How a lifetime conservationist became moderately wealthy - a story for our times?

A few years ago I was targeted for a tax investigation. I ended up explaining to HMRC how I become quite wealthy, having started life with very little.

Compared with people who go into business, set up shell companies, trade stocks and shares at the right times and defraud investors of a few million pounds at a time, I am not wealthy, but I'm still quite well off.

I had omitted properly to declare a few thousand pounds of gross interest on a QTD account held in an offshore branch of a private bank - and the new HMRC computer systems noticed. These days HMRC computer systems cross check so much more than they used to - simply because the various computer systems that didn't used to talk to each other have been replaced by a single system that knows everything about you.

The letter has been redacted - but is still an interesting summary of how living a DIY and 'conservationist' lifestyle (not buying things you don't actually need) can end you up with far too much money - and nothing you want to spend it on. I didn't tell HMRC that all the holidays I had for 20 years including a month in Australia were paid for as travel perks as part of my job as a scientist in the Civil Service. Those days are long gone - we had secure lifetime contracts, free gold plated pensions, and perks. It was interesting while it lasted.

Youtube has dozens of videos showing people how they can become a millionaire inside a few years. I once included my own assessment in lectures but it was before the internet age (when a million pounds was actually worth something). Here is one of many videos. In the 1960's when 'being a millionaire' became part of popular culture and aspirations, having a million pounds of surplus cash meant you were seriously wealthy.

These days (2016) you need about 18M to have the same level of wealth as 1M in 1965. Thus, being even worth 2M or 3M today is not exceptional - large numbers of people even in the UK have this amount of 'surplus wealth' and most of them spend it on frivolous environmentally damaging lifestyles. As is explained in my letter, I have rarely purchased things that I didn't really need or want. I live in a modest 3-bedroom bungalow (worth maybe only 330k).

Soon (early 2017), the UK government may give incentives for single people to move into smaller homes, thus freeing up larger houses for families. It makes sense but few people are likely to take up the offer. People in the UK have become attached to their homes. A financial incentive to move therefore may provide little motivation if you already have more than enough money. So it may become yet another failed housing policy.

Women are amongst the worst 'environmental vandals' - they think nothing of buying 200 (or 2000) pairs of shoes. Similarly they feel disadvantaged if they don't have hundreds of outfits many of which are worn once (if at all). Some women are so inwardly besotted that they rush out to buy the same dress or coat as was worn the previous day by some minor royal personage - craving to be as famous or attractive as she is perceived to be. Some women even rush to buy the same clothes that were worn by a young prince - thinking it will somehow make their own child something special. Such behaviour marks a new low in human intelligence and evolution. The whole attitude centred on 'shopping' is extremely environmentally damaging. Men exhibit similar characteristics when it comes to technology and cars. Do you really need a 4x4 or the latest iPhone?

The production of all goods has an environmental overhead. It has now been recognised that we need to move to a world where people are not employed to produce 'stuff' that nobody really needs. Somehow, economics needs to be redefined so that people get a subsistence 'wage' from the State just for being alive and the primary objective of 'economic policy' needs to become consuming as little raw material as possible.

Many years ago when I was a government scientist I was 'warned' not to promote heretical ideas like closing down factories that were producing 'junk' products. The policy (and part of my work at the time) was merely to research ways of making the factories more energy efficient.

The current economic system has as its core value that all production and manufacture is 'good'. There have recently been some academic papers arguing otherwise.  I (and other instinctive conservationists and minimalists) were simply decades ahead of our time.

Future thinking includes manufacturing far fewer cars and having families share them, manufacturing far fewer electrical appliances (such as DIY power tools) and simply borrowing one when it is needed. There are many internet references to these topics and to 'minimalist' living.

My letter to HMRC (as a pdf) is here. (add link)


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