We have a bad attitude to taxation in the UK. I suspect the same is true in virtually every other country in the world (Rentier states have a whole bunch of their own issues). It’s not just that we dislike paying tax ourselves, although that would be a good starting point, but it’s the way that – most of the time – we celebrate people getting one over on the Inland Revenue. At the same time, when we do pay tax, we are ever conscious of how much we think we should receive in return. This is not a good recipe for long-term stability – if nobody wants to pay for more than they *think* they receive in return, there’s no room for people in need to, even temporarily, rely on the state’s largesse. At some other point I’d like to talk about the difference between how much people gain from the state compared with how much they think they do, and how this is the foundation of the abuse heaped on people who claim benefits, but not right now.
(of course this isn’t true of absolutely everybody. I’ve recently noted my admiration for J K Rowling for her refusal to move herself or her assets overseas, since she maintains her admiration for the welfare state that supported her before she struck it lucky. At the same time I observed, with no disrespect meant to her, that this shouldn’t really be the sort of thing that needs to be celebrated. I’m also sure that there are a good number of regular salaried people who simply pay what they owe without grumbling)
This fits into our wider view of the state. Unlike some countries, the state is never of us. It is always other, and slightly hostile. I say slightly hostile, because we’re nowhere near situation in the US, where the federal government is seen by a good number of people, egged on by state-level administrations, as being the enemy of the people. But conversely we rarely seem to consider that the UK government might do anything simply for the good of the population at large. This is probably helped by the impression, not unjustified, that most people get into government to satisfy their personal ambitions. But the effect is that when we hand over a money as taxpayers, we think of it as gone, spent, even stolen. We fail to consider that at least a portion of it will be spent to benefit us all, as citizens (I know we’re technically subjects, but I don’t see that as incompatible with citizenship, even if it is horribly anachronistic).
Of course this is bullshit. For all of the bad decisions, inefficiencies, and vote-chasing policies, the state does a huge amount for all of us. Of course much of this may be down to the civil service rather than elected members of parliament, but it stands. Feel free to argue about any single area you disagree with, but it still stands. Just don’t pretend that just because you don’t receive what you consider to be ‘benefits’ (and I know a considerable number of people won’t count Child Benefit, because ‘everybody’ gets that), you don’t get anything from the state.
If we don’t like paying tax, and have had a long series (a long, long series) of governments who reward their friends, allies, and potential voters with breaks and rebates, it follows that tax itself, and especially an increase therein, is punitive. Carrot for some people, stick for others. This is not healthy.
This probably isn’t helped by the way some chancellors use rates, particularly on things like alcohol and tobacco, in an attempt to steer people away from ‘bad’ behaviour (and I realise that things are more complicated than that, but it is framed that way). This means that those who wish to indulge must pay up in some kind of penitential gesture.
If we’re being punished regardless of merit, this automatically pushes us towards favouring those who flout the law. In a police state, petty criminals are heroes, and those who escape ‘justice’ to be lauded. People can feel no personal connection, or affection for a body they believe to be coercing them.
Anyway, I’m tired so I’m not going to fully develop things now. Suffice it to say that I think that we need to rethink how we think about tax. It needs to be a part of our civic duty, of how we participate in society. But I’d like to be able to achieve that without going down the nationalistic road. It’s not about being better than other countries, although a little healthy competition might help. It’s about making our country better in itself. Unfortunately, I don’t see this happening while we’ve got such an unimaginative bunch of wasters in charge. Can you think of anything sufficiently inspiring that the coalition have achieved? In little more that five years the Attlee government built the NHS and modern welfare state. Even Blair oversaw the introduction of the minimum wage before he fucked it all up by dragging us along on his military adventures. But Cameron and Clegg? Sod all to show for five years except a shit-load of people reliant on food banks. Ah, fuck it, I’m too annoyed to make a coherent point.
Please note that I’m not arguing against criticising the administration of government, where and how it spends money, or the tax rate. These are separate and narrower points. But realise that if you think the state is wasteful, that needs to be fixed before you can demand that you pay less.