Legality versus morality

I’m not usually a big fan of Hugo Rifkind, as he is – to quote an old family friend – slightly to the right of the fish knife, but in The Times on Friday (30 March 2012), he published an article that pushed several of my buttons.  (Sorry I can’t give a link, but it’s behind a pay wall.)  Entitled “My tax-free bike isn’t taking you for a ride…”, it looks at the difference between tax avoidance for the public benefit (e.g. the Ride2Work scheme that enables people to buy cheaper bicycles and therefore reduce pressure on public transport, save the NHS money by being fitter, etc.) and that for individual benefit.

I’m not much of a political animal (beyond my rather unhealthy fondness for BoJo), and so I find pithy explanations of “who’s for what” to be particularly helpful, as in this clarification: “The reason Conservatives have an institutional belief in limited law and a small State is not because they believe that people with power should be able to do what they damn well like.  In fact, they believe in these things because they have a faith – an endearing, positive, child-like faith – that left to their own devices, people will do the right thing anyway.”

Of course, readers of this blog tend instead to believe that – left to their own devices – people will in fact traffic in illegal substances, sell their fellow humans as slaves, pinch whatever they can, and then launder the proceeds.  So perhaps we are less surprised than Hugo when he finds that, when it comes to tax matters, people confuse legality and morality: “In most areas of life, we understand that illegal is one thing and contemptible quite another.  So, a tax avoider not technically breaking the law?  So what?  What sort of people are we, if the right thing to do is the thing you can get away with?”  So it seems that I have uncovered another thinking man who rides a bike and – bonus – thinks that we’re too soft on tax avoiders.  Move over, BoJo and Paxo – I might have to switch allegiance.

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