When sorting through some old files, in preparation for my forthcoming (sixth) book, I came across some notes from a visit to London in 1984 where I sat down with Arthur Seldon. Arthur was one of the intellectual geniuses (the other being Ralph (Lord) Harris) selected by Antony Fisher to operate the Institute for Economic Affairs, established in 1955.
Arthur was, as usual, surrounded by notes and ear-marked books as a fellow attendee at the second Libertarian International Conference, 1984, in London. I only had to ask one question, to get him started. I referred to the oppressive level of taxation that was burdening the U.K. (and Australia) at that time.
My question: “Historically the tax collector used to collect the taxes and they could be clearly identified as the ‘villain’.
In more recent times weak business leaders have allowed themselves to be manoeuvred into becoming unpaid tax collectors making it less clear just who is taxing us.
Ayn Rand was probably referring to weak business leaders when she said, “It cannot be done to you without your consent, if you permit it to be done, then you deserve it.”
Arthur, the average taxpayer no longer has the knowledge of how much tax they are paying or how to go about questioning this level of tax so my question to you is;
Have we left it too late to revolt?”
Arthur’s comprehensive reply (without even pausing for breath) follows:
“So if I say, that time is on our side, I also have to add that we must give it a bit of a tug and I think we can do it in a number of ways. The first is in our tax structure.
I’m in favour of a withholding tax. I’m in favour of taxpayers withholding their taxes until they are satisfied with the services that Government has supplied them with and although I can offer you no advice, which is outside the law, I can at least paraphrase a book you should buy called The Bureaucrats and How to Annoy Them. The advice that this man gives and he has to hide behind a pseudonym. He is a noted scientist who broadcasts quite a bit. Some of the things he says are as follows:
- When writing to your tax gatherer, be vague; write in illegible longhand and at wearisome length.
- Use plenty of incomprehensible jargon (after some days send another copy to confuse him).
- Write back to his non-existent colleague.
- Give incorrect reference numbers.
- Request a reply to a letter you have not sent.
- When you do pay send the wrong amount.
- Staple your cheque in the centre to jam their computer.
- Better still, crumple your tax demand, iron it out and refold it in a different place (guaranteed to defeat their electronic receipting.
- Use wrong dates (but keep a note of the right ones).
- Stick the stamp in the top left hand corner of the envelope, or better still, in the centre.
- Query all your tax assessments.
- Send the tax gatherer your detailed form demanding information about his authority to levy these taxes.
- Rub candle grease on the space marked ‘For Official Use Only’. If you are short of candle grease, use hair oil.
- Observe in general an attitude to your taxmen (your tormentors) of divine neglect.
My final reason for thinking that time is on our side is that the power of ideas in the end will dominate. Keynes was wrong in so many other ways that I hardly like to add one more. He was wrong when he said simply that ideas would dominate. So was Marx wrong when he said that interests were the ultimate force.
But John Stuart Mill was right when he said “Ideas would determine action, provided circumstances conspired to make them timely”, and I think that the time is almost right. Time is almost right because the ideas that we have discussed here are being married to a period of technological change which will undermine the power of government and also to a climate of morality that will see that it is proper for men to take a long term view of their future and not the short term animal myopia that our socialist enemies now teach.”
Today, 35 years later, I look back at Arthur Seldon’s optimism and observe that taxpayers did not seize the technological opportunities to which he referred. So I conclude:
“Nothing much will change it seems,
till we get our knees up off the floor.
Stop begging for protection from competition –
That’s just a perversion of the law.
The problem’s solved if we all stand up
and decline their invitation.
Let them collect the taxes
If they want to run the nation!”