Tax, democracy, society and equality

Posted on

Comments made following the launch of the TJN / AABA Code of Conduct for Taxation yesterday questioned the links between democracy and taxation. For example, one commentator wrote:

So, death to progressive taxes then? I agree. It's undemocratic to vote for other people to pay tax to supply services that you will consume.

I profoundly disagree. As the Code says:

Taxpayers shall not suffer discrimination for reason of their race, ethnicity, nationality, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, disability, legal structure or taxation residence; and nor shall discrimination occur for reason of income, age, marital or family status unless social policy shall suggest it appropriate.

This commitment to equality is there to reflect the ethic at the core of this Code, and the ethic that is at the core of democracy, which is that all people should stand equal before the law. The commitment to one person, one vote is not symbolic in TJN's commitment to democracy, it is an indication of our ethic: an ethic that places the duty to respect all people as equal members of society at the centre of our thinking.

This is in complete contrast with the philosophy of the commentator. They put material well being of the individual first. All other considerations come second, including the well being of others.

We believe that this attitude is incompatible with a commitment to democracy. The view expressed would leave those unable to provide for themselves at the mercy of charity. This is not a happy prospect. Charity has not lifted the developing world out of poverty. In Victorian England it left many in the workhouse. In 19th century Ireland it left a million to starve to death.

Many in the developing world are in absolute poverty. Adoption of the policy the commentator espouses would commit many in the developed world to the same fate. When we should be focusing on how to solve the problems of the developing world the desired outcome of those who support flat taxes and the material greed inherent within it is to reform tax to reform society in a way that will promote poverty.

It's this integral relationship between tax and the well being of those who live in a society that is reflected in the comment I made yesterday that tax is the bedrock on which democratic society is built. Perhaps I should have said progressive taxation, and fair society, if that helps.

But let's not for one minute duck the issue. Our vision of social justice is about a society in which all are provided for out of the surplus made by some, because that is the only way in which sustainable, caring communities can survive. The greed implicit in the comment made, and in flat tax systems, is a recipe for social disaster. Progressive taxation systems challenge that greed: they have implicit in them the belief that there is a concept of enough, above which care for others needs to be paramount, although not exclusively.

This does not mean that we think democracy a panacea. It isn't. As Winston Churchill said:

It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried

That's true, I think. But it's more than sufficient reason to support it. We do.