Friday, April 15, 2016

Ethics is a county in southern England

Today is tax filing deadline day in America.  Canada has another 15 days.  Other countries have their own schedules.

How you feel about your taxes depends on a number of things but it boils down to two main ones: perceived equitability and perceived benefit. Taxes are NOT legalized theft any more than your salary or your business income from provision of goods and services is legalized theft. Taxes are what we pay for a civilized society. IRS Building Washington DC. Though usually attributed to Oliver Wendell Holmes, the thought had been expressed several times previously by other legislators. 

Taxation is the price which we pay for civilization, for our social, civil and political institutions, for the security of life and property, and without which, we must resort to the law of force. Governor of Vermont 1852

Yet people seem the think it is 'my' money and 'I' earned it, why should I share it with you?  Really?  Then I suggest you take 'your' money and 'your' business to Somalia, Guinea-Bissau, Russia or Venezuela and see how you make out.

Taxation in Europe (likely other countries as well) was historically targeted primarily at the poor and what little middle class there was and used to support the lifestyles of the secular and clerical nobility and finance the king's wars. (In Russia, the nobility accounted for about 1.5%, the serfs about 85% and the rest made up the balance). Consequently very little if any was spent to benefit the population and therefore taxes were to be avoided at all costs. 

This attitude has changed over time as people began to see benefit for their money, not just to themselves but to society in general.  Here an American who lives half time in Sweden discusses the benefits of paying taxes in Sweden as opposed to America: Swedish taxes are easy to pay, rational, and efficient. Best of all, rather than take away opportunities, Swedish taxes expand them. 

It was arch-Conservative Bismark who introduced spending on society as a whole on the grounds that if the people were content they made fewer problems for the government. However tax avoidance is still a priority with most people given the opportunity.  The European attitude towards taxes carried forward to America where it was used as an excuse by the colonial ruling class to stir up the population so they would support a rebellion against the British.

Taxes are not legalized theft but there is a great deal of legalized theft of taxes.  By the powerful, not by the poor, the sick, the immigrant or people of colour. The Panama Papers exposed it but we always knew the game was rigged against us.  In Russia and Ukraine, it is quite crude.  In Canada, America and elsewhere rent-seeking (getting something for nothing) is far more sophisticated.  Politicians are bought and paid for by the 1% and pass legislation providing for upward transfer of wealth. Legalized tax avoidance is only one such method.

In 2003 I attended the annual conference of the American Society of Agricultural Consultants (ASAC) in St Louis.  (St Louis, for those of you who have not had the dubious pleasure, is in the heart of bible belt America.  Even the Hooters girls wore Mother Hubbards.  The ASAC banquet was dry and there was no dance following.  Not that I cared much but I was greatly amused).

The reason I went was primarily to take a one-day ethics course offered after the conference.  I wanted that to meet my certification requirements.  We learned how to be ethical agricultural consultants but NOT how to be ethical members of the human race.

One of the consultants, a very nice, sincere young man, was located in California.  His business was advising huge, wealthy rice farmers on how to structure their farm businesses to collect the largest amount of subsidy possible.  Rice is the fourth most highly subsidized crop in America, followed by cotton and sugar. These subsidies do irreparable damage to farmers in what is euphemistically known as the developing world and account for a great deal of poverty in those nations where these crops are grown.


The massive agriculture subsidies characterized as a crucial “safety net” for struggling family farms are actually pocketed mostly by the well-to-do. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), between 1995 and 2010:
·         10 percent of farmers collected 74 percent of all subsidies,
·         62 percent of U.S. farmers did not collect subsidy payments
·         The bottom 80 percent of recipients averaged just $587 a year

It is easy to find a map by county of farm subsidy payment distribution but not so easy to find one of recipient location.  USDA wants you to see the former, not the latter.  I saw one several years ago from EWG, I think, and it showed a concentration of payment recipients living in places like LA, SF, Dallas, NYC etc.  Not many living in ND, SD, Montana, etc. Can't find it again, but this article is close.

I never asked either the instructor or the participants about the ethics of farm subsidy programs or the ethics of helping the rich get richer.  Maybe I should have.  And I haven't even mentioned the military. Or the state of social safety nets, infrastructure, schools and health care. No wonder Americans hate taxes. Unlike the Swedes, they get nothing for them.


12 comments:

  1. being on Social Security and the fact that I don't work any more..no more tax filing..tada..

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    1. And like the rest of us she didn't get a raise again this year, while congress claims it needs a raise even though they make almost 200K a year.

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    2. Same problem with Canadian politicians

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  2. For a redistribution of wealth in the U.S. a revolution would be in order. Don't know if I'll see it in my lifetime, but I am pretty sure it needs to happen.

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    1. Unless it is Bernie Sanders elected with enough like-minded representatives to enact his platform, it will likely be an extreme right-wing or possibly left wing driven revolution and it will not end well for anyone.

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  3. Tipping is not a village in China.

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  4. Excellent article making very good sense, but sad nevertheless. If only all the common folk out there could think raionally we might see some changes for the better. Whatever happened to a belief in reason and rational thinking!

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    1. Greed and fear are the strongest motivators. Greed drives the 1% and fear drives the unwashed to vote for them.

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  5. Every time I visit the doctor for free, I feel pretty pleased to be paying taxes.

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    1. Canadians do well with their tax money. We could do better but either the will or the imagination is lacking.

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