The Moral Purpose Of Tax

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Jean-Baptiste Colbert, the minister of finances for King Louis XIV of France said "The art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to obtain the largest amount of feathers with the least possible amount of hissing". You probably won't be surprised to learn that Colbert's central economic principle was that the wealth and the economy of France should serve the state. When it comes to this equation David Cameron has made it clear that he's firmly on the side of the goose. Our PM wasn't quite as colourful as Colbert when he recently set out his principles on taxation, but he did raise more than just an economic argument. It was, he said, his moral duty, to cut taxes. So this week on the Moral Maze we ask: what is the moral purpose of tax? Is tax a kind of moral mechanism to tackle injustice and inequality on our society? Or is the moral imperative of taxation to create as much wealth as possible in the first place, without which no-one benefits and let individuals decide how they send their cash? Can you just measure the morality of taxation through its utilitarian consequences - the greatest happiness for the greatest numbers? Of course that can be used to justify punishing taxes on the wealthy in the name of redistribution, just as it can to argue that the state should allow as many people as possible the freedom to keep as much of their own money as possible. Or is there some overriding moral virtue in raising and paying tax? When citizens allow the state to take some of their money it is a fundamental part of the democratic contract. If voters were equally willing to support high or low taxes which would be the more moral society? The one with high or low taxes? Is tax an issue of individual freedom versus collective altruism? Moral Maze - Presented by Michael Buerk

Panellists: Michael Portillo, Melanie Phillips, Matthew Taylor and Mehdi Hasan.

Witnesses: Professor David Myddelton, Canon Dr. Angus Ritchie, Frances Coppola and Danny Kruger.

Produced by Phil Pegum.