I’ve just been next door to the high court (a perk of being at the LSE!) to watch the UK Uncut Goldman Sachs judicial review. For all those who lament the quality of public debate on questions of corporate taxation, this is surely a desirable outcome: a painstaking debate through which the judiciary will decide who is right. Maybe it makes the case for putting corporate tax settlements in the public domain…but that’s another blog altogether.
What’s really reflected by the Goldman case is a debate about the integrity of the UK’s corporate tax policymaking and administration. At senior levels in both the Treasury and HMRC, civil servants mix with individuals from the top accounting firms and large businesses – on Treasury working groups, on the HMRC board, through secondments, not to mention Dave Hartnett’s acceptance of more corporate hospitality than any other civil servant. All these arrangements have been criticised by people outside the tax profession, while it seems Ministers, civil servants and tax practitioners – the ‘tax elite’ if you like – have closed ranks in defence.
All this sounds very much like what international relations theorists call an ‘epistemic community’. In the classic text on the subject, Peter Haas in 1992 defined epistemic communities based on the following criteria:
- a shared set of normative and principled beliefs which provide a value-based rationale for the social action of community members;
- shared causal beliefs, which are derived from their analysis of practices leading or contributing to a central set of problems in their domain and which then serve as the basis for elucidating the multiples linkages between possible policy actions and desired outcomes;
- shared notions of validity – that is, intersubjective, internally defined criteria for weighting and validating knowledge in the domain of their expertise; and
- a common policy enterprise – that is, a set of common practices associated with a set of problems to which their professional competence is directed, presumably out of the conviction that human welfare will be enhanced as a consequence.
I think it would be quite easy to identify all four for our ‘tax elite’ – although I’ll have to leave that for yet another blog post. The key point from the definition, however, is that an epistemic community is bound together by more than shared knowledge or profession: it also includes shared values and a worldview through which knowledge is filtered.
Epistemic communities are associated with the increasing influence that technical experts have in some areas of policymaking (“consolidating bureaucratic power” as Haas has it). This is sometimes seen as undesirable, as it detaches policymaking from democratic accountability. And that hypothesis is my interest here.
Because the community’s self-perception is founded on ‘expertise’, any criticism of its actions – even by legislators themselves – is put down to ‘lack of understanding’. It becomes self-reinforcing. The most vocal members of the ‘tax elite’ regard most criticism as the product of commentators with a lack of understanding and/or an inherent anti-establishment, anti-corporate bias. Well yes, those elements do exist in many cases, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a grain of truth to anything the “tax muggles” say.
Un-PACking the secondments debate
For example, I don’t think the recent Public Accounts Committee report on the accountancy firms did a good job of analysing the issue of secondments from the Big 4 into government. Ben Saunders has quite a reasonable rant about it here. But I wonder if the tax elite would have been any more willing to accept the content of the PAC’s conclusions had they listened carefully to their witnesses, and then respectfully disagreed with them nonetheless.
In dismissing the PAC report, Mike Truman says that “[secondees’] role was to advise on the commercial implications of the proposals.” How can he be so sure? Maybe he took the word of his fellow ‘tax experts’ at KPMG on trust. I encountered a Treasury secondee from KPMG when I was lobbying on behalf of ActionAid, and I’m quite confident that he was much more implicated in the policymaking process than that, consistent with the claims on his LinkedIn page.
Also reflecting on the PAC report, Wendy Bradley argues that:
the accountancy and tax professions…think of themselves as professionals…that they are more like the barrister who can give objective advice to a party to a court case whether the person is innocent or guilty. They certainly do not recognise themselves in the “poacher turned gamekeeper” that PAC perceives.
For me, the secondments issue is not about the Big 4 gaining inside knowledge of HMRC, but about information flow in the other direction. It turns on whether you think that there is a clear boundary between technical advice and lobbying. In the epistemic communities framework, no such boundary exists. According to Haas:
It is the political infiltration of an epistemic community into governing institutions which lays the groundwork for a broader acceptance of the community’s beliefs and ideas about the proper construction of social reality.
