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Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Taxes (Part 2)

Is Tax Theft? Er, yeah...

We now continue with our two-part series on taxes. If you haven't already read Part 1 and its comments, please consider doing so now. By the way, I note that others are also covering taxes these past few days, as well they should, and quite honestly they are doing so a lot better than I can.  It's an important issue for all of us, so it should be kept in the forefront.

The comments from the previous post were interesting and not at all surprising.  Nearly everyone feels that tax is theft.  And I agree with that sentiment 100%.  Ever since people and societies accrued anything of value, there has been someone or some kind of entity to take some of it from you under threat of duress, imprisonment, or pain of death. It is natural opportunism at work, much like jackals or other scavengers swooping in to steal a piece of flesh from a kill they did not themselves make.  We are in many respects exactly like our animal counterparts in the wild, only stupider since the animals having their food stolen really do not like it one bit. Our large brains have simply devised a clever means of taking things we did not earn in order to support others. We call it tax, but it is still theft unless you voluntarily give your money away.  Mark Wadsworth also commented that perhaps the government could raise more than enough revenue simply taxing property rental values in lieu of other forms of tax such as VAT.

What is Fair?

Dear Pat, I apologise to you now, and I'm not picking on you by singling out your comment, but I do want to use it as an example of why we let people tax us, and honestly I had hoped someone would make it so I also thank you for it.  First your comment in full so it has full context (emphasis added):

I agree the tax funded jobs economy is false. What you say is true. However, I do believe that there should be a fair tax on those who can work to help support those who can't work. Industry and job creation is the best source of tax revenue but those who work in the tax funded public sector appear to be actively employed to prevent industry thriving and therefore job creation from happening.

I don't have much to add to this debate because I don't know much about tax or finances, but I do know that we are taxed on everything in life, either directly or indirectly, from money paid by private industry or through the public purse on just about everything in life for any reason at all.

Even global warming/climate change is an invented scam to tax us for the one thing that is our God given free right, and that which Govts would never have got away with taxing us on in times past, the air we breathe and that, I think, is entirely immoral.

The emphasised sentence from Pat's comment is important, because this is the primary justification for government taking more and more of our money from us.  It wasn't always so, and truthfully most of the tax they took back then was not used to provide welfare to those who would need it. Indeed, taxes used to be taken merely to support armies and empires, to build roads or amphitheatres or other public structures.  Often it was taken for personal gain in the case of dictatorships or monarchies. Over time a welfare state was created, particularly after WWII but even before then, and a very small percentage of the tax taken was given to those who either did not support themselves or could not support themselves.  Politicians of course love this redistribution of wealth to the poor, because it helps them get re-elected.

But there are many other ways to help out those in need.  Charities used to fulfil this function admirably (before many of them became hateful activists), as well as churches and local communities but primarily it was families who looked after their own -- government intervention was not required.  Now, however, there has been a huge shift away from private sources of charity to state-provided welfare.  There are dozens of reasons for this shift, a lot of it due to politicians, some due to the break up of the core family unit perhaps, but all that our benevolence has achieved is an entitlements culture worthy of incredible amounts of scorn.  There are able-bodied UK-born and bred people right now who have never worked a day in their life, and who have done nothing but sponge off of the system because they believe they are entitled to it by birthright.  I would love to hear one good reason why we should support these lazy fuckers with our money. Just one. I don't think anyone supports giving money to those people, the ones who refuse to work I mean, but the system allows for it because it means politicians will get votes and because the system can be exploited.

Back to Pat's comment, there are of course some people who cannot work due to disease or injury or mental disability.  Some people, and probably not as many as you'd been led to believe -- we are perhaps too quick to label someone as disabled. Yet, in my local supermarket, I see one disabled young man working the tills, and he's doing an excellent job.  This young man has very limited use of one of his arms, and yet he's able to ring up your purchases and help you bag your groceries.  He's not sponging off of anyone or anything as far as I know (perhaps he does receive money from the government, but at the same time he's also working in the private sector), and he's polite, bright and smiling and doesn't complain about his lot in life. He's making his own way, and like us being taxed for being self-sufficient.  He's also a student, paying his own way for that, too, no doubt.

So for those in genuine need of help, I suppose my question is this:  Does the government really need to take care of you, or can we find a more humane, efficient and cost-effective way of doing so? I'd bet anything we could, if only we had the will.

