Between the Panama Papers in 2016 and the Paradise Papers in 2017, and against the fallout of the great ‘bankers bailout scam’ called austerity, there was a brief period when informed debates around the role of tax and tax avoidance where momentarily occurring in even the mainstream press. After years of justifying cutting public spending in order to bail out the criminally inept bankers, the corporate news media did an about turn and started laying in to the tax avoidance of the super-rich. Albeit, chasing a story that they had been happily ignoring for years, while arguably trying to align themselves with an increasingly angry public. It was between these two events that I found myself at a family lunch, witnessing a discussion about the fundamental nature of tax, and the relationship an individual has with the state via taxation in a modern society. As you will see if you read the essay, the conversation not only stayed with me for some time, but it prompted me to better inform myself and write about it.
One of the things that has always bothered me about taxation is the different roles it plays according to which social class you are living in. In the past, the nature of what tax was, was much clearer. And on a weekend when there is a royal wedding going on, and arguably, large sums of tax payers money is being spent on it, it is entirely right, in a democracy, to ask the question what is tax, and more importantly why is tax avoidance acceptable for some. I would like to suggest a republic would somehow stop this sort of anachronism, but one only needs to look a little closer at what is understood as a ‘republic’ today to see that is highly unlikely. But I am getting off track.
One of the things that the Paradise and Panama Papers showed us, was just how many of the ruling elite, that are so quick to wrap themselves in the flag and stand to attention during the anthem, really couldn’t give a damn about the country or the people living in it as demonstrated by their tax avoidance. Paying taxes in a civilised society, by which I mean one with publicly funded health, education and social services, is the commitment a person makes to their family, friends, neighbours, colleagues … in short to the community on which they rely and which relies on them. Why tax dodgers aren’t called out for the sociopaths they inevitably are is a puzzle to me. That being said, there are some people who you just seem to be able to rely on to do exactly that. But for me, the reality is a far wider and deeper problem. Tax dodging is part of wider framework of power relationships, that includes the perception of democracy within an overarching capitalist economy.
For instance, I personally know people that think they really are terribly clever because they avoid paying their taxes while watching their supposed loved ones fight against ill health with only the NHS to support them. Those same people meanwhile, who live in mansions paid for with dividends from companies registered in overseas low-tax jurisdictions, via secret bank accounts in Switzerland, claim patriotism when called out on their racism. Chomsky has spoken at length about this disconnect between taxation and social responsibility, going as far as to argue that not only are capitalism and democracy mutually exclusive, but there was a time that it’s architects and champions were quite open about it.
‘I say evade’ is quite a long essay, coming in at just over 2,500 words, so I won’t go into the details of it. However, the one thing I would say as a preamble to it, is that once again, thanks to whistle-blowers and campaigners we now have access to the information needed to make the choice of whether to put up with this or to protect what our predecessors fought so hard for. When we look back on this time, do we really want to be the generation that lost all of the freedoms and rights that those who came before us died for.
The essay was called I say evade, you say avoid; let’s call the whole thing off and Znet published it. To read a fully referenced version of it here or to download a .txt version please click through to the page.