Richard Brooks’ new book argues that just such an infiltration has occurred in HMRC and the Treasury. If so, it’s not at all unreasonable to think that the beliefs, ideas and values that have emerged within a community that is paid for its ability to keep corporate tax bills low might diverge from those of the general public and of the legislature.
For example, here are Canadian tax professionals Brian Arnold and Larry Chapman, in an article that criticises much of the campaigning on Starbucks:
The role of tax professionals in assisting multinationals to avoid tax may require some serious soul-searching. Without our “creative” talents in manipulating legal relationships, complex legislation and tax treaties, this type of international tax avoidance would not be possible.
Wendy Bradley offers another example, the supposedly neutral value of tax “competitivity”:
Meanwhile the big glaring elephant in the room is the [government’s] commitment to a tax system which is “more competitive, simpler, greener and fairer”. In Taxworld, a “competitive” tax rate is a lower tax rate – a rate which competes for business with other tax jurisdictions. Yes, it’s official coalition policy that, in the great multinational tax race, the UK should do its best to win the race to the bottom.
So what now?
I absolutely agree with all those bloggers who point the finger for much of this at parliament. As Wendy says:
The responsibility for the existence of tax legislation and for the quality of that legislation lies with the people who make it, with Parliament.
[…] each Budget [the Government] publish their proposals, consult on them, and then bring the legislation to Parliament along with a TIIN which tells you what the legislation does and why, how much it will raise and how much it will cost, and who will be affected.
Does Parliament ever look at them?
Do MPs ever challenge the legislation, and if they do, are any changes ever made?
That would make an interesting study, although I think we already know that on complex areas of corporate taxation the answer is no.
To help achieve a better political debate, Mike Truman and Heather Self advocate an “adopt an MP” scheme whereby tax professionals would provide “clear, dispassionate advice on the tax system”. Sounds great in theory, but the epistemic communities framework challenges the notion that such advice exists.
What I think is really needed is an open, honest exchange between the tax elite and the tax muggles. Yes it would help for the former to educate the latter on technical matters, but that should go hand in hand with discussion on the level of “normative and principled beliefs” about corporate tax. And on that, the tax profession might do well to adopt a little more humility.
There’s quite a lot there, but I’d like to pick up the point about there being no boundary between technical advice and lobbying. If you view it as a situation where there is no black and white distinction between the two, just a spectrum of varying grey, it still stands that there are things that are more lobbying and more technical expertise.
Now, tax advisers are actually quite good at this distinction, believe it or not. We offer technical advice day in day out, whilst trying desperately not to tell our clients what to do. And they’re people that really want you to tell them what to do.
Good advice simply lays out the tax consequences of certain actions. It gives the client the ability to make an informed decision.
Now, this is hopefully towards the technical end of the grey area, whereas many others are used to making points and arguing towards a defined end. To give an example that I consider to be a contrast, people who describe themselves as campaigners on a subject.
As a side thought, people do project their own personalities onto others. Perhaps campaigners are more likely to see advice as lobbying because that’s what they try to do?
Anyway, my point is that tax professionals (hopefully) have a lot of practice at being impartial. We argue HMRC’s view to our client and our client’s view to HMRC.
Hi Ben, thanks for your comment, and yes, I probably did get a bit carried away with this one!
I wasn’t trying to argue that all technical advice is lobbying, so much as that anyone’s idea of ‘neutral’ is affected by their own unconscious framing of the issue. I’m sure that when you give tax advice (not that I’ve ever been at either end of the transaction!) there are technical questions to which there really are objective, factual answers. But every tax professional has their own view of where the ethical line is drawn in tax planning, if there is one at all, and surely that must come into things at some point?
