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Conflation: a mistake… or a tactic?

There is an article by Mark Easton on the BBC site which is a classic example of ‘conflation’.

So if buying a dodgy laptop or some smuggled cigarettes were to be regarded as socially beyond the pale, then the black market would crumble.

If offered an implausibly cheap laptop by someone, should you buy it even though you know that odds are it is almost certainly stolen?

  • No, because the theft of private property is morally indefensible.

If offered implausibly cheap cartons of cigarettes by someone, should you buy them even though you know it is almost certainly smuggled in from a country that taxes them at a much lower rate than the UK?

  • Yes, because the theft of private property is morally indefensible, and that includes when governments do it. Odds are they were legally purchased in France.

So here we have an example of meta-context at work again… perhaps.

Mark Easton, writing on the website of the tax funded state broadcaster, conflates the theft of private property (selling a stolen laptop) with avoiding the taxation by the state (which is to say the state taking your money). Hell, chances are the cigarettes have been taxed (in France), just at a less rapacious rate. So all that is really happening is some enterprising soul is doing a bit of arbitrage.

There is nothing moral about obediently paying whatever your political masters demand of you, but it is most certainly immoral to knowingly purchase stolen property. But these are not the same things.

It is possible that such a notion that these are quite different (which is to say he is making a category error) never even crossed Mark Easton’s mind, given that within a statist meta-context, it is an unspoken and unexamined ‘given’ that moral relationships between the state and an individual are inverted.

But then as he writes for that tax funded bastion of intrusive regulatory statism, the BBC, who knows? For all I know this may be a conscious tactic, just another example of the “But think of the children…” method.

Think of it this way

If acquiescing to rapacious taxation and pervasive regulation of our lives were to be regarded as socially beyond the pale, then the black market would not be necessary in the first place.

Stick that in yer meta-context an’ smoke it, Mister Easton.

30 comments to Conflation: a mistake… or a tactic?

  • Paul Marks

    Perry is correct.

    The reason these people (for example the BBC person) think that not paying tax (not matter how absurdly high the tax is) is the same as stealing the property of other people, is because they think all income and wealth really belong to the collective – and that income and wealth is (or should be) “distributed” rather than privately owned – as all income and wealth really belong to “the people” (read “the state).

    It is the doctrine of John Rawls – and it makes as much sense as his theory that the doctrine of the Holy Trinity proves that socialism is correct.

    By the way the “Black Market” is not normally (historically) about taxes – it is about avoiding PRICE CONTROLS.

    These people (Western “Progressives”) seem to believe that prices should be set by the collective.

    They are bad – as bad (in their principles) as the rulers of Argentina and Venezuela.

  • steve

    The dodgiest statement he makes is “the black market would crumble”. Not a chance. The most controlled societies in history have tried and failed.

  • Johnnydub

    This is part of the lefts onslaught on common sense – that is to say that the UK (and most other western governemnts) don’t have a spending problem, it has a tax collection problem.

    Which is frankly bollocks…

  • Laird

    While I don’t disagree with anything Perry said, there is a bit more to the article than his essay would suggest. It’s not primarily about tax avoidance, but about discouraging theft. The author’s point is that social pressure can change perceptions and then actions. And it’s correct. I view the phrase about “smuggled cigarettes” to be basically a throw-away line, not integral to the author’s point. Yes, he probably does conflate tax avoidance with theft, but that’s beside the main point. And changing public attitudes toward the purchase of stolen goods probably would tend, in the long run, to reduce property crime. Which is entirely consistent with libertarian principles, as Perry has noted.

  • RRS

    Laird -

    Ah! Yes! we are really nibbling around the subject of:

    The Services Of Thieves

    A wonderful potential title for a scholarly work.

    It would of course have large segments on the political class and the services rendered and how rewarded.

    [A laptop may, or may not, have been stolen; but there is no doubt where and how the political class gets what it offers]

  • Sam Duncan

    Johnnydub: Indeed.

    (I deliberately chose a long series there, but in fact the chart for 1990 to projected-2015 is almost as stark.)

  • Stuck-Record

    ” is because they think all income and wealth really belong to the collective “

    Slight correction. All otherpeople’s ‘income and wealth’.
    They ain’t giving up any houses in Hampstead or villas in Tuscany, then you very much.

  • Bill Reeves

    Statists are just modern day Puritans. Instead of worshiping Yah-weh, they worship State-weh. And sins against one’s God are the worst sins of all. Of course the leftists have a very modern set of tabus – instead of regulating sexual consumption, they want to regulate food, drink, and mind altering drug consumption. Instead of requiring you to attend Church and punishing you when you don’t they require you to participate in their (depending on the country) healthcare scheme, public school, war on drugs upon pain of punishment. Finally, like the original puritans today’s puritans are convinced that they have found the one true way to heaven. And it’s better that the great unwashed be punished and coerced to do the right thing rather than fall into food or environmental error.

