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Burgers and microchips for all...



The world's first trillionaire is coming, so look busy. According to last week's excitable predictions he (and it will be a he, won't it?) is already alive, probably works in technology and could buy everybody on the planet 80 burgers each, if he so chose — which beats 5,000 loaves.

Yet all this fun with maths is not enough to distract us from a more troubling reflection: Will a world with one very, very, very rich man and millions of very, very, very poor people be the kind we'd want to live in?

It is to be hoped that our trillionaire will be a philanthropic sort, and some have speculated that Bill Gates, who has committed to donating at least half of his wealth to charity, is a likely
candidate.

But even if the trillionaire isn't that way inclined, his personal wealth could still offer a communal boon through taxation.

And if the accountants at Trillionaire Inc don't like it, there's not much they will be able to do, if he is British.

Soon HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) will have the power to recover unpaid tax directly from people's bank accounts.

This idea unnerves many people, such as members of the Treasury select committee.

However, when MPs raised concern over the new HMRC powers last week, it wasn't on a principle of civil liberty, exactly.

"The ability directly to have access to millions of taxpayers' bank accounts raises concerns about the risk of fraud and error," said the committee, which it warned could result in "serious detriment to taxpayers".

These are legitimate concerns, but they don't seem to apply to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), which already has the right to take money from people's bank accounts in certain circumstances.

The DWP did not let persistent IT failures stand in the way of pursuing the implementation of universal credit, despite warnings that mistakes would be of serious detriment to vulnerable people.

There is still a big public appetite to see corporate tax avoiders pursued, as a letter to Caffè Nero that went viral on social media has demonstrated.

Any move which gives HMRC more power to do so — even an extreme one — is worthy of
consideration.

Alas, HMRC has an issue which should worry us much more than the occasional calculation errors.

Their tendency to aggressively pursue soft targets, while leaving the real villains free for business as usual.

The tax evader with a £1,000 debt is more flagrant, perhaps but it's the corporation quietly and legally avoiding millions in tax, which does more damage.

It should never be down to the charitable whim of the prophesied trillionaire to decide whether the rest of us have access to food, healthcare, education and shelter.

Unfortunately that seems to be the direction in which we're headed, if we can't empower our tax system to do the job it's supposed to. The alternative? A future in which we're all reduced to hoping Gates comes good on those burgers.  The Independent


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