Richard Murphy is an interesting accountant. That's a sentence I don't write very often! Murphy has been quietly gaining a reputation as a commentator on what is happening in our economy and wider society from the perspective of taxation. Now, this doesn't sound riveting but just consider these two observations.
First, the Greek financial crisis is partly - if not mainly - a crisis of the non-payment of tax by the rich, by businesses and, by example, of anyone who can get away with it. If government coffers are denied income, spending will inevitably lead to problems.
Second, that the £50bn evaded or avoided by UK tax payers - corporate and individual - would go quite a long way to solving our own deficit problems without punishing the poor for the sins of the wealthy.
I believe that paying tax is a sign that we love our neighbours - as Paul says in Romans 13:6-7 as he reflects on what it means to love one another. So, I confess that I read the article and commentary by Nick Cohen in yesterday's Observer with my jaw in my breakfast cereal this morning (you can read it here and here).
In short, he is reporting a pretty significant spat in the House of Commons over the behaviour of the head of the Inland Revenue. MPs on the Public Accounts Select Committee have accused Dave Hartnett of lying to them and called on Gus O'Donnell, the cabinet secretary, to sack him. Why? Because he has cut deals enabling some of the richest institutions in the UK so they can avoid paying billions of pounds worth of tax. The list of beneficiaries includes Goldman Sachs and Vodafone. The fact that he has enjoyed 107 lunches over the past two years with large corporations, the big four accountancy firms and countless merchant and investment adds to the picture of a somewhat cosy relationship between Britain's tax collector-in-chief and many of the groups who pay little or no tax.
This at a time when a number of PAYE customers of HMRC are being hounded for underpaid tax because the Revenue seems incapable of doing something as simple as programming its computers correctly. We should not be surprised if people lose faith in the tax system because they feel they are paying their due while those with influence and sharp-suited accountants are robbing us blind. Isn't this what has happened in Greece?
Which brings us back to Richard Murphy, a man who thinks that we need to bring capitalism back under democratic control. We need to note that he's not anti-capitalist (a term that is so devoid of meaning as to be completely useless in describing anything or anyone). He thinks that this begins (though doesn't end) with a just, accountable and transparent tax system where people and corporations pay what they owe. He blogs here and anyone interested in charting a way to a saner, more just society ought to read his stuff.