Friday, 18 February 2011

Toby Young: Tax avoidance is OK

Bush Free School founder Toby Young has cemented his reputation as something of a conservative firebrand by provocatively placing an article in the Telegraph (where else) arguing that tax avoidance is not morally wrong, in fact it is "sensible" practice which should not be condemned.

Here's what the Free Schooler has to say:
The moral case for forcing the rich to pay more tax isn’t as clear-cut as Shaxson seems to think. One of the more amusing chapters in Treasure Islands concerns the Vesteys, for many years Britain’s wealthiest family, who Shaxson treats as a case study in financial chicanery. But as Edmund Vestey says: “Let’s face it, nobody pays more tax than they have to.”

When you think about it that’s true. And far from being immoral, it’s perfectly rational. This argument was neatly summed up by Conservative thinker Andrew Lillico: “If you buy freshly squeezed orange juice, the price includes VAT. If you buy standard concentrated orange juice, there is no VAT. So if a key reason you buy concentrated orange juice is that it is cheaper, you are avoiding paying VAT. Is that wrong? Spirits incur higher alcohol excise duty than beer. So if you would fancy a whiskey but consider the price a bit steep and so buy beer, you are avoiding paying tax. Is that wrong?”

The answer is patently no. Indeed, governments routinely increase taxes on certain things – such as cigarettes – in the hope that we will alter our behaviour as a consequence and avoid buying them. It would be odd if a government told us it was perfectly right and proper for ordinary citizens to engage in tax avoidance, but not the rich. Just because there’s more money at stake doesn’t make it immoral.
What do you think?


  1. Can't argue with the logic of those incredibly rich and eductaed tories....unles you're a poor nurse taxed at source with little opportunity of choice. Oh and then theres the moral big society question

  2. Would the author of this blog seriously have us believe that a) It's just the conservative thinkers that have loads of money and b) Toby Young is just trying to level some of the hysteria thrown at the so called 'tax dodgers'?

  3. I liked the way UKuncut was argueing with him on twitter for 2 days and then ended up almost begging him to pull connections to have their debate aired on TV.

  4. I love the way the second brave and fearless (yet anonymous) commentator is obviously the same person that always criticises anything that puts the Tories in a bad light!

    I have Labour stooges who do the same, mind so he's in good company.

  5. A 'non-dom' multi-millionaire (Ashcroft) avoids paying tax in the UK perfectly legally under rules upheld by the political party that he funds. That party launches a programme of savage cuts that hits the poorest in the country, whilst at the same time making it easier for the wealthy to avoid tax. But Toby Young says "The moral case for forcing the rich to pay more tax isn’t...clear-cut". It stinks.

  6. This is a really interesting point. There are very few people who don't reduce their tax given half a chance.

    I certainly remember some left-wing former colleagues (they had previously worked at left-wing think tanks and campaigned on many leftie causes) working out of choice as independent contractors rather than full employees so they could avoid paying full tax.

    People tend to have different opinions when it comes to their own money!

  7. The definition of tax avoidance is that it is legal. You can do something legal and have other people dislike it - does that make it wrong? Michael Ashcroft and Philip Green seem to attract a lot of adverse comment on this score - but not Richard Branson. Is being vaguely hip a good enough defence? and does the fact that the undeniably irritating Toby Young defends something make it wrong?

    Anyway, the long and the short of it is that tax avoidance covers a multitude of behaviours on a moral spectrum running from blameless to distinctly dubious; in each indivual situation there are usually policy reasons why the behaviour is tolerated.

  8. Chris - I was the 'second brave and fearless (yet anonymous) commentator' you refer to. I was simply being anonymous as our work network blocks logging in to a google account (which I would need to do to comment with a name). I've never commented on your blog before (except the Hammersmith decides - but I was involved in organising that!) and have just finished, and enjoyed, Tony Blair's Autobiography so am no means a good ol' tory. I do love how your blog swings politically (although you definitely lean left, but so do I).

  9. just to expand on my earlier comment "People tend to have different opinions when it comes to their own money!"... have a look at this -

    Another example of 'do what we say not we do'?!

  10. Yes! Its quiet sensitive and appealing. It’s so vivid in description that my mind was swayed in imagination while reading it. It’s also very informative so thanks, and keep writing. tax avoidance