Tag Archive: George Harrison


“The art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to obtain the largest amount of feathers with the least possible amount of hissing,” — Jean Baptist-Colbert, French Minister of Finances under Louis XIV.

“If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street. If you drive to city, I’ll tax your seat. If you get too cold, I’ll tax the heat. If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet,” – George Harrison, Beatles’ “Taxman,” 1966.

The Beatles certainly were not the only hugely successful British rock-and-roll band to ever feel the heat of punitive taxation. Nonetheless, they were paying far more than their “fair share” for their musical achievements and the opening song of the band’s “Revolver” album was a form of open protest against excessive taxation and class warfare.

“‘Taxman’ was when I first realized that even though we had started earning money, we were actually giving most of it away in taxes,” said the late George Harrison, the Beatles guitarist. “It was and still is typical.”

For their chief competitors, the Rolling Stones, the crushing taxation in the UK in the 1970s forced the band to leave their homeland, England, to seek refuge in France and record the aptly titled “Exile on Main Street.” Like Napoleon Bonaparte on Elba, the Stones were forced into Mediterranean exile.

exile

The history of the Beatles and the Stones relative to taxation has direct bearing on the modern-day open debate on just how government is too much government and exactly how much taxation is too much taxation. The leader of the free world has called upon the rich to pay their “fair share,” but what exactly is the definition of fair share? And what constitutes “rich” in Obama’s America? The devil is in the details.

Is 98 percent fair? “Preposterous” you say? Not if you review the history of the United Kingdom prior to the rise of Margaret Thatcher.

The “progressive” tax regime of former UK Prime Minister Harold Wilson was simply staggering, a top rate for income tax of 83 percent + a 15 percent surcharge on “un-earned income” (investments and dividends), bringing the marginal rate of 98 percent (no typo). Reportedly, 750,000 British taxpayers were liable for a 98 percent tax rate in 1974. Is there a fine line between taxation and almost total confiscation, and when is that line crossed?

In the case of the Stones, they were not only hissing like plucked geese, but fleeing the country…an option that is always available to the wealthy to escape oppressive taxation. The wealthy (at least for the time being) do have the means, and many times they vote with their feet or by means of air travel.

haroldwilson

Reflecting on the time, former Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman said in the band’s DVD “Stones in Exile” that if a band member made a “million quid,” he would be taking home only 70,000 pounds. “It was impossible to make enough to pay Inland Revenue.”

“I had to get out of the country to pay the tax that was incurred on me,” guitarist/song writer Keith Richards remembered.

Singer/song writer Mick Jagger was worried about fan reaction of the Stones leaving the UK for tax reasons, thinking that followers wouldn’t like the Stones anymore. “When you leave for tax reasons, it is not cool.”

But is a 98 percent tax rate cool? Is that paying your “fair share?” Let’s see the achiever gets keep two cents on every dollar, the government takes through a variety of taxing mechanisms the remaining 98 cents on that same dollar.

Extreme? You bet, but it happened. And it occurred in Mother England and it really wasn’t that long ago. As you know, there are some who want America to be just like Western Europe, but do they really support 98 percent taxation?

No one will ever accuse the members of the Beatles and the Stones of being conservative warriors for limited government and Lafferite low taxation to jump-start economic growth. The Stones in particular proved that the real wealthy or the so-called wealthy have options. They can move to lower tax states (e.g. Texas and Florida come immediately to mind) or even to other nations. They may not want to do it, but again they may not have any other choice.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stones_in_Exile

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_Thatcher

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harold_Wilson

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exile_on_Main_St.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taxman

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Laffer

“No one every went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public” – Henry Mencken http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H._L._Mencken

Virtually every Baby Boomer can remember purchasing Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Band, circa 1967.

…and then Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Band on cassette (“A Day in the Life” sounded remarkably the same) until the tape inevitably broke.

…and then in the 1980s, Sgt. Pepper’s with a predictable marketing push was made available on CD (no more annoying scratches or broken tapes…or at least it was harder to scratch a CD).

beatlespepper

Fast forward to this week and we find out that the same boomers that bought Sgt. Pepper’s more than four decades ago on vinyl, again on cassette and still again on CD (which they may have already burned onto their iPod or MP3 player) can now download the same album or individual tracks from iTunes. http://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/the-beatles/id136975

For those of you scoring at home, you have followed a Long and Winding Road for more than 40 years and Apple, the technology company not the record label, is now giving you the opportunity to buy the exact same music in the fourth different format. That translates into one format per decade (Can we accelerate this trend…hmmm?).

Wonder if someone will figure out how you can buy the exact same music in the fifth different format? Don’t bet against it.

Don’t get me wrong; I too am a fan of the Fab Four. Having said that I am still shaking my head about all the breathless Facebook and Twitter posts from my friends, colleagues and comrades and the plethora of related media stories about “finally” having the ability to download individual Beatles songs…the exact same songs that have been around for more than 40 years…off Apple’s iTunes website. http://in.reuters.com/article/idINIndia-52951820101116

Why should we be surprised? Coca Cola and Pepsi taught us how to pay for what is nothing more and nothing less than free tap water (Dasani and Aquafina) just because it is packaged in easy-to-carry plastic bottles.

And who would have ever thought that we would be shelling out for three, four or five phones all at once? Someone is getting rich, but most likely it is not the “enlightened” consumer.

Besides the obvious redundancy, there is a certain sadness that comes from latent Beatlemania. The Beatles stopped touring in 1967, broke up three years later and of course, John Lennon and George Harrison, are no longer with us. So the band’s fans are left with just fading memories and the same recordings to be reproduced over and over again on whatever is the newest technology and then repackaged and remarketed (if there is such a word).

stonesconcert

An editor’s note is required here: I respect the Beatles. Having said that, I am a huge fan of the Rolling Stones www.rollingstones.com.  And yes I am guilty as well of buying Rolling Stones albums in multiple formats. The distinction is the band is still producing new material (e.g. “A Bigger Bang”) and the band reportedly will make plans in December for a worldwide tour with 67-year-old Mick Jagger strutting the stage; 66-year-old Keith Richards amplifying his signature riffs and yes, 69-year-old Charlie Watts playing the drums. The Stones will be rolling in their 50th year of existence.

“At a time when the French are griping about raising the retirement age to 62 these doughty senior citizens (Mick and Keith) are contemplating yet another world tour,” Schumpeter wrote in this week’s “The Economist.” www.economist.com S’il vous plait?

Do the Stones need the money? No. Are they assured their rightful place in musical history as one of (if not, the) greatest rock n’ roll band(s) of all time? Absolutely.

So why do they do it? Because they want to. And it will be a gift for all of us to share…You can’t always get what you want, but if you try some time, you just may find, you get what you need.

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