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TAX: AFTER THE DIDDLERS, THE DODGERS

By Mark Rogers

Taxation in the modern state is an attack on wealth and its creation.

Which is illogical, because without wealth creation there can be no tax base.

The Welfare State was founded, and is foundering, on conundrums such as these. So perhaps it is not surprising to see a Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer engaging in what amounts to left-wing style class warfare.

George Osborne has just announced that he is “going after the wealthy tax dodgers”. As reported in The Daily Telegraph, Tuesday 10th April, he has been examining “anonymised” tax returns furnished by HM Revenue and Customs which show the completely legal measures that some very rich people have been using to reduce their tax bills, through what the Chancellor and the Revenue are pleased to call “loopholes”.

If the measures are legal, how can those who use them be called “dodgers”? (And see here for another example of the Revenue being rude.)

Osborne has cleverly turned the issue into a moral one and in doing so has introduced a novel legal concept on the hoof. These schemes of tax avoidance have been dubbed “aggressive” avoidance, as if by hurling an adjective about what is legal is suddenly rendered “un”-legal.

Now one of these legal “loopholes” is offsetting tax liabilities by making donations to charity, which in the nature of things would be large ones for the offset to work. Closing this “loophole” is therefore going to deprive flourishing charitable organisations of substantial and necessary sums.

And it is to be observed that such charities find more efficient and targeted ways of spending the money they receive through such donations. Can the government be expected, can the government even promise, to spend the money that it thus intends to steal as efficiently? Of course not.

One obvious practical problem that also looms is that many of these allegedly “aggressive avoiders” are foreigners, who settled here because of the way the tax rules had already been drawn up: they run businesses, they spend – in other words, they are already “contributors” in various ways to the economic life of the country. If the rules that encouraged them to settle here are changed, then they will simply leave, or if they stay, the taxes imposed on them will dry up certain expenditures, which will amount to much the same as if they had departed.

So the plans to deal with people who have done nothing illegal will have the opposite effect: less wealth creation, less voluntary “distribution” through getting and spending of that created wealth through the rest of the economy and more government waste – of human resources as well as cash…

Once upon a time, these things were done so differently: here is the opening paragraph of A. J. P. Taylor’s volume in the Oxford History of England, “English History 1914-1915”:

Until August 1914 a sensible, law-abiding Englishman could pass through life and hardly notice the existence of the state, beyond the post office and the policeman. He could live where he liked and as he liked. He had no official number or identity card. He could travel abroad or leave his country for ever without a passport or any sort of official permission. He could exchange his money for any other currency without any restriction or limit. He could buy goods from any country in the world on the same terms as he bought goods at home. For that matter, a foreigner could spend his life in this country without permit and without informing the police. Unlike the countries of the European continent, the state did not require its citizens to perform military service. An Englishman could enlist, if he chose, in the regular army, the navy, or the territorials. He could also ignore, if he chose, the demands of national defence. Substantial householders were occasionally called on for jury service. Otherwise, only those helped the state who wished to do so. The Englishman paid taxes on a modest scale: nearly £200 million in 1913-1914, or rather less than 8 per cent. of national income.

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