It’s been a busy day and I have read snatches of a newspaper and seen a bit of tonight’s news, but if I have followed what I read and heard correctly Donald Trump’s tax returns have been causing a bit of a stir, mainly because he has paid so little tax, and in some years none at all.
Tax avoidance and tax evasion are different things, and tax avoidance costs the UK more money than I could ever dream of, and it’s all legal. I am in favour of people paying taxes. Avoiding paying taxes is to my mind immoral, just as tax evasion is. Taxes pay for the things that benefit us as a society. Schools, roads, hospitals, social services, the armed services are all paid for by taxes. Avoid paying and you put yourself outside society. Yet many people seem to feel fiddling their taxes is justifiable, even clever, and those who can afford the services of tax havens and offshore bank accounts appear to believe it is their right to do so while all too often berating and criminalising those who commit minor infringements of the benefit system.
So I shouldn’t really have been surprised to learn that in the US some of Trump’s supporters are gleeful that he has avoided paying tax, and just wish they could do the same. They admire him for withholding money from the treasury that could enrich the public purse. Quite how Trump squares his love of big public projects like wall building or increasing the military with not paying tax is something his therapist might be able to untangle. I cannot.
It’s only recently that the history of taxation has started to interest me. I wrongly assumed that it was something rich and poor alike had had to pay for a long time. Not so. Much of the money raised in taxes was through indirect taxation, and continues to be so. Things like food, which meant that the lower your income the higher proportion of it you paid in tax. It strikes me that the whole anti tax narrative that I have heard all my life has been driven by those who have money and want to hold onto it while being quite happy for those with less to pay more than their share. A narrative written and broadcast by those in power, as they have had the wealth, but one to which we are all susceptible.
On Saturday I saw a programme which was made in 2012 about tax avoidance. I’d need to see it at least another dozen times to get my head around the logic of how the people who make use of tax havens justify their actions. It made my head spin, and I was genuinely outraged and have remained outraged to learn that as David Cameron MP, who was Prime Minister at the time, was promising to tighten up the loopholes in tax avoidance he was actually investing his money in tax havens.
So while I am sure there are many people in the US who are outraged by Trump’s tax shenanigans, I would not place bets on this bringing him down. “We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.” said Leona Helmsley, and though I remember being shocked by her words and thinking she was vain, vulgar, and misguided in her sense of absolute entitlement, it seems she was right. Elizabeth II hasn’t been paying taxes all that long, only since 1992. She does so voluntarily, so I suppose she could never be prosecuted for errors in her tax returns. But it all points in the same direction: the more you have, the less you pay. To be successful and pay your share of taxes is an oxymoron. and who wants to be seen as unsuccessful? So people will admire Trump’s dishonesty and see him as some sort of clever operator.
Stay safe. Keep well. Pay your taxes.