It\’s morally wrong to shag your wife\’s sister

\”But some of these schemes we have seen are quite frankly morally wrong.

\”The Government is acting by looking at a general anti avoidance law but we do need to make progress on this.\”

Doesn\’t mean we have a law against it though.

For the law isn\’t and shouldn\’t be based upon morality. Most certainly not the Prime Minister\’s personal vision of morality….we\’ve been down that route before and didn\’t like it at all.

 

To elaborate for unlearning econ\’s benefit.

Until quite recently the majority views in this country included……we should have capital punishment for it\’s moral that if you take a life you lose yours. That buggery should be a criminal offence because, well, it\’s immoral, innit? To the point actually that there was one year when more were hung for sodomy than were for murder.

We\’ve also had variations of morality: plays, the threatre, Christmas, were declared immoral by our rulers at one point and thus banned. Well into the lifetimes of those living now we had censorship of theatres for \”immorality\”. We currently have laws against the ingestion of recreational pharmaceuticals on no more basis that I can divine than that they are immoral.

There are two related problems here with basing the law on a moral basis. The first is that to impose a particular morality on all is simply an imposition, a denial of liberty and freedom. The second is that there are a number of different moralities. Whose is to be imposed?

For example, take the vexed question of abortion. At one end we have those who insist that it is immoral, anywhen and anywhere. I include myself among these extremists. At the other end of the spectrum there are those who would at the very least encourage abortion if not actually insist upon it. Perhaps the eugenicists might insist upon the abortion of the \”unfit\”, or there\’s at least one country where today if you have a second child without a licence they will, sometimes at least, perform a forced abortion at 7 or 8 months.

No, we cannot base the law on such moral visions.

 

42 thoughts on “It\’s morally wrong to shag your wife\’s sister”

  1. A “general anti-avoidance law” stinks of fascism. It leads to arbitrary decision making about the law, where law should be clearly coded.

    Of course, if government just replaced the lot with Land Value Tax, we’d pretty much get rid of the avoidance problem.

  2. Danger, Will Robinson, mono-maniac alert.

    Of course, if government just replaced the lot with Land Value Tax, we’d pretty much get rid of the avoidance problem.

    Is there any problem, anywhere, ever that couldn’t be solved by an LVT? In your view? Because everything seems to come back to it.

  3. “For the law isn’t and shouldn’t be based upon morality.”

    “Whose morality should be used? Two people can have quite different morals.”

    This is a reason to be wary of legislating morality, but in general, of course the law is bast upon morality. Why else do we have laws against murder? Theft?

  4. “Is there any problem, anywhere, ever that couldn’t be solved by an LVT? In your view? Because everything seems to come back to it.”

    In this particular case, LVT was the solution to tax loopholes last year, and it’s still the solution this year. There’s nothing wrong with repeating this.

  5. “Is there any problem, anywhere, ever that couldn’t be solved by an LVT?”

    I quote in full a blog post by Mark Wadsworth today:

    “The smoking ban… and rental values

    Common sense says that the smoking ban, which tipped thousands of pubs over the edge, must have depressed the rental value of all sites used as pubs or restaurants, which the government originally denied.

    Dick Puddlecote informs us that the Valuation Office Agency has now officially acknowledged the smoking ban did depress rental values, and hence depressed receipts from Business Rates (which is the closest thing we have to Land Value Tax in the UK).

    So, if the government wanted people to enjoy their evenings out, to create more jobs in pubs and restaurants, reduce the old age pensions bill and increase tax revenues all in one fell swoop, all it would have to do is…”

  6. No, we cannot base the law on such moral visions.

    Once again, there is a conflation between desirability and reality. “We should not base the law” is a perfectly valid arguing point – and one I personally agree with.

    However your examples clearly demonstrate that “we cannot …” is simply incorrect.

    Pendantry, I know, but what else are we here for?

  7. In this particular case, LVT was the solution to tax loopholes last year, and it’s still the solution this year. There’s nothing wrong with repeating this.

    And an LVT, of course, will be the world’s first perfect, problem-free, unavoidable tax? Bollocks, frankly.

