Monday, 25 June 2012

Tax and punish

There’s a lot to be said for sticking to a simple duality when it comes to human interaction.

Or Punish.

That’s it. Apart from the merit of simplicity, it allows us to do some partial untangling of social and political life. One such is tax, which I see as essentially a question of power, the elites punishing the non-elites just hard enough so the non-elites don’t take to the streets. Or at least not too often with not too many broken windows.

The idea that tax is used by governments to pay for stuff we need, such as education, seems a little fanciful to me. There's a touch of post hoc ergo propter hoc in the idea. Partly true and partly false, like most of these questions. For example, let’s be radical and ask do we need education, or are schools mostly crèches so that both parents can go out to work to pay more taxes?

It’s a question without a clear answer of course. An angle, an aspect of an issue where we know we aren’t quite getting it right but can’t agree what it is we should be doing better. We do need to educate kids of course, as well as keeping them off the streets, but how many of us picked up more from books and the real world than we ever picked up from the classroom?

Pen grew weary of hearing the dull students and tutor blunder through a few lines of a play, which he could read in a tenth part of the time which they gave to it. After all, private reading, as he began to perceive, was the only study which was really profitable to a man.
William Thackeray – Pendennis.

That’s how it was in my case, but not quite, because was fortunate enough to have a few very influential teachers who instilled in me some valuable insights I’ve never forgotten. Many didn’t though.

Anyway, back to taxes from which I seem to have drifted. Are taxes all about punishment and reward? Certainly if we had a simpler and more transparent tax system, we’d be much better off. We’d see more clearly the rewards of a rational tax system at least

We’d spend our taxes more wisely too, which we certainly don’t do at the moment. So for most of us a rational and transparent tax system would be rewarding. The only downside would be for those who grow fat on the tax system as it is. We'd be punishing them and rewarding ourselves - so we won’t get it.

It’s that duality thing again.


Macheath said...

It's that old socialist Utopia question again - the State takes money away with one hand and gives it back with the other, generating a myriad Public Sector jobs for overweight office staff on fat salaries - and subsequently pensions - at our expense.

Since the State has no incentive to be the best provider available, there's a whole new level of tax whereby earners who have lost a vast percentage of their income to the Treasury struggle to purchase private education or healthcare with what they have left.

Demetrius said...

When I spend my own money it is sometimes wise and sometimes foolish and I pay the price. When spending other peoples money there is less need to be wise.

A K Haart said...

Mac - yes, our main obesity issue is the public sector.

Demetrius - more often wise than foolish when it's your own though.

James Higham said...

fortunate enough to have a few very influential teachers who instilled in me some valuable insights

They're like hens' teeth these days.

A K Haart said...

James - I hope not for the sake of the grandchildren, but I suspect you are right.