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Greg Wise and the Sealions

February 8, 2016

Isn’t it time we stopped sea lioning the debate about tax avoidance?

“Sea lioning” is a useful new internet coinage that originates with this cartoon – you start off talking on the internet about something and are constantly interrupted by people – polite, reasonable-sounding people – asking you to back up your statements.   What’s wrong with that, you say?  Speaking as a trainee academic, absolutely nothing, I reply.  Except sealioning isn’t quite that…

For the person doing it, it’s a way of avoiding the issue by tying up the opponent in red tape.  Make them prove their assertions, their arguments, their premises line by line.  The earth is round, you say?  Can you cite your evidence for that, please?

For the person on the receiving end, it’s like arguing with a sponge.  It soaks up all your time and energy and gives nothing back.

Every time there’s a story about tax avoidance, every, single, time, there are the same arguments.  It’s all legal.  Companies are only maximising shareholder returns as they’re obliged to do.  The law is too complicated, but that’s the responsibility of law makers, not the tax industry.

I like following this kind of thing on twitter.  There’s a lively bunch of tax mavens on twitter but the use of a hashtag means there are all kinds of people joining in the debate.  It’s a bit like shouting at the television, but the television shouts back.

Any programme about tax, like the Dispatches programme I’ve just watched?  First random example I clicked on:

Do you think we could just park that, park all the other “avoidance is perfectly legal” arguments for the moment, the length of the tax code, the tax is theft arguments, add your own favourite.  Just park them.  Just for the moment.

There.

Now.  Some people think paying tax is voluntary.  Can we perhaps agree that this is a bad idea, and work back from that?

 

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