The title of the American film to which I’m obliquely referring, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, shows what happens when people are encouraged to express themselves outside any intellectual or linguistic discipline.
This opening of the sluice gates is supposed to make our language bigger by letting in a rush of verbal creativity. In fact it makes it smaller all the time – in this instance by fusing the Past Indefinite and Past Participle of the verb ‘to shrink’ into one illiterate locution.
Though regrettable, this is innocent enough. Much more pernicious are efforts to reduce the language in a deliberate attempt to trick the public into accepting ill-advised government action.
Such is the case with Dave’s pathetic attempts to obliterate any semantic, and therefore legal, differences between ‘tax avoidance’ and ‘tax evasion’. Until Dave assumed the role of a Latter Day Dr Johnson, the semantic distinction between the two had been clear-cut.
‘Tax avoidance’ meant variously creative legal attempts to shield from the clutches of Inland Revenue some of the income that it would otherwise claim. The government itself kindly set up quite a few tax-avoidance schemes, such as some pension contributions, ISAs, some bonds and so forth.
Such generosity on the part of our politicians is only partly explicable by their innate munificence. At least some of the motivation had to come from its congenital desire to keep our money within their expropriatory reach. Thus the first prime-ministerial action of Dave’s role model Tony was to raid pension funds to the tune of five billion pounds.
The unease modern states clearly feel about money in people’s pockets makes the people feel uneasy about taxation. No one doubts the need for fair taxes, but ‘fair’ is the operative word.
It’s manifestly unfair for the state to rob people of half of what they earn during their lifetime – and then rob them again after death by taxing the already taxed money they leave their families. It’s also unfair for the state to double-tax people’s earnings by charging 20 percent on top of the price we pay for what we buy.
Moreover, ways in which the state spends the money it extracts, or rather extorts, from us makes all taxation both unfair and detrimental to our society’s health. For the state uses our tax money chiefly to bribe into voting the right way those who won’t work and therefore don’t pay any tax.
It also uses our money to import vast numbers of grateful voters from culturally alien areas. This hits two birds with one stone, first by creating a whole class beholden to the present government and second by diluting the capacity of the rest to resist.
Therefore taxpayers try to augment the government-controlled shelters by others, legally provided by foreign governments and also by some British territories and crown dependencies. Such activities are collectively known as ‘tax avoidance schemes’, and their legality has until now been as universally accepted as the state’s extortionate taxation has been universally despised.
‘Tax evasion’, on the other hand, is an illegal failure to pay tax. Since the way we’re taxed is grossly unjust, most people will refer to evasion as malum prohibitum rather than malum in se. But one way or the other, malum it undoubtedly is.
The difference between avoidance and evasion is clear, and it’s this difference that our amateur lexicographer Dave first sought to blur and now seeks to obliterate.
His motives are obvious. Like any socialist ‘leader’, he’s incapable of devising and implementing policies that would stimulate growth, thereby expanding the tax base and increasing tax revenues.
Coming much more naturally to him and his ilk is the urge to squeeze as much as possible out of the already suffocating taxpayers – this though any half-competent economist knows that excessive taxation has exactly the opposite effect to the one professed. It frustrates workers, discourages them from trying to earn more, shrinks the tax base and thus reduces the state’s income.
Yet all their pronouncements notwithstanding, modern governments aren’t about the economy. They’re about increasing their power, and fleecing taxpayers serves this end famously: by controlling people’s money the state controls their lives, at least their physical lives.
Therefore in the apiary Dave keeps in his bonnet the bee of tax ‘evasion’, now supposed to include avoidance as well, buzzes right next to his compulsion to destroy what’s left of the institution of marriage.
To tackle what he calls ‘the scourge of tax evasion’ he has summoned every official who was likely to honour such a summons to blackmail them into docility. Specifically, next month he’ll demand that 10 territories commonly known as tax havens sign up to greater ‘tax transparency’. In other words, he wants them to spy for Inland Revenue, thereby betraying their investors and destroying their own principal livelihood.
Dave will also make this thorny issue a priority of the G8 summit he’s hosting in Northern Ireland on 17 and 18 June. This stands to reason: given the booming state of the world economy, what other priorities can there be?
Dave, one suspects, will find greater sympathy among his likeminded spivs in the G8 than in the territories that survive by providing discreet financial services. Russia is the only G8 member whose dedication to money laundering easily matches Dave’s passion for confiscatory taxation, but the Russians know they’ll find a way no matter what the summit decides.
At the same time Dave has reassured the 10 territories in his trademark mendacious way: “I respect your right to be lower tax jurisdictions. I believe passionately in lower taxes as a vital driver of growth and prosperity for all.
”Dave believes in lower taxes about as passionately as Kim Jong-un believes in democracy, Ahmadinejad in religious tolerance and Boris Johnson in marital fidelity. As passionately, actually, as he believes in using words in their time-honoured meaning.