Last night I had a fairly robust interaction with a few people on Twitter about the Jimmy Carr tax controversy which has been in the news here the past few days. My point was that, whatever level of hypocrisy might have been exercise by the comedian, the moral question with regard to tax avoidance is one which (in this case) cannot be separated from the legal requirements placed on UK citizens.
What do I mean by that? Well, firstly a small example. Is it immoral to buy a bottle of gin in Duty Free shops? I sincerely hope not. This is because the government has, under certain circumstances, allowed a dispensation from paying a certain amount of taxation on a commodity. Is it immoral, then, to pay not one penny more than your annual tax bill requires? No. The government asks for X amount, and we respond to that in a way which fulfils Christ’s command – Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.
So, then, is legitimate tax avoidance (not evasion, I hasten to add) immoral? Well how can it be? If there is a legal loophole which allows a person to say that they do not have to pay more than they have to, why would it be immoral for them to make use of it?
Whether or not it is desirable for the government to allow such loopholes to exist is, I think, a valid question. But if somebody legitimately and legally avoids paying more than they must, then this is surely not their error but their right and duty, especially if they have dependents (such as a family).
Now, I must add that this is not a defence of those who engender a smash and grab attitude. It is immoral, for example, for a person to have wealth and yet not give at least some of that wealth over to aid the poor and those less fortunate. But that’s not the question that is directly posed here. Rather, the act which is being described as ‘immoral’ (by the PM, no less), is in fact an example of a legitimate exercise of civil law. Whether or not that law should now be changed – well, that’s a different question altogether.
For those interested in reading more about the Catholic approach to taxation, I would heartily recommend the excellent writings of Germain Grisez, in his excellent and concise The Way of the Lord Jesus. It is available for free (!) online, and I would recommend this, this and this as good places to start.
Update: Maybe he read this and was filled with remorse and contrition. Maybe not. Anyway, Jimmy Carr has (within minutes of me posting this) put this statement out to his 2, 302, 756 followers on Twitter:
I appreciate as a comedian, people will expect me to ‘make light’ of this situation, but I’m not going to in this statement as this is obviously a serious matter. I met with a financial advisor and he said to me “Do you want to pay less tax? It’s totally legal.” I said “Yes.” I now realise I’ve made a terrible error of judgement. Although I’ve been advised the K2 Tax scheme is entirely legal, and has been fully disclosed to HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs), I’m no longer involved in it and will in future conduct my financial affairs much more responsibly. Apologies to everyone. Jimmy Carr.
Credit where credit’s due. As it were. No pun intended.