART: Well, that's because the premier league, which is the soccer league here, does pay enormous salaries. We're talking about several millions of dollars a year for the really top stars. And they're not going to get anything like that if they go and play in Germany or Italy or Spain. So they'll grumble. As I said earlier, they'll have to sell one of the Ferraris, but, you know, it won't really make very much difference.

SIEGEL: Would this make the U.K. an unusually high tax area within the European Union? Or...

Mr. HOGGART: Well, we're talking about people who earn something like $220,000 a year. So it really is going to affect very, very, very few people. And, of course, it's actually far less than (unintelligible) from the Scandinavian countries where they have much greater tax rates. And they seem to be fairly prosperous and they seem to be capable of holding onto their successful businessmen, whether it's the people who make Volvo cars or singers, such as ABBA.

But interestingly, Anni-Frid, one of the stars of ABBA - they're all immensely rich now because of the movies...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HOGGART: ... and stage play - she chooses to live in England. Now, whether we're going to lose her, she's going to go back to Sweden to pay even more tax, I don't know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: You don't think it's a Scandinavian obsession to pay taxes that have been...

Mr. HOGGART: They love paying taxes. They just adore it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HOGGART: For them, April is just the kindest month, the chance to do so. So they get to write an enormous check to the taxman.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: Simon, always a pleasure to talk.

Mr. HOGGART: Okay, thank you.

SIEGEL: That's Simon Hoggart of The Guardian newspaper speaking with us from London about Prime Minister Gordon Brown's proposal to raise the top income tax rate in the U.K. to 50 percent.

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