Moral arguments aside for a while, the British public (the major media publications would have you believe) are more surprised than they should be at the news of Jimmy Carr’s tax avoidance last week. I suspect this ‘outrage’, in which David Cameron has now been enjoined, is either just hypocritical (likely) or laced with insincerity (even more likely). After all, isn’t an Individual Savings Account (ISA) an aspiration of most of the middle-class in this country? Using Cameron’s moral compass, his own profession ought to be dammed and disowned following the Parliamentary expenses scandal of 2009, which was recently reignited after Baroness Warsi’s claims in May. Excusing the pun, I think the words on everyone’s lips are it’s a bit rich coming from them.
Of course Carr is totally within his legal (and arguably, moral) entitlement to partake in this scheme. Another reason Cameron is wrong to denounce his behaviour is because it is his own government which allowed it to happen. The law is in place to reflect a moral consciousness, and so while it may seem an obvious point, if the law permits Carr to take part in a tax avoidance scheme, he is not doing anything wrong. Our politicians must revise the rulebook if they want to make an ethical standpoint. Somehow I feel like the British collective knows this won’t really happen; one only has to see the tax havens the Monarchy is involved in and how many of them are British jurisdictions (Isle of Man, the Channel Islands, Bermuda, etc.) The billionaires and millionaires of the country of course want to keep schemes such as the K1 and one can’t help feel it is the familiarity of Carr’s name which has spurred the lynch mob. Those who we have never heard of, perhaps earning their money through the equally morally vacant betting industry or maybe property dollars, are likely the real winners from tax avoidance. Comparatively lower earners, like Carr, are doing what countless others have since said they would do and surely, his biggest mistake was apologising. This is a point Carr could’ve have half-decently made. Resisting his usual reactionary prose, Peter Hitchens is nonetheless right when he says ‘I don’t qualify for, and so don’t use, the obvious get-outs. But am I guilty if I take out an ISA (a form of tax avoidance) or set a charitable donation against tax? Certainly not.’ Once more, as shown, hypocrisy ensues.
The moral bedrock argument – which is what the whole fuss is really about – is relevant only when discussing the ideological basis for taxation. I think it is morally right to pay tax, and the higher your earnings, the more tax you should pay. Billy Bragg makes the astute point that a comparison to tax avoiders and benefit scroungers is baseless as those avoiding tax are motivated by greed, and those taking welfare do it through a need (‘I know which side I’m on: Help the needy, not the greedy’). It must be right to disregard a consequentialist comparison between the two as the motivation and reason is the significant criteria by which to judge these two actions as moral/immoral. Carr cannot avoid being at least a schemer and naturally, avoiding these legal loopholes to get around tax is a noble path to follow. It would be refreshing to see figures such as him lead a proper and decent conduct. But David Cameron’s response of turning pink and blue is a cynical front, which we know and accept in 2012 – when really, he should’ve been turning green.