Why I Like Tax

July 15, 2013

I’m going to say something that may strike you as odd. But I’m going to say it anyway.

 

I like tax.

 

Yes, that’s it, I like tax. I don’t mean I like paying it. I don’t like paying any bills, and I’d be surprised if you do. But when I pay a bill I often like what I’m getting in return, whether it’s a full tank of petrol, a meal in a restaurant, or two seats in the cinema.

 

And that’s what I like about tax – I like having roads, and schools, and hospitals, and policemen, and doctors, and all the things tax pays for. To run a civilised society costs  money, and tax is where that money comes from.  So when I look at my payslip and see how much has been gobbled up in tax, I gulp for a second, and then I remember that I’m simply paying for my share of the society we live in. But if I looked over the shoulder of the guy at the next desk, and saw that he hadn’t paid any tax on his payslip, I’d be livid. And rightly so.

 

But of course it’s not the guy at the next desk who’s failing to pay his share. No, it’s people like Vodafone, and Google, and probably many more we don’t know about.

 

One of the most egregious examples is Starbucks, who have paid the grand sum of £8.6m. in UK corporation tax over the 14 years it has traded in the UK. It has now offered (oh, how generous) to pay £10m. a year for the next two years, to stave off public criticism. Isn’t that a bit like a burglar offering to return a little of what he’s stolen, as long as he’s allowed to keep the rest?

 

What is amazing about this issue is that it has generated an enormous amount of publicity, but virtually no action. Politicians make earnest noises about it, but they don’t actually do anything. At the recent G8 jamboree there was some platitudinous chatter about getting a global agreement, but I wouldn’t hold your breath. Global agreements get discussed; but they don’t get agreed.

 

So if politicians don’t act, why don’t we? What we need is a campaign on Twitter and Facebook to mobilise a demonstration of well-planned public anger. We could start by proposing that everyone with a Vodafone account simply doesn’t pay their bill for, let’s say, the month of September. Don’t worry, they’re not going to take your mobile phone away, as long as enough other people are signed up to the protest.

 

Then we could choose, arbitrarily, a day when none of us go to Starbucks. It’d be no hardship to coffee fans – there’ll be a Cafe Nero or a Costa close to your empty neighbourhood Starbucks.

 

We might even try and wake politicians from their deep sleep on this topic. The companies who use tax havens to avoid paying their fair share will, like any other business, use accountants, lawyers, and so on. Many of these accountancy and law firms will also work for government departments. Why can’t we use social media to expose which lawyers and accountants the tax evaders use (they’ll be some whistleblowers out there, once we’ve stirred up a bit of interest) and pressure the government to stop using them, unless they stop working for the tax evaders? If we force the big accountants and lawyers to choose between working for the law-makers or the law-breakers, you’ll see some interesting consequences.

 

So the next time you drive on a road, go past a school,  or visit your doctor, remember that you’re paying your fair share for all that. But Starbucks and Google aren’t. And if you want that to change, it will be a long wait for the politicians to act. But if we do something, together, now, things will start to change faster than you can say “tax haven”.

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