Friday, 6 July 2012

let's sell honours

There are an increasingly large number of people with huge piles of money. In trickle-down land, this is supposed to result in them spending this money and distributing it to everyone. In fact they appear to be hoarding the money, and making only safe investments (look at bond yields!). We are told that placing arbitrary taxes on them will discourage them from having made that much money in the first place. Well, whatever, let's go with that.

There's a practical limit on how much they can spend on their lifestyle, so there's a great demand for status symbols. We can see this in the art market.

The people benefiting from this art bubble are mostly the slightly-less-rich who bought stuff when it was cheaper. How can we get in on this action? Well, taxing it is difficult when the art market is global. Selling off the contents of the National Gallery is probably a non-starter, and in any case we can only do it once - it won't provide an ongoing source of income.

Anyhow, art isn't the thing, it's just a good demonstration of the willingness of high net-worth individuals to pay silly amounts of money for status symbols. See also: football clubs and newspapers. Perhaps we should create a status symbol of our own to sell to them. Something that can be made by the state for zero cost, and can't be replicated by any other actor. And something that doesn't represent an actual difference in material conditions.

I have just the idea - peerages! Once the House of Lords reform goes through, the peerage will be disconnected from the legislature entirely. What better way to get the nouveau riche to voluntarily pony up some money for society than to sell them prestigious titles? We already know people are willing to pay for honours - there might even be more people interested if it weren't so shady.

The system I propose is quite simple. Every year, set a blind auction, with a number of life baronies available for sale, along with one viscountcy. We'll see how much money we can raise. We run the risk of peerage inflation, so we'll keep earldoms, marquessates and dukedoms in reserve. I have absolutely no idea how much money we'll raise - the market will decide that, but in the worst case where it doesn't cover its administrative costs, we can just discontinue it after a couple of years.

Why not? I mean, what's in danger - the dignity of the honours system?


  1. Why stop at selling meaningless titles of nobility? Next we might want to look at selling, say, scientifically unrecognized naming rights for stars. Or maybe legally and practically unenforceable real estate holdings on the moon. Oh, wait a minute…

    1. Heh.

      I doubt those things would raise anywhere near as much revenue as my scheme. The advantage with peerages is that the government already is seen as having a legitimate monopoly in issuing such titles, and people have already demonstrated their willingness to pay large sums of money for them.

  2. Do you mean actor or sector ?
    There used to be a tax on windows. Bring it back given the fashion for office blocks that are practically all window (exclude buildings solely used for growing plants).
    Increase council tax for homes thar have their front gardens converted to fully surfaced drives to reduce flooding. Count gnomes and statues as residents thus increasing taxation based on occupancy. May reduce numbers of gnomes and cliched lovers statues in gardens.
    Tax domestic violence in tv dramas which will either bring in large sums from the soaps or reduce the frequency that gives the impression that it's part of the daily schedule in 90% of working class homes.

  3. We already have a perfectly adequate market mechanism for honours.

    If, however, the market were openly-declared, the undeclared benefits would be lost: the contributions to charitable causes - which do, in most cases, exceed the political donations underlying the award - and the fairly-well-enforced rule that boardroom knighthoods only go to companies that have community programmes, Investors In People status, and *some* disabled people on the payroll.

    It used to be that they had to pay a bit of tax, too.