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Alex Marsh: Can we at least discuss the moral case for low taxation?

Picture 2 Alex Marsh is a researcher at a London publisher and blogs under the guise of Nought Point Zero.

I believe strongly in the moral case for low taxation. Many of those reading this will take the same view, I’m sure. But so often this important argument is not even considered by the mainstream media. I would not mind so much if it were given a cursory glance and then dismissed. But it is not even mentioned.

Recent discussions of various sin taxes on chocolate and alcohol demonstrate this. The discussion concentrates on whether the taxes would work – “work” in the sense of disincentivising purchasers – rather than whether they should be implemented even if they do work.

The vast majority of debate won't change your mind. When was the last time anyone significantly altered your opinion during a debate, particularly regarding an issue on which you already had a strong opinion? Once during the last year? Twice at the most? The fact is that most people simply don't change their minds. And there's nothing intrinsically wrong with that. So why bother debating at all?

I believe that the main objective of intelligent debate is not to change minds per se, but rather to prompt your opponent to empathise with your point of view. It may sound futile and perhaps a little defeatist, but I think empathy in this case is important. Think of a subject such as the miners' strike. I assume most of the readers of this website believe that the National Union of Miners was wrong in its actions. It would probably be impossible to change your views on that. But understanding the NUM's motivations, and the arguments of those who support them, is important.

Moral issues work in the same way. If you have entrenched your position on a subject like abortion - as have so many - you are not going to alter your views. But it is very useful to know exactly why the other side may disagree with you. If you are in favour of, say, 24 week abortions, for example, it might help you understand the issue if you knew exactly what a pro-lifer thinks about it, and indeed, why they think it.

It is because of this that I would dearly like to see the moral case for low taxation discussed more in the mainstream media, especially the liberal media. I don't expect any of these outlets to ever agree with my points of view on the subject, but I think it is important for them to know why someone would think there is a moral case for low tax. Frankly, they should be talking about it because the two main opposition parties should be advocating it as something at the heart of their manifestos: the Conservatives, for obvious reasons; and the Lib Dems because, once upon a time, to be liberal meant to advocate a small state and low taxes. Once upon a time.

The Left, I depressingly conclude, will never understand why there is any reason to ever lower taxes across the board, unless it is some kind of vicious conspiracy committed by bankers and other highly paid 'toffs'. The fact that I myself am not paid enough to even come remotely close to the higher tax bracket, and am married to a lowly classroom teacher is, presumably, ignored by them. But if they could just understand why someone who is both socially and economically liberal (with a small L of course) may believe that they are fundamentally entitled to the money they earn, we may no longer be condemned to inadequate debate when it comes to the subject of tax.

I therefore urge you not to try to change minds on this subject, but instead to lower your expectations and set about simply trying to get the matter discussed. Only then, when the subject has been given an airing throughout the mainstream media, is there even the slightest chance of beginning the hard task: winning the argument altogether.


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