Civic Duty versus Moralism

Check out this quote (emphasis added):
"I regard the state of which I am a citizen as a public utility, like the organization that supplies me with water, gas, and electricity. I feel that it is my civic duty to pay my taxes as well as my other bills, and that it is my moral duty to make an honest declaration of my income to the income tax authorities. But I do not feel that I and my fellow citizens have a religious duty to sacrifice our lives in war on behalf of our own state, and, a fortiori, I do not feel that we have an obligation or a right to kill and maim citizens of other states or to devastate their land."
It was said by A.J. Toynbee, a British historian, perhaps best known for his ten-volume "A Study of History" which covered the rise and fall of civilisations.  You can read the wiki entry on him here, if you feel so inclined but it's really not necessary.  The above quote came from "Demise of the Local State," Choose Life: A Dialogue, Oxford University Press (1989).

In any case, Toynbee's quote aggravates me to no end, and it illustrates everything that is wrong with all of our governments and taxing us to death and our complete acceptance of the status quo.  Paying tax is not a civic duty, nor is it a moral duty.  It is a legal duty, enforced by the might of the state.  Go ahead and not pay your tax and see what happens to you.  You'll be in jail and have your money and property taken by force.  If a business stopped charging VAT, they would be put out of business within a few days.  If you're simply an immoral creature but haven't broken any laws, you won't be jailed.  Immorality is more or less defined by culture and society, and it changes over time.  Some consider immoral to be in a gay relationship, but presently this is not an offence worthy of jail here in the UK. It is close to impossible to define morality, except that we all tend to hold certain beliefs about not killing others or stealing from them. It is perfectly acceptable for government to steal from you, though, in respect of your civic duty.

Civic duty, however, is very different from morality.  Societies, cities, small towns, all of these need certain rules if things are going to go smoothly for its residents.  Civic duties are your responsibilities as a citizen or as a resident of city, county or country.  Civic duties are often based on religious beliefs or cultural beliefs, which are then enshrined into law and these duties are often intertwined with genuine issues of morality.  Do not break local ordinances, no littering and please clean up after yourself (if only people followed this one), do not blast loud music all night long, do not wipe your bogeys on the seat of the bus, do not rape nor pillage nor plunder, do not kill, etc.  Basically, don't be a dick to other people. There are other types of civic duties, which vary from country to country.  Jury duty or military service are two examples of many.  But if you were to look up "civic duty" you will almost always see "pay your taxes" included as a civic duty.  Wow. This is social engineering at its finest. And it works! Oh, how well it works! How do you get people to do something that most people wouldn't ordinarily do on their own? Easy. You tell them it's their duty to do so, and you guilt them into it (sound familiar smokers?), and if that still doesn't work, you force them to do it. You punish them until they conform, all in the name of civic duty, and you figuratively put their heads on pikes for all to see their wanton disregard for their civic duties. Eventually, with enough heads and/or jail cells, you will have near-total compliance, either from fear or that ingrained sense of civic duty. 

So if you didn't have to pay tax, would you?  If taxes were voluntary, would you freely give your money to a government to do whatever it liked with it?  I think most of us would not, but there are always exceptions. I will cover this more below in the closing.

Sin Taxes

I fucking hate the term "sin taxes."  It's loaded with unnecessary innuendo, in that you are somehow sinning against God or Nature or these days the Almighty Health Nut in the Sky by choosing to drink alcohol, or by smoking, or by eating junk food.  In our culture, these activities are not sins, but they are of course becoming social taboos due to the relentless pressure of the health zealots and other pressure groups.  I hope someday we stop using the term, but who am I to say you cannot use it?  Do what you like.  I personally favour the words "lifestyle taxes," because as our society's religiosity wanes that is exactly what these taxes are these days. 

I've been reading Christopher Snowdon's The Art of Suppression, and it comes as only a mild surprise that governments have been using taxes to discourage lifestyle choices for centuries.  (What does utterly surprise me is how much blame we can lay at the feet of doctors for meddling with our lives and ultimately creating a nanny state and a dependency on drugs because they felt that they alone had the right to medicate the population -- but this is another story for another day).  Tobacco and alcohol are easy and favourite targets for tax revenue.  Working smokers and drinkers by far pay more in tax than any other group combined, probably. Here in the UK, we pay a lot of lifestyle tax.  Let me give you an example:

