Greek tax evaders: freedom fighters?
An article in Britain's Daily Telegraph by Tracy Corrigan explores the urgent need for tax reform in Greece, and draws attention to the colossal scale of tax evasion, which for decades has been a national scandal and a threat to social stability.
Tax reform is vital for two reasons. First, the inefficiency of the Greek tax system is one of the main causes of the problem. Currently, tax collection is a bad joke. The self-employed systematically dodge taxes, and since they account for around 35pc of the workforce, and include many doctors and lawyers as well as a plumbers, Greece simply doesn't raise enough taxes to finance its bloated public sector.
Secondly, how can some Greeks be persuaded to accept a pay freeze or take lower pensions, if many in society don't pay their taxes? According to Michael Massourakis, chief economist at Alfa Bank: "This time around, there is an increasing awareness that you have to tackle certain issues that make the system very unfair."
At last, the government is taking on the ludicrous excesses in the public sector and the flagrant abuse by many who are self-employed. It has been accused of "soaking the rich" but it would be more accurate to say that it is soaking the honest. Most truly wealthy Greeks are bone dry. Those who will suffer are the honest doctors and entrepreneurs who now face a marginal tax rate of 45pc. There don't seem to be that many of them. Prior to recent changes, the top marginal tax rate of 40pc kicked in at €75,000 in income; according to Mr Massourakis, this was paid by only 40,000 Greek households, out of a population of 11m.So far, so sensible.
However, if you scroll down to read the reader's comments below the article you get a feel for how the libertarian right wingers who oppose tax, the state and anything to related to the European Union advocate criminal behaviour to further their cause. Take this, for example:
Why should the Greeks pay for a corrupt government and government debt issued fraudulently with the help of Goldman Sachs? Tax evaders are freedom fighters in the face of government fraud, war, bailouts, corruption and waste.
The best the Greece can do for its economy is to leave the Euro and kick out the financial terrorists - Goldman Sachs, JPM et al - and revert to its original system of competing city-states after the Greek state goes bankrupt.
Yes, there has been a lot of corruption, not least on tax matters. Yes, Goldman Sachs' role needs careful scrutiny. But to leap from that to justify tax evasion with the ridiculous claim that Greek tax evaders are freedom fighters is astonishing, to say the least.
Let's be clear about this, tax evasion is a crime. Tax evaders are often amongst the elites in society - the wealthiest and highest paid people are often guilty of tax evasion. Very often these people are closely associated with those who hold power (Greece is not alone in this respect) and they have tailored the tax system very much to their own self-interested purposes. And a number of Greek journalists have confirmed to this blogger that there is no tradition in Greece of withholding tax to protest against war, or nuclear weapons, as is the case in some European countries. Tax evasion in Greece is just a symptom of a deep rooted malaise amongst those who never accepted the transition to a democratic state.
Tax evasion is amongst the most insidious forms of corruption since it involves theft of public property and is a direct attack on the integrity of the laws, rules and institutions which lie at the root of the social contract. Tax evasion is fundamentally anti-democratic. This is why TJN regards evasion as an affront to social justice.
Are tax evaders freedom fighters? No. They're self-absorbed and selfish criminals.