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The moral bankruptcy of the U.K.’s faux Conservative government

I feel sorry for English libertarians. Both of you.

by Daniel J. Mitchell on 16 September 2013 17:20

As an advocate of small government, I’m often distressed that I sometimes have to rely on Republicans in Washington to fight statism.

Why am I distressed? Because some of the worst people in Washington are GOPers. They may give lip service to fiscal responsibility when campaigning, but they conveniently forget that rhetoric when it’s time to make decisions.

Which helps to explain why spending grew faster under Bush than Obama.

But as bad as Republicans are, there’s no way they could be as bad as the faux Conservative Party in the United Kingdom.

Consider the fundamental debate about whether big government is good and whether we have a moral obligation to maximise the amount of money we turn over to politicians.

Normal people think government is too big and they don’t want to reward a corrupt political class with extra revenue. And they have strong legal standing for that position. Here’s what Judge Learned Hand famously opined in 1947.

Over and over again courts have said that there is nothing sinister in so arranging one’s affairs as to keep taxes as low as possible. Everybody does so, rich or poor; and all do right, for nobody owes any public duty to pay more than the law demands: taxes are enforced exactions, not voluntary contributions. To demand more in the name of morals is mere cant.

Judge Hand obviously is correct. It is nonsense to argue that taxpayers have an obligation to pay more than is legally required.

But not everybody is guided by common sense. And if there was a prize for an absence of common sense (as well as a prize for absence of integrity or principles), the Cameron government would be a strong contestant for that award.

Here’s the latest example of the intellectual bankruptcy of that supposedly conservative government. An official was just forced to resign because – prior to joining the government – he advised people to legally minimise their tax liabilities.

I’m not joking. Here’s an excerpt from a Reuters report.

A tax adviser to the British government has been forced to resign after he was recorded giving tips at a conference on how to pay less tax and “keep money out of the Chancellor’s grubby mitts”, a Treasury minister said.

The BBC Panorama investigative program filmed David Heaton – before he joined the government as an adviser on how to clamp down on aggressive tax avoidance – telling delegates at a conference how they could exploit tax loopholes.

“Mr Heaton’s statements are directly at odds with the government’s approach to tackling tax avoidance,” Treasury minister David Gauke said in a statement. “Therefore, it is right that Mr Heaton resigned from his position.”

David Gauke, by the way, is infamous for having stated that legal tax avoidance strategies “damage our ability to fund public services and provide support to those who need it.” Hmmm…that phrase seems vaguely familiar. I gather the Tory Party thinks government should be guided by “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”

Just in case you think I’m pulling a quote out of context, click here or here for additional evidence of the pervasive statism of the current regime in London.

And take a look at this government poster I photographed in the London subway system. Orwell would be proud.

No wonder Im so glum about the long-run outlook for the United Kingdom. The late, great Margaret Thatcher must be spinning in her grave.

P.S. I wrote that this was the “latest example” of the Cameron government’s intellectual bankruptcy. For previous examples, see herehereherehere, and here.

P.P.S. I started this post with the quote from Judge Learned Hand. Leftists, by contrast, like to share the quote from Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes:  “taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.” What they conveniently forget to include is that he made that statement in 1927, when federal taxes amounted to only $4 billion and the federal government consumed only about 5 percent of economic output. Yes, I’ll gladly pay for that amount of civilization.

P.P.P.S. What’s more hypocritical, the supposed conservatives in the U.K. badgering people to pay extra tax or American leftists utilising tax havens to lower their own taxes?

Daniel J. Mitchell is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, the free-market, Washington D.C. think tank. His articles are cross-posted on his blog by agreement

Read more on: tax evasion, tax avoidance, Coalition tax policy, and david cameron
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