IT cannot be easy being a comedian whom people are laughing at rather than with.
Let's hear it, then, for Jimmy Carr who, it has been revealed, is using a Jersey-based scheme to pay the minimum of tax on his income of more than £3 million a year.
This is the same Mr Carr who, in the past, has mercilessly mocked bankers for the kind of arrangement of which he himself has been a beneficiary. His next appearance on Have I Got News For You? cannot come soon enough.
Carr is one among thousands of people in Britain who are well able to pay tax but choose not to, preferring to engage accountants to find ways for them to beat the system. There is, one hastens to say, nothing legally wrong with this but where Carr is concerned the hypocrisy is breathtaking. Like those who preached family values and then fell for the charms of an under-clad doxy, he has made himself a laughing stock which, one trusts, will severely dent his future earning power.
Non-payment of tax, however, is no laughing matter. If all of us were to behave like Carr there is every chance this country would be in a similar pickle to that in which Greece finds itself. While one has sympathy for many Greeks, especially those who had little to begin with, there are many others who deserve all the austerity Angela Merkel can throw at them. For the Greeks, as Alistair Darling has said, paying income tax is generally regarded as "optional".
There, the mantra is "only the stupid pay tax". Greece, it's often said, is a poor country full of very rich people. Successive governments have tacitly accepted the population's aversion to paying tax, doing too little to pursue those who refuse to stump up. The result is the present dire situation, with the Greeks still living in cloud-cuckoo-land and refusing to accept responsibility for their own fiscal profligacy.
Nor is this an uncommon phenomenon. Other EU countries are just as culpable. Take Italy, where tax avoidance is as much a part of the culture as chianti and olive oil. Recently, a friend booked a holiday villa and agreed a price, one-third of which was to be paid up front and in cash, none of which, needless to add, is likely ever to reach the coffers of the Rome treasury. Shortly afterwards the villa's owner asked if my friend could possibly pay the outstanding sum, again in cash.
My friend also tells of an Italian acquaintance who had to bribe a civil servant in order to get permission for building work on her house. Much the same pertains in Greece where civil servants are threatening to strike as thousands of them are about to be made redundant, which is what many of them have been for decades.
While we may bemoan such practices it ill behoves us to gloat. In recent years we have increasingly adopted similar attitudes to our continental neighbours. Whenever we offer a workman real money we surely know that none of it will ever been seen by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We may not be avoiding paying tax ourselves but we are aiding and abetting someone who is.
No-one likes paying it but most of us believe it is a necessary evil if we want to live in an ordered society. But what is truly intolerable is knowing that, while we are doing our bit, others who are much better off are not doing theirs.
That is why it is so important for Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs to pursue and prosecute anyone who neglects to do so, whether it be a solitary dodger or Rangers FC. For better or worse, taxes have been with us since before the days of Christ and will be long after Jimmy Carr's jokes have dried up.
So we'd better get used to paying them. The alternative is the disintegration of the state and most of the services we take for granted. Or, as WB Yeats put it, albeit in another millennium and in a different context: "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
"Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world."
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