  • It’s not primarily about tax avoidance, but about discouraging theft (…) Yes, he probably does conflate tax avoidance with theft, but that’s beside the main point.

    But my suspicion is that it is not just a throw away line. He makes perfectly reasonable points about the desirability of society rejecting theft, and then conflated that with avoiding taxation. That is why it is a variety of the “But what about the children” tactic.

    We are going to raise your taxes and this will benefit our children! You don’t agree? You mean you don’t care about our children?

    …It is just a variant of that he is doing, either consciously or un-consciously.

    People should not approve of theft… well yeah that rather goes without saying I would have thought, what else is new? The point itself is unremarkable even if I agree with it completely. Which is also why I do not really believe that “I think people should not buy stolen good” is actually the ‘payload’ of this article but rather merely the carrier, the missile’s booster, not the warhead… the bit everyone worth convincing will agree with anyway and get them nodding.

    And this depreciation of theft means you should not purchase a box of fags that does not give money to the Chancellor of the Exchequer… writes the man publishing his words on the website of the state’s tax funded media operation.

    Ah, I get it now, I see where this article is coming from. I just thought I might as well point that out to everyone else ;-)

  • Mr Ed

    So if buying a dodgy laptop or some smuggled cigarettes were to be regarded as socially beyond the pale, then the black market would crumble.

    This is an appeal to a voluntary boycott, on the basis, it seems, that your personal disutility from being involved in a ‘black market’ outweighs the mere gain of the cheaper price, and perchance the delight of an illicit deal.

    There is no ‘black market’, but rather the abetting of theft, fraud, conversion of stolen goods, or the truer market, where, say, fags may be bought at a price closer to what would be the true price absent government interference, be it rationing, licensing, prohibition or excise.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Bill Reeves
    October 31, 2013 at 5:45 pm

    A nice point, but when you make it to a Progressive the invariable counter-argument is “But liberals aren’t against sex!”

  • GoneWithTheWind

    If the government taxes/takes money from people against their will under the threat of imprisonment or worse if they refuse to comply, is it then immoral to work for any tax funded organization?

  • bloke in spain

    “Odds are they were legally purchased in France.”
    Er…Belgium, more likely. Mont Noir is favourite with most French, the west end of Département Nord. Much cheaper than France. Luxembourg if you’re further east.
    As for laptops. And indeed iPads. Most of us buy our own. Unlike politicians who expect the taxpayer to pay for them. Them being the operative word, as they all seem to indent for several.

  • veryretired

    Two points—

    One, there was a major study published in the last few years that surveyed the “shadow economy” around the world and found that it was enormous, accounting for a large percentage of the total economies of some countries.

    It was a well known feature of all the various totalitarian “soviets” around the world that nothing ever got done unless there was something under the table, and that actually obtaining a scarce good or service almost certainly involved either political influence or some type of undocumented payment.

    The regularly ignored aspect of any black market is that it is a response to a statist encroachment on an activity that ordinary people wish to engage in, and for which there is no rational basis for the ban or onerous controls the state puts on the commercial activity.

    The extent and wealth of any and all black markets are a direct comment on the extent of repressive activity by the state involved.

    As was the case with Prohibition in the US, or drug prohibition around the world today, statist controls reward criminality by feeding large amounts of money into the mouths of criminal groups who would have little influence absent the profits they gain from the black market activities the state has enabled.

    The case against statist over-expansion includes the very powerful, and well documented, argument that the more the state controls, the more corruption and illegal activity is necessarily created.

    The progressive world view, and the implementation of it’s ideology in law, creates criminality, and rewards it with enormous resources.

  • Regional

    In Astraya during the twenties and thirties there was a flourishing trade in cocaine from Java from where coca leaf was exported to the Netherlands for processing into cocaine, a very lucrative trade but the wowsers put a stop it. Likewise authorities try to discourage smoking by taxation but if they encouraged people to smoke there’d be a lot less people on the aged pension and old people in care. The concept of here for a good time not a long time should be encouraged.

  • Regional

    Very Retired Prohibition is classic example of your argument, the Kennedy Family as an example became very wealthy.

  • Should we go back to the days when the French crown broke people on the wheel for smuggling in calico cloth from the British trade with India, or carrying a few pounds of salt across a provincial boundary?

  • Regional

    William,
    Top this, Labor declared war on smoking, but cigarettes are still manufactured in Straya from imported tobacco, the only people put out of business were Strayan tobacco growers, the jobs of Labor voters in the ‘workforce’ in cigarette plants are safe.