I was thinking more about what would happen when tax professionals stray into policy matters, as Mike was suggesting with his ‘adopt an MP’. That gets into territory that I’m arguing is more subjective than he allows for. My feeling is that there’s a whole edifice of understanding about tax competitivity, for example, that looks on the surface like it’s simply “if you do A the consequence is likely to be B” but is also based on an unspoken “consequence B is better than consequence C.”
Interestingly at the Goldman hearing yesterday, it seemed that the discussion turned around Hartnett and Dawes’ judgement not on the technicalities, but on matters such as maintaining a constructive relationship with the taxpayer and managing reputational risk. How much weight each different factor is given is, as the defence argued, a matter of judgement, not one that can be resolved through objective facts or indeed through the law alone.
I got a bit carried away with my point too!
I do agree with the point in the context you’ve used it. It’s a practical consideration in implementation. It’s wider application is one of those arguments that can be used for challenging involvement of any external individuals, whatever their intentions.
Everybody brings their own set of preconceptions to the table and these are the hardest things to identify and challenge. You can’t stop that, but you need to be aware and safeguard against them.
And I suppose the secondment issue really comes down to these safeguards deployed by the department that individuals were seconded to. That matter is important, but the fact that the secondments took place is not an issue, in itself.
The Goldman case is an odd one, because I can’t see how anybody other than HMRC is going to suffer as a result of it. So, public/political pressure resulted in a fudged decision. Which has resulted/is resulting/will result in more public/political pressure. Which will result in….?
That’s my (cynical) opinion from the little I have absorbed via osmosis on twitter, but I have plenty of other tax-related stuff to think about for the moment. So that’s the pigeon-hole (pre-conception) I’ve placed it in. 😉
As Ben says, a lot to look at, and I’m on press day so can’t give more than some initial reactions.
I think you are right about a community based on expertise (and you have taught me a new word!), but this also cuts to the heart of the issue – the values and purposes of the reliefs concerned in the KPMG secondees debate were already set before the secondees arrived. There is perhaps a better argument that the tax policy units of the Big 4 are more successful in lobbying for such policies to be introduced in the first place, but it seems to me that it is the policies themselves which the PAC is objecting to, and they are the result of a Conservative-led coalition being in power.
I would also suggest that the clearest example I have seen of an epistemic community in this debate is the Public Accounts Committee itself, which comes into its hearings with very firmly entrenched normative and causal beliefs, and then react with fury when their witnesses don’t validate them.
While I understand the concern about “Adopt an MP”, we really are trying to make this as practical and fact-based as possible. We will inevitably fail, but we hope to fail as little as possible…
I agree that a debate between tax campaigners (who are by no means tax muggles) and the profession would be good, but the problem is how to avoid the naval definition of a wardroom argument – positive assertion followed by flat contradiction, followed by personal abuse.
If we could come up with a way of facilitating a discussion that did not just descend into entrenched salvos, I’d be very interested, and prepared to throw the magazine’s weight behind it, and take a personal part in it. It strikes me that the process would have to be something akin to a mediation rather than a debate, at least initially.
Hi Mike, I like the sound of a “mediation” that tries to map out more clearly the contours of agreement and disagreement…if we can find a trusted mediator. Could be a really constructive exercise.
It cuts across far more than tax. Trouble with tax is that it has taken longer to unearth because the effects – the dodgy deals, skewed policy etc – are less easy to see and less catastrophic than, say, financial crises. What you really need is not so much communities of experts but a bit of tension among the parties who then argue things out and expose the flaws in the others’ thinking. HMRC should have a different interest to the CBI, for example. But since all parties are captured by those with the deepest pockets to fund research, free advice (PwC to Labour party for example) etc all argument, at least among those with influence, disappears. Too much ‘partnership’, ‘working together’ blah blah blah has killed the debate (or did until recently), with the highly distorted position we’re now in the result. I’m sure as you’re now an academic, Martin, I should throw the word dialectic in here somewhere, so there it is.
