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Legal does not mean okay

July 3, 2012

Much noise has been made in the papers in the past couple of weeks about a certain investing programme that enables wealthy subscribers to reduce their tax burden to a ridiculous 1% and yet still enjoy all that living in the UK offers.

Among the culprits was the comedian Jimmy Carr, though he was certainly not alone and not the only one to be outed; he was singled out by our Prime Minister and named as an example of exhibiting immoral behaviour by actively seeking to reduce his tax burden. Its long been known that many wealthy people jump through various hoops in order to save themselves from paying as much tax as possible. These schemes are legal and have generally been tolerated by the powers that be and begrudgingly accepted by the wider populace.

What I did find bazar about the furore over the Jimmy Carr outing is the number of people who jumped to his defence using phrases along the lines of ‘what he did was legal’ and ‘everyone would have done the same in the same position’. On the second point, that is not a valid defence and I don’t actually believe it. A majority maybe, but certainly not everyone, there will always be an exception. It still doesn’t make it right though, even if a majority would do it.

On the first point, that’s still not a valid defence. Being legal is not the same as being moral. Those who argue that its okay because he didn’t break any law are a few small steps away from declaring that they take their moral lead from the state and what it tells them is legal. Are the morals of these people so weak and changing that they can’t decide what is right and wrong without being told so by the government first? I bet they’d be offended at that concept, and yet they think its okay to avoid paying their fair share of the populace’s tax burden if there is a legal way to avoid it.

While I don’t particularly think what Mr Cameron did the right thing by naming Mr Carr, he was right when he branded his actions immoral. It is immoral to avoid paying your fair share of tax in that way. What is even more cynical and depressing is that politicians have known about these schemes for a long time and chosen to do nothing about them while it suited them. That too is immoral.

There should never have been the ability for this to happen. However the law can never rule everything out and there were always going to be loop holes that someone would find and exploit.

I hope that this latest spat of moral outrage will lead to more honest banking activities by the most wealthy of the population, however, I don’t think that will be the case.



From → comment

  1. I’m not sure how that plays in the UK. I know how it would play here, and I somehow suspect that it’s not too different there.

    Many people consider taxes to be a legal obligation, but not a moral obligation. And therefore, they take it that paying the least taxes that one legally can, could not be a moral offense.

    • limey permalink

      I think you’re right Neil. Many folks that.

      There is some indignation from many average people because schemes that enable the rich to avoid tax are habitually used by the rich while remaining unaccessible to the average person. These schemes are also viewed as being tolerated by the politicians to help their buddies keep their money. I think the perceived double standards is seen by many as worse than the avoiding tax in the first place.

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