The strange, strange world of tax

January 18th, 2007

As I mentioned below, I just got a new laptop. Despite the fact that it cost twice as much as a desktop. Why?

Section 58X(2)(h) of the Fringe Benefits Tax Assessment Act 1986, which says:

each of the following is an eligible work related item : […] a notebook computer, a laptop computer or a similar portable computer;

Which sounds fair enough, but compare it to 58X(3):

A mobile phone or a car phone is only an eligible work related item if the phone is primarily for use in the employee’s employment.

Yup, that’s right – laptops count as a eligible work item (and are FBT exempt) even if there’s no business use at all. But desktops aren’t covered at all. So what’s the result? Well, my very expensive laptop is going to cost me less than the desktop that costs half as much retail.

On related ‘strange policy impacts’ news, Apple will be charging $5 to enable a chip already in their computers. Why?

The reason for the fee, Jeremy Horwitz reports for iLounge is that “the Core 2 Duo Macs weren’t advertised as 802.11n-ready, and a little law called the Sarbanes-Oxley Act supposedly prohibits Apple from giving away an unadvertised new feature for one of its products. Hence, said the Apple rep, the company’s not distributing new features in Software Update any more, just bug fixes. Because of Sarbanes-Oxley… It’s about accounting. Because of the Act, the company believes that if it sells a product, then later adds a feature to that product, it can be held liable for improper accounting if it recognizes revenue from the product at the time of sale, given that it hasn’t finished delivering the product at that point.”

So far it isn’t clear whether or not this is really true (or just) a convenient excuse for Apple. But if it’s true then it’s a prime example of the unintended consequences of policy. They wanted to make sure that companies recorded their revenue properly, but obviously the wording (either in the act or the regulations of the SEC) just isn’t tight enough.