Another day, another revelation. The super-rich avoid paying tax.
The leak of 13.4 million data files (the “Paradise Papers”) to the Süddeutsche Zeitung in Germany, shared with media around the world, has shone a light on the pathologically anti-social behaviour of the rich pile up their wealth and refusing to contribute to the financing of hospitals, schools and the care of the old, sick and disabled.
They do this by getting fancy lawyers to set up obscure companies, massage profit figures, and stash money away in accounts in low-tax countries like the Bahamas or the Cayman Islands (many of which are British “dependencies”, former colonies, but outside British tax laws).
Yet these people can afford to help pay for services. Their wealth is sometimes so vast that they need an army of personal shoppers to spend it, £6,000 on Cartier watches today, or £6 million on luxury yachts.
The fact that this behaviour is “legal” is for the rest of us, the non-rich, like having caviar rubbed in our faces. It seems the force of the law is always directed against us. We get evicted when we fall behind on our mortgage or rent. But the rich get away with what is, by any normal definition of the word, robbery!
And why would anyone not pay tax while people die for lack of ambulances, drugs, enough doctors?
These people, whom Bernie Sanders called the “new international oligarchy” don’t think about people stacked up on hospital trolleys waiting to seen by overstretched doctors because they live in a bubble. They sleep at night because they think that we, the have-nots, are just jealous of their wealth. They think they deserve to hang onto as much as possible of their cash because it is “hard earned”. That say their wealth will, eventually, “trickle down”, but they don’t know how and care less.
That’s the point about being an oligarch — you do not know or do not want to know how the vast majority of the world lives.
Tax dodging is just another part of a system which ensures that a very few people can get unimaginably rich. This is a system where just 8 people are as wealthy as half the world’s population.
In this system the wealthy own or part-own capitalist enterprises which accumulate wealth through squeezing profit out of waged labour. Governments around the world then pass laws to make it possible for that wealth to be hidden away in private companies so that it is out of the reach of their own tax collectors!
Sometimes governments make half-hearted attempts to “crackdown” on tax avoidance.
Theresa May claims an extra £160 billion in tax has been collected since 2010. But that’s £26 billion extra a year, when total government expenditure is nearly £800 billion a year. When the best estimate of world-wide tax dodging is $500 billion a year.
Governments like the current Tory government let tax evasion happen, just as they give tax breaks to the rich and allow the super-exploitation of workers. All the better to keep the UK’s status as one of the most unequal developed societies in the world and the preferred home of the super-rich.
Meanwhile, as Jeremy Corbyn put it, “Schools, hospitals, housing, all those public services lose and the rest of the population have to pay to cover up the deficit created by tax avoidance.”
What should be done? The Tax Justice Network calls for public information on the activities of tax havens and tax avoiders. John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor, says that the government should be allowed access to company profits before firms are able to move them to tax havens.
That’s good but not nearly enough. A Labour government needs to be tackling the system. In the first place by bringing into public ownership and democratic control the major sources of wealth.
Renationalising the utilities, the big six energy companies, and renationalising Royal Mail are necessary commitments.
Public ownership of the banks should be an active plank of Labour’s policy. Banks and high finance are central to the economy’s functioning, and their greed for profit has been central to the economic chaos, the licensing of rich people’s greed, and the growing inequality.