Saturday, 12 December 2009

Dodging the Excise Men – encouraging a tax evasion society

In my business we frown upon tax evasion. It is our duty to uphold the law through helping our clients in their self assessment of their income, profits and their company accounts. We have to tread a firmer line than Joe or Jo Public, though unrepresented taxpayers may make mistakes in the Revenue's favour as well as their own. It is my experience that they do.

This week we have seen further hikes in taxation, principally through National Insurance and more obviously the return to 17.5% VAT. Personal Allowances are frozen for next year, so there will be some increase in the tax take through fiscal drag if there is any inflation in the interim. We will have to see. The Government has to balance the books having borrowed and spent so much on the banks and on the reduction in VAT this past year, the latter with no perceivable effect on the economy as many of us predicted in November 2008. It has to be paid for, and the full horror of the eventual deficit has yet to be revealed, and will only be known after the election next May, when either the Tories will be biting the bullet amidst squeals, or New (Old) Labour will have to come clean.

In the past, the higher the level of taxation, the less actual tax take. The lower the rates, the higher the honesty level and the better the tax take. This was seen notably in the tax-cutting eighties in the UK and especially under Reaganomics in America when the IRS profited greatly from lower rates of taxation.

People are going to be much less willing to pay their legal dues and HM Revenue & Customs do not have the resources to enforce payment through more investigation. I am not sure they even have enough resources (people) good enough to deal with the Liechtenstein Disclosure Facility. If you want a steady flow of anything including tax, you need a reliable channel. If you hike up tax, especially with HMRC's technical staff pared to the bone it is like trying to collect rainwater in a cup. In a deluge your cup will overflow. Most of it will escape. You need a measured channel and that means a more prosperous economy with a population willing to pay tax rather than driving more people into dishonesty to feed their families.

I think we will inevitably see a return to more dodgy dealing, and it will become popular like the public support for smugglers against the Excise Men in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. You will get more questions in shops such as “Do you want a receipt because I will have to charge VAT? Can you give me cash?.” and we know into whose back pocket those notes will go. The trouble is the tax which should have been paid by the trader will be coming out of your and my back pockets instead. How can we have got back to the bad old days?

© Jon Stow 2009


References

Smugglers and Excise Men
Liechtenstein Disclosure Facility
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