Money. It’s all foreign to most of us. Sure, we can usually say how much we have in our current accounts or our wallets. We know what we earn and what we owe. Most of us would like a bit more and want to hold on to what we’ve have. If asked the question where does money come from, Joe or Jane public would probably make an informed guess.
‘The Government does that, right? The Bank of England prints the notes and mints the coins, doesn’t it?’ Okay, they might qualify that perception by mentioning the increasing cashlessness of the modern world. But our general understanding is that what we earn and spend, be it digital or folding, was created by our Government via a central bank.
So what about tax. Not such a straight forward issue for Joe and Jane but they’d probably accept that paying their share finances highways and hospitals; pensions and policemen; schools and soldiers. Most of us have an occasional moan about the Taxman but accept the proverbial inevitability of death and taxes.
In financial terms a fair and proportional tax system is the embodiment of the idea that the strong should protect the weak. That our wealth is common and should be shared. That without a measure of economic equality, and a tax system that guarantees a degree of it, peace and prosperity are unlikely to endure.
The prevailing Conservative agenda is to engineer a low tax, low welfare society in which we’re all allowed to keep more of our money and to spend it as we wish, be that on our healthcare; the best education for our kids; big houses and luxury cars; philanthropic good deeds; on whatever floats our luxury yacht. Economic equality appears low on that agenda, if at all. Getting rich and staying rich is seen as a fundamental freedom along with free speech and universal suffrage. Money and the market rule and that’s how it should be. That market necessarily includes power and influence.
The structure of a civilisation which results from all this is largely that of our own and deconstructing this historical tower of inequality has been a work in progress for most of humanity since the time of the Pharaohs. It’s a conflict almost Darwinian in nature. It has developed like other natural competitions. Like that between prey and predator; between infection and immunity; host and parasite. Adaption counters adaption. Each incremental progression, say free education or universal healthcare and fiscal policy to support it, elicits an evolutionary response. Hence the popularisation and promotion of personal debt and banking and money creation machinery to further it. Sorry, I forgot to mention in the first paragraph, that it’s the commercial rather than the central banks that create most of your money, in case you hadn’t spotted it.
The most topical manifestation of this adaptive battle is tax avoidance and all things offshore. The hiding of wealth and income in tax havens, and the acceptability and legality of it, suddenly matters to Joe and Jane. Whether David Cameron is guilty of it or not matters less than the fact that this tax dodging mechanism exists at all. Hopefully we’re witnessing the latest twist in the adaptive war between the assets of the very wealthy and the material well being of the majority. Should we succeed in shutting down the Panama and the Camen Island safe houses of our tax dodging elites we can only expect an adaptive response. The money laundry will appear somewhere else in a new manifestation. The tax accountants will perform their dark magic to ensure as much. The biggest gain we can hope for is a moral, behavioural one. Rather like our attitude to drunk driving or passive smoking.
The prevention of a few to become disgustingly rich while millions lack the basics of a decent life must be written into humanity’s legislative DNA, rather like the body’s production of white blood cells to counter pathogens. If we approach inequality as a threat to planetary health then there’s an outside chance life will improve for the many without significantly disadvantaging the few, wherever they try to hide their money.