  • David

    This is an example of the hypocrisy of Government (?especially Socialist Government?). It’s immoral for private enterprise to raise the cost of living by increasing prices; but it’s a moral duty of citizens to increase their own cost of living by volunteering to pay avoidable tax.

  • Er…Belgium, more likely.

    The people I know who do it just go to Calais.

  • Mr Ed

    Perry, For many years on the Franco-Belgian border, near Watou and Poperinge (in Flanders) there have been many outlets for tobacco and some fine Belgian beers, including the local Hommelbier, some are just farm buildings serving as warehouses, and it seems to be worth the extra fuel to pop over the often unmarked frontier to take advantage of Belgium’s relatively low excise.

    I was suprised in the 1990s to find that the only indication of the border in some areas was the street signs changed.

  • Lee Moore

    After much talk about nudging (in this case not the current progressive idea of structuring the rules to make you do X, but with an opt out, but the idea of relying on social pressure rather than threats of punishment to dissuade you from doing Y) my attention was attracted by this bit towards the end of the article :

    “The authors of the submission suggest, as a first step, the default position should be that anyone found in possession of stolen goods be prosecuted under the Theft Act.”

    This is not really my idea of a nudge – more of a smack across the forehead with a plank.

  • bloke in spain

    @Ed
    Home for a while was ten minutes walk from the border. Regularly saw the cannier Brits shopping at Mont Noir where the ‘high street’, past the frontier sign, is pretty well all fag ‘n booze shops, so you get to compare prices & they take £s at good rates. Doing the Dunkerque rather than Calais crossing saves on the fuel cost of the drive up the coast & is usually cheaper, anyway. The big ELeClerc supermarché just off the A25 Bailluel is popular with Belgians for food shopping. The cheese selection, alone, is worth the visit.
    My favourite border crossing is across the street in Armentiers into La Bizet, Belgium, because that side of the road I can smoke in the bar.

    Now I’ve got 2 hour queues at the Gib frontier. Bloody Spanish!

  • Mr Ed

    @ Bloke in Spain, thanks for the tip on Belgium, I may make it over to Belgium some time. I shall be in Gib in 4 weeks time, and shall not bother to patronise the higher tax side of the frontier. Spain is a clear example of a lawless State.

  • Richard Carey

    I think what’s interesting is the BBC writer’s lack of morality. He doesn’t seem to think there’s anything wrong with stealing, nor does the idea occur to him that people should be taught not to steal, only perhaps that stealing is uncool.

  • Ahem, sorry for the stupid question, but isn’t Europe supposed to be a free-trade zone or something?

  • guy herbert

    There is widespread in the establishment the idea that everything illegal is morally wrong, which readily blurs into the apprehensions that things are illegal only because they are morally wrong, and that breaking the law is in itself immoral. At extremes this leads to promulgating precisely the opposite message, such as the Home Office advertising campaign in lad-mags a few years back whose message was “Don’t rape, it’s illegal.”

  • bloke in spain

    @Mr Ed
    No thanx necessary. Simply a duty discharged. Avoiding paying tax to the UK exchequer doesn’t mean one should pay it to the French, instead.

  • Mr Ed

    Alisa, Europe is meant to be a ‘single’ market rather than a free one, and each state may levy its own duties but almost all levy VAT, which is a demonically complex form of sales tax but which applies to business to business transactions. There are exceptions, some areas have no VAT, e.g Gibraltar, the Canary Islands, Ceuta, Melilla, and Campione d’Italia, an Italian enclave in Switzerland.

    The idea of the single market is that all regulations on trade are harmonised so that you can, as one of Mrs Thatcher’s trade ministers, Lord Young said without realising how fatuous it sounded, buy a television in London take it to Paris and use it there without modification (plugs apart). The upside is that one country cannot set rules with the purpose of excluding foreign manufacturers from within the EU, e.g. by requiring internal components of a toaster to be labelled in Finnish and Swedish.

    So when it comes to the UK, Belgium and France, the UK’s excise rates on alcohol and tobacco are set higher than France and Belgium, so British people cross the Channel to stock up, VAT rates (charged on the sale price including the excise tax) in the 3 countries may be in a band, around 18% to 26% I think, but with France’s excise rates being higher than Belgium’s there is still a margin to be had by buying in Belgium, regardless of the VAT. There is no import tax on goods bought with excise duty and VAT paid in another EU state provided it is for personal use.

    I recall reading that before joining the EU Swedes flocked to Denmark by boat to buy excise duty-free alcohol, and Danes flocked to Germany for the same reason at that time.

  • Thanks for the clarification, Ed. I guess it shouldn’t surprise – after all, this is more or less the situation in the US as well, and the EU was formed with at least a pretense of the US as a model (I know, I know). Oh well.