  8. “And an LVT, of course, will be the world’s first perfect, problem-free, unavoidable tax? Bollocks, frankly.”

    No, but it doesn’t have to be. It just has to be better than what we’ve got now, which it is, much.

    LVT is obviously a brilliant *policy*. The problem is that it is not obvious that there exists a stable *political formula* with a significant LVT (we currently have a small land tax: business rates).

    It may be that the government relies for its support on letting people own locations, and if it introduced an LVT, it would fall/there would be a revolution/significant change in the political structures of this country.

  9. ‘For the law isn’t and shouldn’t be based upon morality. ‘

    But in many cases (but not always) immorality is the same as behaviour which is, or might be, socially damaging either immediately or over the course of time.

    ‘We currently have laws against the ingestion of recreational pharmaceuticals on no more basis that I can divine than that they are immoral.’

    They’re ‘immoral’ because widespread abuse could damage society cf China/opium, 18th century London/gin.

  10. So Much For Subtlety

    For example, take the vexed question of abortion. At one end we have those who insist that it is immoral, anywhen and anywhere. I include myself among these extremists. At the other end of the spectrum there are those who would at the very least encourage abortion if not actually insist upon it….. No, we cannot base the law on such moral visions.

    We have some people who think abortion is murder and we have some other people who think it is so peachy it ought to be all but compulsory. I am sorry but those two moral visions cannot long coexist. Someone has to win. At the moment it is the latter. But both revolve around an inherently moral question of the value of the unborn.

  11. Richie thinks Punitive taxation of ‘wealth’ is moral. Others think abolishing private education is moral. ‘moral’ these days seems to just mean a fanatically held point of view.

  12. Politicians lecturing on morality?

    I think Cameron’s been misunderstood.

    What everyone has done is to assume that MPs and PMs have the same moral code as most people, although has been shown time and time again not to be the case. They have then used this as a basis for judging Carr.

    Carr has taken the view that”it’s a fair cop, guv” and this morning he is withdrawing ffrom the scheme.

    This is what is morally repugnant to Cameron and all of his ilk.

    The normal politician’s approach is to deny it ever happened; when it’s proved to be true, say you knew nothing about it and as a last resort blame it on a junior employee or minister. This is morally correct in a politician’s eyes.

    So, yes I agree that we shouldn’t create laws on the basis of morality, but that’s rather because I don’t fancy the morals of those who put themselves into the position of lawmakers…

  13. SE,

    And an LVT, of course, will be the world’s first perfect, problem-free, unavoidable tax? Bollocks, frankly..

    You own a piece of land, you pay the tax on it. You can’t hide it or have it off the books or shift it abroad. If your name is on the deed, you pay the tax.

    And no, it’s not perfect. What in this life is ever perfect? It’s about a question of better or worse, so why don’t you say why it’s worse than say, income tax or VAT?

  14. The law is all about morality.. and it’s pretty daft to suggest anything else. The question, therefore, is whose morality.. and the answer must be ‘the citizenry’.

    What David Cameron finds to be morally problematic is bugger all to do with anything except insofar as he gets to add his opinion to the weight of others who agree with him.

    If a majority both agree with him, and consider that the morality should be forced on others, then he may legitimately legislate.

    There are plenty of people who support ‘sanctions’ against people who shag folk they’re not supposed to shag, and adultry is a serious crime in some countries.. with legitimate democratic support.

    Not all morals will find there way into law, but there’s not a great deal of law without a moral root.

  15. What’s wrong with the LVT? Assuming you’re proposing a high enough tax rate to replace a significant part of income tax and VAT revenue, here are a few things:

    1) Income tax and VAT are taken out of transactions, which means that you’ve definitely got the money to pay the tax. Taxing assets is different.

    2) What’s the advantage of taxing land value rather than (fixed) property value? The interaction with the laws on planning permission is going to be difficult to manage (and hasn’t been properly discussed in any proposal I’ve seen).

    3) There’s a major injustice in changing over from income tax to LVT, in that existing landowners will often have bought their land with taxed income.