Interestingly, the response to the Tax Prat article was not what I expected, Some of the people who disagreed with it the most were the ones who would hold most strongly to the view that the letter of the law is what matters, and that there is therefore nothing wrong with avoidance. Their view seemed to be that this was, as you suggest, an arena where we should all take sides and argue our corner, so they saw nothing wrong with what Margaret Hodge said, but equally saw nothing wrong with aggressive avoidance.
Personally i don’t agree that is the way forward. We need to take a step back first and agree what approaches to tax are acceptable and what are not; in other words, given that there is clearly a morality and an ethic in tax, what are the acceptable bounds of it in current society?
My real concern, and we have some limited evidence to back it up from the “How far would you go” survey we did last year, is that people are often prepared to not only avoid but also evade tax if they think they won’t get caught. I suspect they are applying a higher standard to multinationals, on the grounds that they are a convenient peg on which to hang an argument that “if only they would pay up I wouldn’t have to”.. The actual figures involved in corporation tax mean that just isn’t true. It’s rather similar to those who want to cut overseas aid – even if they don’t accept the moral argument (which I do), the economic argument that it would be a drop in the ocean of a £120 billion deficit.
I remember someone from HMRC – I think it might have been Melanie Dawes – saying at a conference that for an average member of the public, the ethical line between avoidance and evasion isn’t such a big deal in everyday transactions like paying the builder cash in hand. I wonder if the public attitude is probably more along the lines of “tax dodging by someone richer than me is bad.”
Good point on research funding. There is a KPMG Professor of Taxation Law at the Uninversity of Oxford. It is no insult to point out that she has followed the big business line as her research output shows. The ‘independent’ Oxford University Centre for Business Taxation was set up with £3million provided over 3 years by the Hundred Group of the FD of the FTSE 100, which continue to fund many of their programmes. There is no evidence they have ever bitten the hand that feed them. There is also a Barclays Lecturer in Taxation Law at Oxford. It is a testament to the capture of the academia by the biggest tax avoiders and their advisers that it took Private Eye and NGOs like Christian Aid and Action Aid rather than our Ivory Towers to highlight this issue and start this debate. You would have thought that was the function of independent research institutions!
£5 million; not £3 million.
Martin. I’d agree with a lot of Richard’s book but I think he has not stressed enough what you might call the policy gap. (Just published a review I can send you if you like As you’ve said elsewhere techniques such as borrowing to get tax deductible interest payments is legal. NPower did not break any laws so calling it avoidance seems to just muddy the differing categories of “successful ” and “unsuccessful ” avoidance.
In terms of epistemc icommunities I suspect this is a fancy way of describing what has been true for all groups where there is some commonality of interest but not unanimity. The real issue I think is where those differences lie and whether they are fundamental. I doubt if the fact there is external funding means a University faculty loses its reasoning ability, any more than working for HMRC, the Big 4, or an NGO, prevents the sharing of views.
Like Mike I think we need to talk across “boundaries ” My trade union ARC (on whose committee Richard used to serve) is actively considering how to take forward such a debate. We have published a lot on these sorts of issues (see http://WWW.FDA.org.uk/nmsruntime/saveasdialog.asocials?IID=5551&SID=7617).
We’d be very interested to hear if others would want to take part in any meeting or programme of work. I doubt if we’d agree on everything but I’d be surprised if we didn’t agree on some things, maybe even some big things.
The web link was wrong -apologies for predictive texting!
It should be http://www.fda.org.uk/Media/Tax-gap-is-closing-but-further-8-billion-could-be-recouped-by-HMRC-providing-an-alternative-to-cuts-or-tax-increases-says-ARC-Budget-submission.aspx
Thanks Iain. Maybe you can be part of Mike’s “mediation” exercise!
@martin – an excellent suggestion. that’s precisely where ARC belongs!
