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Tax Avoidance

Duration:
43 minutes
First broadcast:
Wednesday 21 March 2012

It's budget week and as usual the papers are dominated by stories of people who, depending on your perspective, are being taxed too much, or those who are not being taxed enough. How and who we tax and how we spend the proceeds is a profoundly moral equation. The current debate over tax avoidance is a perfect example. Tax avoidance (unlike evasion) is perfectly legal, but, according to many politicians and campaigners, it's immoral - a case of the very rich not paying their fair share because they can afford to hire creative tax accountants, while the rest of us good citizens struggle to make ends meet. The rich are different from you and me but why should we require some people to live by a different moral standard just because of the size of their bank balance and where will it lead if we start saying that people who obey the law are acting immorally none the less? At the root of these arguments is our attitude to wealth and with it strong undercurrents of envious wealth-bashing on one side, and contempt for benefit-scrounging underclass idleness on the other. Is wealth moral good, or morally negative? Are our taxes the legitimate price we pay for living in a civilised society that cares for the less well off or an unfair levy on hard work - a form of state sponsored altruism in the name of an artificially constructed version of social solidarity? Is the moral imperative of taxation to be compassionate through the ways in which the state disperses wealth by giving it to the less than productive, or to create as much wealth as possible in the first place without which no-one benefits?

Witnesses: Dr Jamie Whyte - former Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Cambridge, now works in the financial services sector; Paul Morrison - Public Issues Policy Advisor for the Methodist Church in England; Philip Booth - Editorial & Programme Director at the Institute of Economic Affairs and Professor of Insurance & Risk Management at Cass Business School; Richard Murphy - Tax Research UK.

Combative, provocative and engaging debate chaired by Michael Buerk with Matthew Taylor, Melanie Phillips, Claire Fox and Clifford Longley.

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