    4) Proponents of the LVT often claim that it can replace income tax (see Tim A above). They also claim that it will reduce land value, because people won’t be keen to hold land they have to pay tax on. So who is going to pay all the tax?

  16. Paul:

    1 is a pseudo-economist version of the Widow Twankee gambit. “Old people can roll it up until they die”, sorted, nobody will run out of liquidity apart from people who are about to be bust anyhow.

    2 doesn’t make any sense. LV includes planning permission V, but not the value of stuff that’s been built. That’s really easy and is done for all commercial property already (the building is depreciated; the land and permissions are viewed as the land).

    3 is nonsense, in that all everything is out of taxed something. People who call “double tax” are silly; your income has been VAT-ed and NI-ed and income taxed, and then when you spend on a thing it’s VAT-ed and NI-ed and income taxed again. This is no more unjust than anything else.

    4 oh come on, you can’t possibly be that daft. The value of the land falls by the value of the ongoing tax incidence. It’s a one-off thing after which the land still has significant value.

  17. “For the law isn’t and shouldn’t be based upon morality.”

    Sorry, Tim, but what you’re saying there is simply, we shouldn’t have political parties.
    Because that’s all political parties are Groups of people who see the world through a similar moral prism & wish to impose their morals on the rest of us. The remainder of it’s sales patter. There’s nothing ‘fair’ about redistribution of wealth & nothing ‘fair’ about being able to enjoy the fruits of endeavour, because there’s no ‘fair’. It’s simply an attempt to impose a moral code on behaviour. Politics is about picking the winners & losers. Vested interests.
    Essentially, this is why there never has been & never will be a successful, truly libertarian party. Whole concept’s a contradiction in terms. Something libertarians need to get their heads around. You want your libertarian society your going to have to impose your ‘morality’ – because that’s what it is- just like any other party. Which ultimately means at gun-point, because you’ll never achieve unanimous support. And I’ve yet to meet a libertarian who’s the stomach for it.

  18. > Various tax laws?

    Why do we have tax laws? Well.. because we have tax.. and why do we have tax? Well.. because we’ve all decided to club together and do certain things which we have agreed are good (and moral) things.. and we need to pay for them, and we think that the moral way to do that is to mandate that everyone must pay a share.. and our tax laws govern what that share is.

    So, yes, there’s a moral root to tax law because there is a moral root to tax.

  19. “we cannot base the law on such moral visions”: I suspect that Tim is using moral/morality in a way common in England and the USA i.e. he’s referring to sexual morality. A daft usage, if you ask me, but no-one did.

  20. To various commenters above.

    Yes, in toto, laws are based on morality in the broadest sense, insofar as those elected should (ha!) reflect the morality of the majority.

    But many people do not vote and the membership – at least the voluntary membership – of political parties is a tiny fraction of the electorate.

    Can anyone believe that it is “moral” to listen to, read, or record anyone else’s private correspondence or conversations?

    If it doesn’t work in a sample of three people, it doesn’t work in a bigger population. What I mean is, if you were proposing to your girlfriend in the pub, you wouldn’t want me to lean over and give her a bit of advice, would you?

    So currently, laws are passed on the borderline of what increased powers politicians can invoke to suppress the freedom of the people and the laws that will invoke civil unrest.

    Currently, that borderline seems to me to be one nanometre wide.

  21. Thought Gang (#23) said “we have tax laws …. because we’ve all decided to club together and do certain things ”

    Nonsense. None of us decided – we were all born into it.

    We have tax because someone realised way back when that they could get away with it.

    We still have tax because a lot of people benefit from it, some more think they benefit but aren’t very good at maths, a few know they don’t benefit but still think it’s a good idea, and most of the rest think that the cost of doing something about it (whether a new political party or an armed revolution) is greater than the cost of paying the tax.

    Not much morality in there.

  22. I have never been asked if I want to be taxed. Never been asked how I want my taxes to be used. Never been asked if I want my taxes used to fund wars (and if I did, which wars).
    General election, we get to elect local politicians. Then the party with the most seats will decide issues like taxes, changes in taxes, closing loopholes, creating loopholes etc.