@iain campbell, you wrote: “The real issue I think is where those differences lie and whether they are fundamental. I doubt if the fact there is external funding means a University faculty loses its reasoning ability, any more than working for HMRC, the Big 4, or an NGO, prevents the sharing of views.”
that is an uncontoversial proposition on its own but how do you relate it to the facts on the ground? i made the point that NGOs and satirical magazines (but not the tax academics) highlighted the problems with our tax system. what does that show?
i remember graham black opposed aaronson’s appointment for the GAAR work but got little support from your uinion. reading your contribution here, i can see why. and then it had to take a whistlelower from your dept (not your union) to raise concerns about the sweetheart deals. your union’s response was to defend your member – dave hartnett!
i’m sorry but your union, just like the academia, has been captured, hence your irrelevance in this debate.
I have to say that this narrative of “captured” is getting really rather silly, In what way could ARC, a trade union which solely represents senior HMRC employees, be “captured” by the nefarious forces of the Big 4…? Can I please be the first to predict that if the High Court rules against UK Uncut (which I think it probably will) it will also be derided as having been “captured” (in which case, I look forward to charges of “scandalising a court”…)?
The point of the narrative, it seems to me, is to try and sideline the rather important point that the minister, the Treasury, HMRC and ARC have all come out and strongly criticised the conclusion by the PAC that there was anything wrong with the secondments. Since the PAC has been unable to cite any evidence from the legislation as passed that the “poachers” were deliberately cutting holes in the fence when acting as “gamekeepers”, that seems to be a completely valid response.
I think posts elsewhere in this wider debate would regard it as controversial to suggest that external funding has not distorted reasoning but I’ll leave the tax academics to reply . I suspect there will be evidence to show they have also highlighted problems.
To put the record straight on the GAAR if you read this link you’ll see that ARC came out very clearly in writing against the GAR as proposed. Graham Black was the President at the time. http://www.fda.org.uk/Media/Union-questions-Government-stance-on-tax-avoidance.aspx.
You may also note the comment from Graham Aarononson to the House of Lords Sub-committee on the Finance Bill. “Taking the first issue first, is this too narrow and can it have the perverse effect of encouraging non-egregious tax planning? No and no. The view was espoused by the ARC—the Association of Revenue and Customs—which is some sort of shop steward-led organisation of Revenue officials, with Graham Black as its head. It made a statement saying that this draft GAAR is likely to encourage tax avoidance, and that the only way of dealing with tax avoidance is by having more tax inspectors. I will make no comment on the latter; it may or may not be the case. It did seem to me to be special pleading of a rather unpleasant nature.”
The “captured” thing is completely silly, and it’s just a slightly paranoid and puerile way of dismissing views you don’t like.
You could use the same argument to show that UK Uncut or the Tax Justice Network have captured the print media – or possibly vice versa. Or maybe 38 Degrees have captured the lot. I’m not sure whether Margaret Hodge has been captured or whether she has just put on a set of handcuffs…
Actually, this seems to be the main point of the narrative: people join us, the good guys, because they want to: they only side with Them, the bad guys, if they’ve been forced to. So you can see how right and nice we are.
I think there may be some merit in it if you just mean “you should discount these views somewhat because there are vested interests at work”, but it’s an overly strong way of putting it. In any case, vested interests should be allowed to have an influence – they just need to be weighed and balanced. if you ignored all vested interests you’d have no reason to do anything.
it’s not quite silly.hartnett was a member of ARC. most of the senior officials involved in the recent controversies are also members of ARC. so they follow the senior officials’ (eg Hartnett’s) line on the most important issues. i call that capture because ARC is not what anybody remotely familiar with the workings of HMRC will call an independent trade union.
also, UK Unut has been more effective in fighting cuts in HMRC than ARC and PSC put together. in fact, PSC have taken to backing UK Uncut as they did in their press release last week in support of the GS judicial review.
the High Court has already decided that the deal could not be unravelled even before the evidence was presented! so, if it rules against UK Uncut nobody will be surprised. after all, judicial review is a discretionary remedy so the judges have a lot of scope to work with. the decision to grant UK Uncut permission to bring a judicial review while ruling that whatever the evidence shows the deal cannot be voided the court is a very curious one. i doubt it can get any curioser whatever the outcome of last week’s hearing.
