Sunday, January 22

Time to find new retirement plans

I am genuinely disappointed to learn that Sark will soon become a democracy (or already is--I came to this story some months late). Until now, I was more than half-seriously planning to retire there sometime in the mid 2040s. But now I read that the "small, sweet world of wave-encompassed wonder," as Swinburne dubbed it, has drunk the European kool-aid and "undertaken to ensure that the island's electoral system complies with the European Convention on Human Rights." How sad! Being the only First World feudal state was something to trumpet. To abandon that 350-year history is a pity; to abandon it for a Eurocratic delusion is a tragedy. The R.C. 'blog in illo tempore has a suitably nostalgic account of the island's recent decision.

I first heard of Sark when I was practicing transactional law in London. Sark is disproportionately famous there as a tax shelter, and availing oneself of its tax protection is known as the Sark Lark.

For some idea of why I want(ed) to retire there, here are a few quick facts:

Sark is an independent state within the British Commonwealth, the smallest of the three major Channel Islands, located between France and England. It is not, however, under the control of the United Kingdom or of the other Channel Islands. As a result, it is not party to the reciprocal tax arrangements that Guernsey and Jersey have with the mother country.

As this website describes it:

. . . there is no Tax, Tax Man or Tax Office on the Island of Sark! The Island has no income, capital gains or inheritance taxes. It raises most of it’s revenue from a poll tax on visitors to the Island and the Impot, a tax on alcohol and tobacco purchased here. Neither does it have any reciprocal tax or disclosure of information agreements with anyone. Communications are excellent with some of the most sophisticated telephone systems and postal facilities in the world.

Sark is neither in the EU or out. There is no VAT and many businesses can be run without having to register for or charge it.

But, as I am not planning to run a business from Sark, all this is less important than the following information, courtesy of in illo tempore, the official Sark website, this personal and opinionated guide to the island, and the off-shore guide linked to above:

1. The island is 4.8 km by 2.4 km, at its widest points, with a population of 600 (increasing to 1000 in the summer).

2. Sark has no income tax. Motor vehicles, except tractors, are not allowed. Travel is by foot, bicycle, and horse and carriage.

3. It is a short flight (45 minutes) from London and Paris.

4. No land in Sark is held as a freehold. The Seigneur holds the Island in perpetual tenure from the Crown in return for certain obligations and annual dues (rente), and may not have that taken away from him unless he reneges on his commitment. Also he may not sell his Fief (the whole Island) without Crown permission.

5. Land may not be divided by inheritance. Until 1999, it could only pass to the eldest son

6. Simply, the Constitution is a mixture of feudal and popular government with its Chief Pleas (parliament), consisting of 40 tenants and 12 popularly elected deputies, presided over by the Seneschal (L. P. de Carteret). The head of the island is the Seigneur.

7. Tithing is currently in abeyance but the obligation to hold arms for defense is written into all contracts.

8. There is no restriction on immigration – anyone can move to the Island. In practice, only those with secured employment or income earned from elsewhere move to the Island, because there is no Welfare State to support those who cannot pay their own way. There is no National Health Service.

9. The only taxes are on liquor and a poll tax on perceived capital, sometimes referred to as a "Visible Wealth Tax". As a result "keeping up with the Jones’s" is not evident and people "show off" in non-materialistic ways, such as by having beautiful gardens.

10. Because most of the residents move around the Island day-to-day on foot or cycle there is "continuous" one-to-one contact and conversations, in a way that is physically impossible in a society dependent on motor cars.

11. The lack of motor cars has implications for the look of the island. Domestic garages and drives to them are not needed. Lanes are narrow and headroom low, with overhanging trees. Junctions between lanes do not need much space. Carriageway footpaths are not needed.

12. There is no VAT or any kind of tax on sales or business profits. This, together with the absence of income tax, enables people to undertake work for each other and receive payments for their work in a way that is impossible in a State that requires all business and personal earnings to be declared.

13. The interests of "the poor" are looked after day-to-day by the ‘Procureur of the Poor' (an official position undertaken by a volunteer). This concentrates resources on those in greatest need. Payments can include medical insurance premiums. The contrast between the simplicity of the Sark system and the cumbersome bureaucracy of the UK system is stark.

14. Medical care on the Island seems to work well compared with England. (If this comment refers to the NHS, then isn't much of an achievement, in my experience, though private health care in England is the best health care I've yet found.)

15. There is a tendency for Islanders who run profitable businesses to give generously, especially in their wills, to projects that benefit everyone on the Island. A charity that subsidizes the cost of medicines prescribed by the doctor is well supported, with numerous fund-raising events throughout the year.

16. The day-to-day positive motivation of people not "brought up" with a mind-set based on ready access to State dependency is quite different from the negative motivation of residents of a Welfare State.

In short, about as ideal a place for my retirement as I have yet found, and only a short trip from two of my favorite cities. But, as Barry Cooper observes on his idiosyncratic website about the island: Unfortunately, in the opinion of the author and of many others, the current notion of democratic human rights has gained credence on the Island and the constitution is about to be changed to fit the Western democratic mould. Sark, soon to be ruled by people motivated to do what their electorate wants now, will become a different place.