22 March 2012

Taxation, not avoidance, is morally repugnant

George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, announcing the Budget yesterday, said: ‘I regard tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance as morally repugnant’. (Daily Mail, 22 March 2012)

What this means is that society must be free to use subjective criteria to decide what people’s intentions were when they acted within their legal degrees of freedom.

Some decades ago there was a principle that laws should be clear, and easily understood by any ordinary middle-class or working-class person, so that a person could make his own decisions, and so that the individual could know whether or not he was acting within his legal rights. This principle has gone by the board in the downfall of civilisation. Now, in many areas, the individual must wait for the tax authorities to tell him whether his motivation was ‘aggressive’ or not, and hence whether he is liable to be taxed (and possibly fined).

The idea that it is immoral to avoid tax, so as to preserve the maximum freedom possible to implement one’s own intentions, implies that the purposes for which the government sees fit to expend money are automatically superior to those which an individual might choose to pursue for himself, and that each individual must regard them as being so.

There are those of us to whom this seems an absurd idea, and we would argue that taxation is in itself automatically immoral, in depriving the individual of the right to decide his own priorities in the existential situation in which he finds himself (the assertion of this right being the basic moral principle).