Ben’s post on his own blog, “Science, morality, tax and a monkey with a gun” (!!) makes my head hurt, and I need to read it again with a dictionary, but I suspect it has some pointers towards the sort of “mediation” I was talking about – each making the arguments for our own side within the paradigm of the other.
There’s me trying to talk philosophical babble. To add a bit more, with a theological tinge that makes me feel more at home, a lot of the debate so far has tended to be “I-it”. I think one of the things that singles out your blog, Martin, is that it is more “I-thou” in tone. It is that, really, even more than mediation, which probably best describes what I think we need – a recognition of the other side as a “thou”, rather than an “it” to my “I”. Thjat leads to an attempt to find common ground first, and to accept (even if only “for the sake of argument”) the good intentions of the other side, in order to then explore the problematic issues in a more fruitful way than before.
Where might a forum be found to do this? Though I know little about them other than that Giles Fraser (who is A Good Guy in my view) used to be involved with them until his much publicised departure, I was wondering if ti was one for the St Paul’s Institute, though the religious side might put some off.
except that UK Uncut was not established with a £3 million donation from The Hundred Group like the Oxford University Centre for Biz Taxation; and TJN was not endowed by an unspecified 10-year donation by KPMG like the KPMG Professor(ship) of Taxation Law at Oxford. i will be happy to see evidence of independent, let alone radical, output from these donees. and while we are it, how come the likes of KPMG and The Hundred Group invariably fund some but not others?
A similar funding structure has been disastrous in the pharmaceutical and banking sectors. Interesting it also applies in tax and may explain why things got out of hand on tax avoidance.
We’ve no vested interests to hide, says tax-study centre
Openness about social scientists’ affiliations and funders questioned. Melanie Newman reports
A campaign group has raised questions about the way social scientists declare potential conflicts of interest following the publication of a paper by an Oxford research centre.
The worries voiced by the Tax Justice Network concern the University of Oxford’s Centre for Business Taxation, based in the Said Business School.
It was launched in 2005 with £5 million in funding from the Hundred Group of Finance Directors, an organisation whose members are drawn exclusively from FTSE 100 firms.
The campaigners have accused the centre of not being transparent enough about its backing in a research paper published earlier this year, which said that improvements to financial regulations were unlikely to have any effect on international tax avoidance.
They said that the paper did not mention the centre’s link to the Hundred Group.
Michael Devereux, director of the centre, denied that he or his colleagues had “ever sought to not disclose or in any way hide the sources of the centre’s funding”.
He said: “I completely agree that academics should declare the sources of their funding. The centre and its staff have always done so, and intend to continue to do so.”
He argued that the centre’s funding sources did not have to be listed on every paper because they were clearly detailed elsewhere, including its annual report.
“An outstanding issue is whether it should be expected that researchers list all their affiliations and sources of funding on every document they produce,” he said.
“Our approach to date has not been to do this, on the grounds that it would amount to virtually including a CV in every publication. But this is quite different from attempting to hide that information, which is available on our website.”
David Byrne, director of postgraduate studies at Durham University’s School of Applied Social Sciences, said funding sources should be declared “as a general principle across the whole of the academy”.
“When work is funded by an interest group, then that has to be absolutely evident to all who engage with it,” he said.
His view was echoed by Prem Sikka, professor of accounting at the University of Essex, who pointed out that scientific research papers include footnotes that make it clear when work is funded by external interests as a matter of course.
“This is just as important in the social sciences,” he said. “People are not just giving money to fund research out of the goodness of their hearts: they are interested in influencing public policy.”
However, Professor Devereux listed the numerous positions he holds, and asked: “Would you expect me to disclose all of those every time I make a public comment or publish a paper? Or would you expect me to publish only connections to business? If it’s the latter, then it would give a very misleading impression of the breadth of my work.”
