Thursday, August 17, 2006

Bono & the Tax System

Pity poor old Bono - he spends half his life working to relieve poverty and disease in the third world and, in an instant, his tax advisers have people calling for his head. Personally, I’d give him a “get out of jail free” card for his all good works, though I might be less well disposed towards the other fat cat members of the U2 corporation.

What we seem to forget is that, in a democratic society, the taxation system is the main mechanism for the redistribution of wealth. We don’t just pay taxes so that the road system can expand to accommodate our ever increasing number of cars, or for extra gardai and prison places to keep the proletariat in their place, or to keep government ministers in shiny new mercs each year. We also pay tax so that those in need can be supported, either directly through payments or indirectly through the provision of support services. The tax system also funds the national contribution to third world aid.

Aggressive tax-avoidance has to be recognised as anti-social behaviour, yet it is practiced by many of our wealthiest and most prominent citizens. Indeed, some of our most notable worthies claim to be non-resident for tax purposes, despite their presence at every dog-fight and dance here.

In his Irish Times column this week, Vincent Browne highlights the ludicrous situation where hospitals are dependent on charity to provide essential services which should be properly funded from the public purse. It’s easy to find lots of other examples e.g. run-down schools, over-crowded prisons, lack of affordable nursing home places etc..

Tax avoidance may not be a crime but neither is it victimless. Provided the taxation system is relatively fair and the administration is not overly corrupt, we all have a duty to contribute our fair share to the community chest of public funds.

Footnote: Published as a letter in the Irish Independent (twice by mistake!) & the Irish Examiner.

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