This post was first published by The Croydon Citizen on 28/02/2018.
The Croydon Conservatives’ voluntary tax proposals are an appeal to a better nature that Croydonians simply don’t have
It’s a noble idea, but it probably won’t work, and Croydonians can already give their money and time to help the homeless more directly.
In advance of this year’s council elections, the Croydon Conservatives have proposed introducing a voluntary tax for those living in Band H homes to pay to support the borough’s homeless.
Voluntary taxes relying on the goodwill of the affluent is a novel proposal for Croydon, but not a brand new idea: Westminster Council has already gone ahead and introduced it. However, since hearing this policy announcement, I’ve careered between enthused and bemused. For, unwittingly, the Croydon Conservatives’ proposal cuts to the heart of taxation, charity and even humanity itself.
The nature of taxation
Tax is a funny old thing. We grumble about it and how it’s used but very few of us make the leap to consider whether tax should be paid at all, or if there are other ways for us to distribute our money to create a functioning, better society. We just assume that it has always been and therefore must always be.
In our current system, the state coerces you with the threat of violence or imprisonment if you don’t pay your taxes. Sure, you can vote for slightly less or slightly more tax, based on the proposals of the blue team or the red team, but, regardless, you are not free to opt-out: you pay taxes to prevent the threat of state violence against you.
However, there is a strain of political thought propagated by anarchists and libertarians who suggest that there can be alternative systems of society in which there is no central government or public sector that requires taxes to survive, and instead every individual retains 100% of their income and spends or donates money as they choose. ‘But we need the state to build the roads and the hospitals and pay for teachers’, I hear you cry! Well, no we don’t, cry the libertarians.
Whatever your thoughts on the rights and wrongs on tax, I appreciate that this proposal doesn’t compel or enforce individuals to pay more tax just because they have the money to do so, but instead gives them the opportunity to do so. This proposed voluntary tax appeals to Croydonians’ ‘better nature’, if you will.
The nature of humanity
The problem is that we don’t have a better nature. In fact, the reality is quite the opposite.
Humans have a spectacular capacity to deceive themselves: the most popular lie being that we’re ‘good people’. This is further compounded by our need to be seen to be good people, and if we can just say the right thing to our audience and not be inconvenienced by actually having to do the right thing, then so much the better.
Croydonians could very easily solve the problem of, say, homelessness, but the personal cost of ‘losing’ time, money or personal space doing something about it outweighs our will to do it. Especially when we can just share articles all day on Facebook about how mean the government is to homeless people and enjoy the endorphin rush of incoming affirmative comments.
But, what does this all mean in the context of voluntary taxes in Croydon?
In short, nobody is going to pay into any voluntary tax proposed in Croydon. For all the public virtue-signalling of how we are prepared to pay more tax if necessary, very few people give money to the government if they don’t have to. Indeed, there have been just 200 voluntary payments of extra tax received in the UK since 2000.
The nature of charity
So, if we accept the reality that nobody pays more tax than they have to and that there is only so much money that the government can force its citizens to pay before it becomes untenable, where does that leave the good people of Croydon who are in need?
There are already groups of individuals that self-organise to provide the services and social care: charities. I love charity. It relies on and encourages personal virtue in contrast to state coercion (‘give us your money or you’re a bad person’) or social coercion (‘you are a bad person if you minimise how much money you give to the state’).
And what if you don’t want to give your money, but instead your time and expertise? Volunteerismis another way to ameliorate Croydon’s problems: again, there’s very little that you can’t achieve if you are prepared to forego one fewer weekly pub social ‘wiv da lads’ and instead put your energy towards care in the community.
Indeed, the faith sector does this exceptionally well. In Croydon alone, Croydon churches do everything from refugee centres to permanent housing for ex-offenders to overnight shelters. Frankly, when the public sector money levied from taxation dries up it’s the ‘god botherers’ who will still turn up come rain or shine to do the hard stuff.
Thus, the case against a voluntary tax becomes this: why give to a local government pot when you can give directly to charitable agencies and individuals that are closer to the problem, have domain expertise, and waste less money on bureaucracy?
I hope that Croydon will buck the trend if this policy is enacted, but I suspect that the Croydon Conservatives are proposing a new model of tax which will likely see them gain a lot of coos, but little in the coffers.
The proposal of a voluntary tax is a noble one, but there are over 1,700 charities and voluntary organisations in Croydon already doing the work that the tax is aiming to do. Stop outsourcing virtue to the state on your behalf and get involved yourself.