Again, to put the record straight. From being “uncontroversial” on independent reasoning this now seems to have been flagged up again. Universities have for centuries been given endowments to support their work. Further education has never been cheap.No doubt Oxford will reply.
As for ARC. No “senior officials” like Hartnett have ever been members of the Executive Committee or provided a party line for the union to follow. Merely asserting that a commonality of view on some issues shows a lack of independence is not proof. If it were not independent why, a few years ago, would it call for industrial action against its employer, obtain a decisive yes on a very high turnout, and meant Dave Hartnett had to apologise for the Department’s actions.
On job cuts, it is hard to see the evidence that UK Uncut have been as successful as claimed. In June 2010 staffing numbers were 68,037; UK Uncut began in October 2010. As at 31/3/12 staffing levels were 63,068; they are still forecast to reduce to c56,100 by April 2015. The main programme of reinvestment (£917mn) that has ameliorated the reductions was announced in Septmber 2010, partly as a result of a national campaign by ARC to Defeat the Deficit.
At the 2011 TUC Communication Awards that campaign took second place. The judges said “great campaign materials” were “strategically and tactically pitched at the right audiences” and it involved good member engagement. Further evidence that ARC is an independent Trade Union.
This quote says it all: “People are not just giving money to fund research out of the goodness of their hearts: they are interested in influencing public policy.”
The Hundred Group definitely got their money’s worth seeing as the OUCBT provided the intellectual underpinning for both HMRC’s Large Business Strategy (which gave us the sweetheart deals) and HMT Corporate Tax Road Map (CFC reforms, patent box etc). Virtually all the conferences organised by the OUCBT has something to do with these policy changes in tax administration and policy making that favour the Hundred Group.
I’ve never worried about comments policy before, but I’ve noticed that “Donkey”, “Tax Hack” and “Tony Barclay” share the same IP address. The rest of us have been brave enough to comment using our actual names, and I’d say the least we can expect of anonymous commenters is that they don’t try to make themselves look like three different people. Thanks.
Regardless of how many posters there are, I believe there are some issues on which to comment. I don’t work for the Oxford Business School. But I don’t think it gets us anywhere to dismiss material because of the source of funding for the organisation that produces it. On that basis we end up trapped in clichés and stereotypes – in exactly the same way as Graham Aaronson tried to dismiss our Trade Union critique of the GAAR by describing a Union President as a shop steward. On the same logic people could – and sometimes do – dismiss arguments in material from organisations partly funded by the PCS as simply reflecting PCS wishes to keep jobs. Where, they might ask, is the independent, radical thought from these organisations that challenge the staffing levels in HMRC or its outmoded ways of dealing face to face with taxpayers?
I hope and still believe we can have genuine discussions, albeit with the creative tension that stems from where we start. Whether we can attain Richard’s dialectic, with thesis, antithesis and ultimately synthesis remains to be seen!
I think the idea of some kind of mediation that maps out more clearly the contours of agreement and disagreement (and basic clarity on terms and assumptions), would be a good thing – and really necessary for this debate to get to maturity.
Some basic agreement over what is being disagreed about, that can be communicated to ordinary tax muggles? (…speaking as an ordinary tax muggle)
Thanks Maya. LexisNexis, my (and Ben’s – nothing if not transparent…) employer did some work with Christian Aid last year on theoretical tax systems for developing countries, maybe we could revive that alliance to get some sort of mediation going. I’ll find out where the contacts and any future plans were left and see what we can do.
Sorry, and just to add – I think Maya’s point about mapping out the DISagreement is very helpful. It stops us feeling that we’ve failed if there are still many such areas at he end of the exercise.
But I think there are some issues that would extend beyond a theoretical system for developing countries. Knotty issues like fairness, simplicity/complexity and the like. Just look at the very mixed reactions to the Mirrlees Report.
But I’m sure ARC would be interested in anything Mike is looking to set up
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