  23. I don’t really know why I didn’t think of this before, but perhaps Jimmy should have just said: “And Lord Hansen?”

  24. “Pulling together is the aim of despots and tyrannies. Free men pull in all kinds of directions.”
    Lord Vetinari – Patrician, Ankh-Morpork

  25. @ Tim Newman

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adultery#Criminal_penalties

    @ Richard/Martin

    I was talking more in the sense of ‘we’ as a the population of a representative democracy. I accept that the theory and practice of such system are not especially alike.. but leaving aside what *you* fell you have or have not chosen, I think there’s a fair amount of evidence to support the fact that society, as a whole, thinks we should have tax. If not… then, pray tell, how the fuck have we avoided any semblance of a popular movement calling for the alternative?

  26. I thougt we did have a popular movement calling for less tax to be paid. Its why us business people use accountants. Its why people choose to stick savings into ISAs rather than regular bank savings accounts. Its why some set up companies to receive payments and then take a salary and dividend from their own company. As individuals we have a desire to not pay lots of tax. Some people want others to pay more regardless.
    Society as a whole wants certain things. Government chooses to pay for those things by taxing its people. Possibly because taxing foreigners only or simply invading other places and taking their wealth doesn’t give all the money required….

  27. john b#21:
    1) I don’t understand your answer. Are you saying they’d be an option to defer paying the tax until death? It’s not going to raise much revenue for a while then is it? And what happens when land values collapse and the rolled-up tax exceeds what you can sell it for?

    2. Yes, I understand what you mean by Land Value, I just don’t see why you think it’s a good idea to tax that separately from the buildings. The implication is that anyone who gets planning permission is going to have to use it immediately to be able to afford to pay the tax, and will have financing problems while building goes on. Why is that desirable?

    3. You’ve not understood the point, which is that the proposal shifts the tax burden from people who earn money to people who own land. That means typically from younger people to older. The older people who’ve already paid the income tax and now own the land would, over their lifetimes, be hit by both taxes. And they’ll suffer a dramatic fall in the value of the land they’ve paid for to boot.

    4. You need to think about the numbers. Take a person with an income tax bill of £100k, and hence a pre-tax income of about £250k. They might typically own a house worth £1m, of which the land value is £500k. To abolish income tax, you’d need to impose a land-value tax on that of £100k annually. What’s the land worth when it carries that tax burden? I would say zero.

    So now land values have collapsed to zero. How are you going to raise any tax?

  28. 1) people without sufficient income to pay the tax would be able to roll it up until death. There are very few people living in expensive houses on low incomes, so this wouldn’t make much aggregate difference, but would deal with one of the most popular objections.

    2) If cashflows are a significant problem for builders, we can roll LVT up on properties that are under construction, so it’s paid on sale. But the reason for having it is particularly important here: at the moment, someone who gets planning permission is given hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of free wealth by the government. Taxing this donation is only fair.

    3) Yes, I missed your point. Since the effect of the trajectory of house prices relative to incomes over the last 50 years has been to massively enrich the elderly at the expense of the young, a tax that disproportionately taxes people who benefited from the house price boom is only a good thing from an equity point of view.

    4) Obviously, you base the tax on what the land value would be without the tax. Just as income tax is calculated on your income before it’s taxed, not on your income after the effects of the tax.

  29. PaulB,

    1. We could defer the tax, yes. Or people could move from expensive to cheap locations. If they’re not earning, it doesn’t matter if they’re in London or Sunderland, does it?

    2. Because it’s about what is external to the land. Most land value is not created or destroyed by the owner, but by external factors. Government improves the rail line and your house price goes up. Except it’s not the house, it’s the land that the house sits on that has gone up.

    3. Older people also have children, who they’d like to house (although most of them can’t seem to grasp that their house price going up means their kids pay more).

    4. No, it isn’t worth zero. If you sell tourist tat outside the Tower of London, you’re going not going to live in Bolsover. You’ll pay the price or find another job elsewhere.

  30. john b:
    4) so your nice simple tax on land value has now become a tax on an unobservable number determined by a Notional Land Value Commissariat.

