Stickman Readers' Submissions May 24th, 2014

The Utopia of Britain

I had to scratch my head earlier this week when I read an article called Notes From Farangland Part 2. I am from
Britain but I have not been back for the last 12 months. I normally go once a year but I just hate jet lag and I get it really bad when returning to Singapore from England. It seems though that since I have been away, Britain has turned into a
technology, education and economic utopia, where everyone has a job, earns lots of cash, has access to the best education in the world and they can all be billionaires.

A few things disturbed me about this submission, mainly the facts. Headline grabbing quotes like "Britain has more billionaires per capita than another country" while technically that might be true, the majority of these billionaires are not British-born (only 2 of the top 10 were British), in fact most are foreign-born and breed who happen to own a house in London for tax purposes, and these billionaires spend very little time in Britain. They are what the government calls non domiciled tax residents. These non doms make up over 2/3 of the list meaning they actually have very little business interests in the UK apart from a loss making football club or two and a very, very large house.

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Let's be realistic, most Stick readers will not be billionaires (in real life that is, maybe not in their submissions). If you actually look at the percentage of the population that are millionaires by country, Britain does not even enter the top 15.

The author also described Britain as being a "high-tech powerhouse". Britain has internet speeds that are lower than Bulgaria, Romania, Lithuania and the tech giant of the Republic of Moldova. Britain has not produced 1 single company that is in the top 10 of IT companies, software companies or Internet companies globally in terms of market capitalisation or revenue.

The British educational system is falling apart and although it does have a handful of top universities, these universities certainly are not easy to access if you come from a council estate in the North. In fact a recent survey of 15-year olds found that Britain finished below Vietnam, Estonia, Belgium and even France in terms of reading comprehension and maths. Children today scored lower marks than their grandparents did, which is a shocking statistic. Moreover graduates face a death trap of debt when leaving university. Nowadays graduates can expect to leave university with 50K – 60L of debt for a degree that might not be worth that amount. Outside of London the average salary according to the office of national statistics is 21K pounds before tax, meaning most students will be paying back their student loans into their mid 30s and beyond. The government provides these loans at a low interest rate then securitizes them and sells them on to banks at below book value (what they are worth), pocketing the cash and letting the banks chase the debt.

Apparently the British economy is very robust, with unemployment at 6.8% and falling. The way the government calculates unemployment figures has changed 30 times since 1979 with each time resulting in lower reported unemployment. These figures do not take into account workers who are deemed to have been unemployed for too long and therefore are clearly not looking for work, married mothers who are trying to return to the workforce, anybody under the age of 18 or workers who have zero contract hours contracts where 1 week you can work 20 hours, the next 0. Over 1.4 million people in Britain work on zero contract hour contracts, a staggering sum of people who are not sure how many hours each week or month they will be working.

To assume the average professional at age 40 is earning 60K GBP in the UK is simply crazy. Earning 60K GBP in the UK today puts you in the top 2% of wage earners in the country according to the national office of statistics, and I very much doubt the average engineer earns 60K in Britain. In fact if you earn 60K and live outside of London you are actually in the top 1% of earners. Our author also forgot to take into account tax. The UK has a punishing tax system that borders on barbaric. After income tax and national insurance tax, (all taken from you before you get your pay check) you then have to pay a whopping 20% VAT on most day to day items. (VAT is essentially a tax on income for most people). According to the world bank Britain ranked 10th in the world in terms of ease of doing business, behind Malaysia and Georgia (the country, not the state). In fact Thailand is ranked 18th and New Zealand ranked 3rd.

The British tax system borders on a joke, if you sell gingerbread men with chocolate for eyes you pay no VAT but if our gingerbread man happens to have a chocolate belt or belly button you must pay VAT! After paying all this tax, you die and the government reach into your grave and grab 40% of what is left in inheritance tax (granted you are allowed 350K if you are single or 700K if you marry another Brit). The government also collect first on their payment, meaning they often force sales of assets to get paid. And we must also take in to account capital gains tax, so if you live in the UK and put your money at risk in the stock market for instance and make money, the government taxes you for it (excluding retirement platforms).

Now while I am not arguing that Thailand is a better place to make a living than Britain, Britain is certainly not a great place to make it either. If you were serious about making money (which the author seems to be), you would much rather be in a low tax, business friendly environment where you get to keep your cash rather than giving half of it away for very little in return, and at least have your children grow up in an education system ranked above Estonia and Vietnam. No offence to anyone from Estonia / Vietnam by the way.

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No doubt there are people who bum around in Thailand and regret it but most Farang I know who live there either made their money or are in Bangkok working for a multinational company and while prices have risen in Thailand, Bangkok is still relatively cheap compared to Singapore, Hong Kong, Seoul, Tokyo, Shanghai or Beijing and certainly a nicer place to live than Manila or Jakarta.

On a side note, it really shocks me how bitter some old boys are on this site complain about the average price of a bargirl – you can feel the bitterness in their submissions. Yes, 30 years ago a bar girl cost 500 THB and she now costs 5,000 THB and a beer is 200 THB instead of 20 THB. I too would like to pay 1980's prices for a beer or steak in Singapore, or buy a house in London at 1980's prices or an apartment here in Singapore – maybe it's all those evil "2-week millionaires" doing their devilish work here and in London as well that keep pushing those prices up! I don't know too many people who would do the same job they are doing now but be paid a 1980's wage. Interestingly a Mars bar cost 16 pence in 1983 and now costs 50+ pence but the size has gone from 70gs to 48gs so we are paying much more for a lot less. At least in Thailand you might pay more for a bar girl but size wise you are getting much more as well…..

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