I was in the States this past week.  I went into a liquor store and saw a huge 1.75 litre* bottle of Bombay Sapphire for only $28.99.  With today's exchange rate, this is equivalent to £18.22 GBP or €22.79 EUR.  By contrast, the price of a much smaller 100cl (one litre) bottle of Bombay Sapphire gin here in the UK is £26.40 GPB at Tesco, and, slightly smaller than 1.75 litre bottle I saw, a 1.5 litre bottle at a UK wine merchant costs £42.75 GPB.  Holy fucking shit on a shingle!  Keep in mind that Bombay Sapphire is exported to America, and nearly twice as much gin is on sale there for far less than it costs here?  Shouldn't it be more expensive in the States because it is imported there?  It should be, by any fair economic standard, but it is not. (*The duty free restriction on bringing in spirits from outside of the EU is 1 litre, so if I had hypothetically bought the gin, I would still have to pay UK duty on at least .75 litres of it if I had also hypothetically declared it at customs when returning to the UK. You cannot even buy a 1.75 litre bottle here as far as I can tell.)

So why is British-made gin more expensive here than in the U.S.?  It's taxes. Our government is continually raping our collective arses with 20cm thick, 10-metre long flagpoles in and out on per-second basis with its excessive lifestyle taxes.  Because it's easy money. Because people will keep on drinking, and smoking, and the government knows it, so it takes our money in exchange for our ability to do what we would like with our own bodies.  And what exactly is the government using that money for?  Apart from bullying us into changing our lifestyles via the NHS or other publicly-funded pressure groups, who the fuck really knows where it all goes?  A lot of it goes to the EU so they can bully our country in to conforming to the EU standard of hate in return.  A lot goes to propping up banks that should have been allowed to fail (yes, a good many people would have lost some of their savings, but that's always been a risk with giving your money to a bank, and that's why governments insure your money up to a limit).  A lot goes into subsidising an industry that could never survive on its own merits, and ultimately shady politicians will reap the benefits of their involvement of taking our money and giving it to private businesses once they get out of office.

In Closing

Clearly, I am no fan of tax. I find it regressive and prone to corruption.  I do not even support the BBC's licence fee.  I like some of the BBC's programming, BBC4 particularly, yet I despise its newsroom and biased reporting.  I wonder what would happen to the BBC if its fees were voluntary.  I know a great many of people love the BBC and would voluntarily contribute.  But if the fee was optional, perhaps requiring a licence code to activate your digital TVs, digital radios, and computers in order to access BBC content, how many of us would pay for the service?  What an experiment that would be! It could be a tiered service, pay only for what you want. At the moment, we have no choice to pay, even if we don't watch any BBC programmes, and we have no say at all in how it is run. We are forced to pay 3.5 billion pounds per year collectively to the BBC, under penalty of jail and enormous fines if we do not pay our share.  It's not a fee, then. It's a tax. Which is why I don't support it.  Given the opportunity to voluntarily pay some amount of money in exchange for services, then it's a service fee. I would then base my decision on perceived value for money.  If something is worth paying for, people will pay for it willingly.  Free markets at work.  For me, it's an ideal system.

But we do not live in an ideal world, and taxes are inevitable for the foreseeable future.  So, considering this, what if you could implement a free market tax system and choose exactly where your tax money down to the penny was spent.  Let's say that everyone has to contribute a mandatory percentage of their tax to health care, and a percentage to the military, and another percentage to cover basic essential services and public transport, etc., etc.  Sure that could be exploited too, but let's pretend it isn't. The rest you get to choose.  You fill in a form and check a box and indicate that you want 10% of your money to go to helping those who cannot work.  And you want another 5% to support animal welfare. 3% for the homeless, because you like animals more than people.  Perhaps you use public transport, so you willingly give a little more in that area, because it matters to you.  If a tax system were devised this way (even though it is practically unworkable), politicians would be pretty much out of a job and the balance of power would shift to the common people.  How many asinine and wasteful government programmes would never see the light of day.  You can bet that groups like ASH would disappear overnight without public funds.  Alas, this will never happen.  Well, not in my lifetime. 

We do need serious tax reform. We also need serious political reform.  Our politicians are screwing us over every day, and we just lay there and take it with barely a whimper of complaint while we are shafted until we bleed.  We fail to question them, to hold them accountable for their thievery except for special cases when the corrupt media decides to turn on one of them.  We as a society feel it is acceptable to take other people's money and property and give it to others who do not actually deserve it.  In return for supporting government theft, we feel entitled to benefits for ourselves, funded entirely by private citizens and corporations, even if we have not earned them or contributed towards them.  What a sad, sorry state of fucking affairs this is.

And if you are one of those people who feel you are not being taxed enough, then do feel free to pay my taxes for me, fuckface.  I won't mind at all, Mr King. And I'm never again buying another one of your books, either.