    I think you’d find this tax rather difficult to collect. I’d sell the land my house stands on to an overseas holding company for about its market value (zero), entering into a 999-year leaseback with a contractually predetermined ground rent at a modest level reflecting the market value of the land. Regrettably, the overseas company would find itself unable to pay the LVT tax bill you send it. Now what are you going to do? (There are many expensive apartment buildings in London with a similar ownership structure already.)

  31. Martin

    There is, indeed, plenty of call for lower taxes, different taxes, and higher taxes (generally on ‘someone else’, naturally). This is all reflected in the fact that governments continually tinker about with the tax system in order to try and keep the right number of people happy. I am not suggesting that they’ve done a good job of that.

    What I’m looking for is the popular movement for *no* tax. And there isn’t one. And therefore I conclude that, overwhelmingly, ‘we’ have decided that tax is something that ‘we’ should have.

  32. @37
    “1. We could defer the tax, yes. Or people could move from expensive to cheap locations. If they’re not earning, it doesn’t matter if they’re in London or Sunderland, does it?”

    Not for the first time I find myself thinking that LVTers are a rather unpleasant lot of ideologues who regard other people as economic pawns to be moved around at will to fit their grand plans.

  33. The Thought Gang: “What I’m looking for is the popular movement for *no* tax. And there isn’t one. And therefore I conclude that, overwhelmingly, ‘we’ have decided that tax is something that ‘we’ should have.”

    wikipedia: “By finding patterns in stories of violence and abuse, de Becker seeks to highlight the inherent predictability of violence. The book explores various settings where violence may be found—the workplace, the home, the school, dating—and describes what de Becker calls pre-incident indicators (PINS)… Forced Teaming. This is when a person tries to pretend that he has something in common with a person and that they are in the same predicament when that isn’t really true.”

    Damn, comparing opponents to rapists. I’m turning into IanB.

    And PaulB, Business Rates have already taken care of your invented problem, it’s a non-issue.

  34. UNCIVILIZED
    An ancient ape, once on a time,
    Disliked exceedingly to climb,
    And so he picked him out a tree
    And said, “Now this belongs to me.
    I have a hunch that monks are mutts
    And I can make them gather nuts
    And bring the bulk of them to me,
    By claiming title to this tree.”

    He took a green leaf and a reed
    And wrote himself a title deed,
    Proclaiming pompously and slow:
    “All monkeys by these presents know”.
    Next morning when the monkeys came
    To gather nuts, he made his claim:
    “All monkeys climbing on this tree
    Must bring their gathered nuts to me,
    Cracking the same on equal shares;
    The meats are mine, the shells are theirs.”

    “But by what right?” they cried, amazed,
    Thinking the ape was surely crazed
    By this”, he answered; “if you’ll read
    You’ll find it is a title deed,
    made in precise and formal shape
    And sworn before a fellow ape,
    Exactly on the legal plan
    Used by that wondrous creature, man,
    In London, Tokyo, New York,
    Glengarry, Kalamazoo and Cork.

    Unless my deed is recognized,
    It proves you quite uncivilized.”
    “But”, said one monkey, “You will agree
    It was not you who made this tree.”
    “Nor”, said the ape, serene and bland,
    “Does any owner make his land,
    Yet all of its hereditaments
    Are his and figure in the rents.”

    The puzzled monkeys sat about
    They could not make the question out.
    Plainly, by precedent and law,
    The ape’s procedure showed no flaw;
    And yet, no matter what he said;
    The stomach still denied the head.

    Up spoke one sprightly monkey then:
    “Monkeys are monkeys, men are men;
    The ape should try his legal capers
    On men who say respect his papers.
    We don’t know deeds; we do know nuts,
    And spite of ‘ifs’ and ‘ands’ and ‘buts’
    We know who gathers and unmeats ’em,
    By monkey practice also eats ’em.
    So tell the ape and all his flunkies
    No man tricks can be played on monkeys”
    Thus, apes still climb to get their food,
    Since monkeys’ minds are crass and crude
    And monkeys, all so ill-advised,
    Still eat their nuts, uncivilized.

    – Edmund Vance Cooke (1866-1932)

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