Magazine article The Spectator

The Wiki Man Tips from Kant on Taxes and Phone Bills

Magazine article The Spectator

The Wiki Man Tips from Kant on Taxes and Phone Bills

Article excerpt

On tax policy I find I am now a Liberal Democrat. This is a bit of an identity crisis for me. A bit like coming out. Or waking up as a giant insect. But I just really like Gloria Gaynor - sorry, I meant not taxing earnings under £10,000 a year. And the musical theatre - sorry, mansion tax.

It just feels instinctively right.

It's this fairness thing that works for me. The same for the tycoon tax.

I like the principle. After all, it is not the only function of a tax system to increase revenue - you must also preserve the consensus that the system treats everyone equally.

Sweetheart deals with multinational corporations or loopholes for billionaires violate this principle. They may be financially expedient for the Exchequer, but this comes at a hidden cost - loss of respect for the system.

When a bank threatens to move its HQ unless it receives tax concessions, you need to ask, 'What if everyone tried to do this?' When every tax bill is reduced to individual haggling, you end up with the Greek tax system.

This philosophical distinction is at the heart of the European crisis.

Rule-bound societies, especially Germans, instinctively act according to the Kantian categorical imperative - tacitly asking 'What would happen if everyone did this?' Other societies have a different imperative: 'Everyone else is probably doing it already, so why don't I join them?'

One of the failings of economics is that it is largely blind to considerations of this kind. But new technology raises new questions about the role of fairness. Especially concerning prices.

The first people to print fixed retail prices on consumer products such as chocolate bars were Quaker manufacturers, who chose to do so for moral reasons, since 'plain dealing' was - and is - a central principle of Quakerism. Before this, shopkeepers would haggle or try to charge a high price to richer customers. …

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