If I ruled the world: mirror tax

There’s only one demand in society powerful enough to bear the huge tax needed to cover government debt. People, look to yourselves
June 22, 2010

As the coalition struggles to span the abyss of governmental borrowing, I would like to propose a new tax to fulfil the long-established criteria of a just and desirable imposition on a particular item. Those criteria are: that the tax should not impinge on the ability of the most vulnerable to maintain health (ie, the item must be purely discretionary); that the item should be widely enough desired for the tax not to result in its disappearance; that the tax should be easy to collect and hard to evade; and that—as with 4x4 tankettes in the current vehicle-excise model—the restriction in the item’s ownership to the carelessly rich or the hopelessly enamoured should tend to the moral improvement of the nation.

On what, then, will our splendid new tax be raised? On an item lost in the dark ages and available only to the wealthiest until Jean-Baptiste Colbert, the father of French economic dirigisme, obtained the secret in the 17th century. On an item excoriated through the ages as the agent and evidence of vice (by everyone except Socrates, but look what happened to him).

Well? Surely the answer is clear. As our forefathers taxed private windows, so should we tax private mirrors.

New mirrors will be assayed at the point of manufacture and acid-etched if for public use, with swingeing penalties for falsification. Since glass is both very heavy and tremendously fragile, smuggling will be hard to the point of uneconomic. Existing domestic mirrors will be self-assessed and liable for spot-checks through unannounced visits from customs and excise, with fixed penalties for evasion set (as with television licensing) at a deterrent rather than a proportionate level. A zero-rated category will include all mirrors up to 75 square cm. This will cover not only all health-and-safety equipment necessary to dental hygiene, rear-viewing, under-car bomb checking and so on, but also reasonable items such as make-up and shaving mirrors.

The moral component here, I trust, is clear. There is a valid argument for the use of small mirrors enabling such swift and sociable checks on the state of hair and teeth as are conducive to general satisfaction—but who needs to see themselves full-face, never mind full-length? Above the exempted area, therefore, the tax will be not merely progressive but geometric. If the rating on a domestic mirror of 100 sq cm is M, the rating on a mirror of 200 sq cm will be 4M, and so on. Devotees of Lacanian psychology may ask what is to become of childhood development without the “mirror stage”—but this is a country we are running, not a second-rate English literature department, so we will privilege empirical benefit over half-baked Parisian theory.

Our tax cannot be accused of a class bias because it will light most heavily not on the richest, but on the vainest. Certainly vanity and gold have frequently been observed to cohabit, but the link is not philosophically ineluctable: one assumes that Andrew Lloyd Webber, for example, spends little time gazing at his own reflection. The Barclay brothers (if they are ever taxed anyway by anyone, anywhere) would doubtless happily abolish all preening within their bailiwick to minimise their liability. On the other hand, where inflated bank-balances and image obsession are found together, the bill will be enormous; and where the two are not only conjoined but inescapably linked (as with Posh/Pete/Paris and co), the public purse will be gratifyingly swelled.

The moral impact on society will be incalculable. Western man has become an auto-scopophilic monstrosity, fixated on that ultimate post-Protestant idol: the private mirrored self. No wonder we in our decadence bow down before mere successful mannequins. But stronger even than vanity is our ancient desire to evade taxation. Emancipated by enlightened government intervention (as we have been by Californian car-emission regulations) we will throw our mirrors into the nearest skips, rejoicing at our victory over the hated Inland Revenue. Men will once again shave like men, not groom like show-ponies. Women’s bathrooms will be places for speedy, honest faffing (face, armpits, fanny and feet) rather than secret theatres of obsessive makeover.

We will, like our ancestors, only ever catch sight of ourselves full-on in public places, where dwelling on personal appearance will invite suitable ridicule. We will define ourselves not via the mendacious surfaces of our private mirrors (which only ever show things the wrong way round), but through the multi-faceted reactions of our fellow human beings. Life will cease to be a salon where couture and wit are pre-polished before staged entrances, and become once more a living forum where unpredictable encounters decide our statuses. Meanwhile, the hopelessly vain will reside alone amid their endless looking-glasses. And be taxed through their noses for it.