One of the people who reads these essays and comments on them (Davy Stephenson)wrote a phrase which set me thinking. He wrote about “false taxations” in the context of carbon taxes. It is an interesting concept because it implies that some taxes are false in the sense that they are immoral or wrong, or that they (and this would be the context actually used) purport to stop a harmful thing by penalising the activity that creates that harm. In the context of carbon tax being false the argument is that as the emission of carbon is not (in the mind of this reader) a harmful activity a tax on it is false.
That set me thinking; many honourable and desirable things are taxed. Work, which is an honourable and usually a moral activity, is taxed. In the United Kingdom tax is paid by those that work and those who employ those who work. If you are innocent of a crime and are falsely accused you pay tax when you defend yourself by lawyers in court against the accusation. If you are ill and have to buy a machine to monitor your illness you pay tax on it. Usually you pay all these taxes out of work which has already been taxed.
There are also many charges that people pay that are in the nature of a tax but are imposed by commercial companies in the course of their dealings. If you wish to pursue an insurance claim (remember you have paid for the premium) you may only call some insurers on a telephone line which enables that insurer to gain a profit from your call. There are hundreds of these annoying charges which are simply ways of businesses trying to get some of your labour, some of your work, in the form of money and money is merely the medium which values your work and enables you to trade your work.
In that sense big businesses have the de facto ability to charge you a tax by creating rules that apply to their services and by changing those rules from time to time to squeeze a few more pounds out of a few more suckers. We have all seen a confusing plethora of energy tariffs, mobile phone tariffs, bank accounts where you tuck away your hard earned labour only to find that the details have been changed by the bank and you have lost some of your hard earned labour as a result of the bank’s trick.
Perhaps it may be argued that caveat emptor but it is easy for a large corporation to pull the wool over your eyes and life can be too short to spend too much time trying to unravel the wool.
It is arguable at least that much of what we consider as business today comprises no more than the getting of as much of your work for as little as possible. Because the work is of necessity valued in money, which enables us to barter our work, it becomes relatively easy for governments to tax our work and the fruits of our work.
Taxation for the common good is essential; if we choose to live in a society that protects us, heals us and shelters us then we must take a little of everyone’s work to pay for it. Where taxation becomes difficult to justify is where the proceeds of taxation are spent falsely not where the tax is “false”. It is difficult to create a tax system that is fair but it should not be beyond the wit of a society to create a system that gets good value of taxation, which does not waste it because in doing so government wastes the labour and work of the millions who have contributed to those taxes which have been wasted.
While taxation for the common good is essential taxation by corporations is not and this taxation has become a feature of modern life. Perhaps we can look forward to the day when we cut out the middleman and all simply donate our labour to a large corporation in return for something of little value and littler benefit. After all, the rich must get richer.