Oliver Wendell Holmes supposedly said, “Taxes are the price we pay for a civilised society.”
But clearly you can have too much of a good thing. Even life-saving medicine kills at high dose.
And so too will tax.
Back in Mr Holmes’ day the tax take was 4% of everything Americans produced. The republic had no income tax.
Our constitutional monarchy now thumps us for 26% of all that we produce.
That’s the price we pay – not for civilised society – but for the policy promises political leaders must make to be voted prime minister.
Our Parliament has worked assiduously to make that tax take politically palatable; first, by making it invisible through PAYE and GST and, second, by placing the job of tax collection on the few, not the many.
It’s businesses that must collect tax, all at their own expense. Shoppers and employees are blissfully unaware of the tax they must pay and the hassle and cost the collection entails.
IRD hunts the law-abiding
Of course, businesses on our behalf don’t give up over a billion dollars a week lightly. Tax has to be thumped out of them. And thumped hard.
The government’s appetite is now so huge that the thumping requires police state powers. It’s not possible to collect the tax our politics needs consistent with the rights of free citizens and the principles of a just society.
The law must of necessity be upended and thrown against the poor taxpayer.
There would rightly be a huge hue and cry if Parliament granted the powers of Inland Revenue to the police. But astonishingly, Parliament granted these powers to the IRD without a whimper.
The IRD isn’t hunting murderers and rapists. It’s hunting law-abiding citizens going about their private business.
The difference is that murderers and rapists don’t bother Parliament. Tax does. Tax is the oxygen that enables our government to breathe and to grow. Politicians will pass whatever law it takes to get the cash they need to fund their election-day promises.
To gather in more than a billion dollars a week, Parliament has had to reverse the burden of proof. The IRD simply must assert a tax liability.
Taxpayers no right to silence
It’s up to taxpayers to prove that the IRD’s assessment is wrong. Indeed, they must not only prove the IRD’s assessment wrong but by how much.
There’s no innocent until proven guilty in tax collection. Parliament has made sure of that.
Taxpayers also don’t enjoy the right to silence. Murderers and rapists do.
The IRD can compel (with criminal penalties for refusing) taxpayers to give over all documents that the IRD considers necessary; and compel taxpayers to attend interviews and be cross-examined (again with criminal penalties for refusing).
The police hunting the worst murderers can’t do that.
But get this: the poor taxpayer must get a court order requiring information from the IRD if the IRD refuses to release it. That involves lengthy and expensive proceedings.
Oh, and by and large, the IRD’s actions leading up to and making an assessment can’t be judicially reviewed.
Parliament has granted the IRD extraordinary powers – powers that don’t exist outside of totalitarian states – and also made it next to impossible for citizens to question the IRD. Under these rules the police would have most of us in jail.
The IRD can’t collect the tax our democracy demands under the usual rules. It requires fascist powers to collect.
Tax no longer provides for basic law and order and civilised living. It’s grown into a monster and the very antithesis of civilised society.
A little tax might be a good thing. But the present dose is toxic.