Happy to pay more tax?

Would I really be happy to pay more tax?

HMRC don’t permit donations. The closest any UK taxpayer can get to making a donation is failing to claim the tax rebates otherwise legally available (I don’t claim them – but that’s more from laziness than generosity).

But would I, if I could?

The question’s provoked by a spat on an other blog with a bright self-identified right-winger full of hyperbolic right-wing fear and loathing; detestation of all things public; an attachment to logical fallacy and ad hominem abuse; a love of understanding his left wing enemy in the flattest oldest stereotypes and of the reductio ad Hitlerum (because Fascists are, properly, left-wing). Oh and hypocrisy too – as he’ll no doubt be in receipt of a public sector pension having worked for the Beeb for many a year.

I asked my husband the same question last night. I took up the right’s cudgels and thumped him over the head with them.

I’ve a lifetime’s experience playing devil’s advocate – the only place I haven’t is with my own political views.

I decided a while back it was about time I did -instead of lazily accepting what I’ve been handed.

What – oh jeez , if I was wrong? Had been wrong all these years? Should have been applauding old Ronnie Reagan and his side-kick Mrs Thatcher? Instead of mentally stoning them.

Only, in the course of debate, I discovered that to admit of uncertainty or to interrogate your belief or the beliefs of others is an inherently left-wing thing to do. Right-wingers just seem to know that they are right. They don’t doubt their postures for a minute. They see such questioning of one’s own beliefs as evidence of a mental health condition – or worse, of left-ism/socialism/communism/devil-worship. It’s a bit like the old divine right of kings.

I was disappointed by my (otherwise very intelligent) opponent’s stereotyped thinking. The only things he left out from his characterisation of me was ‘lentil eating, hairy-legged dyke’ , cnd-supporting hippy, sanctimonious do-gooder, sisterhood loving. There’s probably more. But he ‘knew’ all this from a few lines on a blog. And what’s more he had settled the argument in his own head by deciding that I was all and any of the insults he chose to throw – on the basis ‘she is all of these stereotypes therefore her position is wrong’. That’s the way we argue when we’re children.

That’s part of the fundamentalist’s armoury though – sweeping generalisations and stereotypes allow dehumanisation of the enemy and a vicious high-minded evisceration or mockery. Fear and loathing are more easily engendered when you take away humanity. Forget the reality that none of us completely fit a stereotype. So I’m not a person with a myriad views – some contradictory some congruent – no, I’m a symbol of all that is wrong with the world. This moderately left-leaning unfortunately politically wet woman is the devil.

Anyways…. Would I pay more tax?

Pre-empting the critics, maybe I need to address the question Why does the State exist? There are many who view the State as an evil necessity – one which requires to be reminded that it operates (or should operate) within very tightly defined parameters and whose power to coerce must be limited. Funnily enough I do believe that too.

I’ve always been (rightly or wrongly) suspicious of power and the effect it seems to have upon those who exercise it – which is why I am all for the strongest of checks and balances upon our Executive, Legislature and Judiciary.

The classic right wing response re the State is: it exists to protect pre-political rights, no more, no less. Life, liberty, property. The State ought to be minimal. It’s all about individual responsibility. The individual rules ok. Remember Margaret Thatcher’s speech (made during an interview): …who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women

Of course, there is nothing wrong with believing that people must take responsibility for themselves. How can we disagree with that? There is nothing intrinsically wrong with that statement. Nothing that is, until we start to unpick what those on the right mean by that.

The sentiment is based upon a picture of the world where there is no regulation. Where the Free Market determines the balance – and it’ll all work out good in the end. Where businesses act in the best interests of all – because, it is argued, it isn’t in their interests to hurt or harm people/their customers. Tell that to the children who worked in the Factories and Mines pre-19th century legislation. Tell that to those who had no employment rights – because employment rights mean unemployment and failing businesses don’t ya know. Tell that to those who worked piecemeal and for slave wages. Tell that to those whose strikes for a decent living wage were broken by those employers who exploited workers who were just that bit more desperate. Tell that to the victims of Rachmanism. To those who had no affordable healthcare and who died prematurely from industrial diseases and accidents that were direct consequences of unsafe practices designed to maximise profit. Tell that, in fact, to the employees of Lehmann Brothers or of RBS or of any of the multitude of Banks who were too big to fail and who took down our economies. The victims of the asset-strippers who bought up businesses syphoned out the profit and threw away the rest. Or to Starbucks (no UK tax anyone?) or Amazon (minimum UK tax bill anyone?).

And when the right refer to ‘regulation’ they mean ‘regulation produced by the State’. They forget or overlook all the ‘regulation’ which goes on between big companies. All that rigging of energy costs anyone? The magic coincidence of the big energy companies and their congruent cost structures?

There is a beautiful naivity about much of the right’s arguments – but they lead to a social ugliness and demonisation of the vulnerable and the poor and the marginalised. In an ‘ideal’ world maybe every one would be able to take care of themselves. They would have a family they could rely upon. There would be no need for interventions to protect or to control or to educate.

The right mean no welfare safety net or they mean a time-limited or cash-limited safety net. Ultimately, they mean homelessness and extreme poverty and the suffering – ultimately – of poor children, poor men and poor women.

Locke’s political philosophy (the ‘state of nature’ and ‘pre-political rights’ etc) provide the foundation for much of the US Constitution. Knowing this helped me to a (slightly) better understanding of the US and its body politic. This is a country which is stuck with an Enlightenment Constitution and ties itself in political and legal knots trying to re-interpret that time-specific Consitution to fit the 21st Century. A bit like the biblical scholars who tie themselves in knots denying evolution and ‘explaining away’ fossils – they are stuck trying to make a text 2000+ years old ‘fit’ their modern day life.

The ‘state of nature’ is a theoretical concept which might work for a tiny commune – who knows – no one ever will. But for a modern post-industrial country operating within the Global economy? Where massive populations have to be accommodated. Where there are complexities never imagined by Locke et al?

Tax is the cost to me of a civilised society. I pay tax and the democratic state manages to create a country I feel safe living in. There will be spending that I, personally, would prioritise. But I get my (perhaps imperfect) chance to influence that spending when I put my cross in the ballot paper box for the party of my choice. I exercise control over the direction of spending every 4-5 years. And checks and balances (sometimes not operating perfectly in this imperfect world) attempt to limit the worst excesses of power-wielding and decision-making by our Governments.

So…  to return to the question… Mr UKIP was correct.

If the tax was to be spent on a big fat nuclear bomb or 1000 bombs or was to be used to send more human fodder into a war arena to fight a ‘war against terror’ or find non-existent WMD then the answer is No. I wouldn’t be happy to contribute to that.

But does that mean I am anti armed forces? No. To make that leap is logical fallacy.

It means I won’t condone aggressive acts such as those which took us into Iraq or Afghanistan.

Use the money to improve the life chances of our fellow Brits? Yes.

Remove children from toxic families? Yes.

Implement policies which enhance equality? Yes.

But I do owe Mr UKIP an apology. My tax statement was meaningless and knee-jerk. I really ought to know better.