She’s at it again, giving the Grauniad all £110,000-worth of her wisdom. This time, it’s …
The tax and finances of every citizen must be open to public scrutiny
…Taxes are the price we pay for civilisation: soon that price must become a public declaration for all.
So, let us count the ways in which Polly is wrong. This might take a while…
1. The idea that confidentiality of tax affairs is somehow a ‘cheat’s charter’ is akin to the authoritarian’s ‘nothing to hide, nothing to fear’ argument – with all the corresponding ‘guilty until proven innocent’ and legal crystal ball gazing that it involves. Do we have to keep the bedroom curtains open when indulging in you-know-what, just so that everyone can see it’s consensual?
2. Exposing everyone’s tax affairs is a good thing because, quoth Polly:
Transparency underpins a culture of social justice and civic duty.
Rubbish – it underpins a culture of envy and spite and stirs up (often unjustified) antagonism, fuelled by financial and economic ignorance which is, of course, what socialism feeds off. It reinforces the sneering culture that would rather vandalise an expensive car than aspire to own it.
The ‘civic duty’ bit is code for embarrassing – or, more accurately, bullying – people into paying more than the law requires. Well, I am happy to make a prediction: that the number of Toynbee cheerleaders who publish their own tax affairs (in full) will be around the same number as those UKUncut followers who voluntarily sent extra dosh to HMRC.
3. Polly comes, of course, from the rabidly left-wing school of thought that the state allows you to keep some of your wealth; its munificence borne out of the fact that it chooses not to confiscate every last penny, while protecting us from other criminals, foreign invaders, etc., etc. Thus she equates the scrutiny of publicly-salaried figures with that of the private individual. Wrong, of course – the only agency that needs to know how much you are being paid is HMRC, for the purposes of ensuring that the law is being adhered to.
4. Not in the article, but a related tweet, she mentions a £75bn tax gap, and that allowing private individuals to keep their tax affairs private is allowing tax cheats to hide their heinous deeds.
Clearly, Polly continues the standard lefty – and increasingly mob-appeasing government’s – line that conveniently conflates avoidance and evasion by labelling all such activity “cheating” or “dodging”. It’s like deeming all fast driving “speeding” whether it’s doing 80 on the autobahn or 60 in a 30 limit.
Well, the £75bn is pie in the sky. The trade union funded Richard Murphy used to bang on about £120bn. HMRC’s own estimates – and they have little incentive to seriously underestimate the number – is around £35bn. That figure includes bad debts, deferred but not avoided tax, various types of evasion and other factors, which rather gives the lie to the idea that the tax gap is all down to rich cigar chompers in the Cayman Islands and mayoral candidates. There is also the inconvenient truth – touching on another of Polly’s hobby horses – that some benefit fraudsters will also, by the same token, be tax evaders (notably where the fraud is based on hiding income).
5. Polly seems to be encouraged by George Osborne’s statements this morning and recently whereby he calls aggressive tax avoidance “morally repugnant” and has been wittering on about his “shock” at some of the measures people go to in order to avoid giving more to the government than the law requires. However, Osborne is losing credibility; adopting faux-outrage to appease the mob, and sounding suspiciously like he doesn’t really know what he’s talking about. Citing the writing off of business losses and deducting mortgage interest on rental properties is hardly tax avoidance. You can go ahead and block the deduction of business losses, George, on the same day you stop taxing business profits. As for tax avoidance being “morally repugnant” … oh please, like tax is anything but a morally questionable but practically necessary evil.
6. Then there is the small problem of Article 8 of the Human Rights Act, that totemic legislation much loved by the progressive Left. It is the right to privacy. To quote Liberty’s commentary:
… it will be important to distinguish between a lawful interference in someone’s private life in the public interest, as opposed to an unlawful one which has occurred merely because it is something in which the public might be interested.
7. Finally, we have the vague notion of what constitutes someone’s “tax affairs”. When screeching about Osborne, Polly mentions “what’s in his wife’s name, what wealth he has in trusts, and so on.” However, her own ‘disclosure’ mentions only her salary from the Grauniad (hardly a stranger to tax-dodging trusts itself). Nothing is said about her book sales or broadcasting activities, for example.
And what about corporate structures, which is what has got Ken Livingstone in such trouble? On that score, fellow traveller Sunny Hundal is at pains to point out that companies are separate legal persons and should not be considered part of an individual’s tax affairs – at least, when it comes to Livingstone…
Well, we’ve got to seven, but now I have work to do. Feel free to add your own…