The heart of this debate is the question of altruism. My feeling is that Members of all parties often feel that people constructing sophisticated avoidance schemes are insufficiently altruistic. There are a wide range of perspectives on that. Rarely in this country do we hear the cry, “All tax is theft”, but at one extreme there is the rather childish hysteria of objectivism, which totally rejects all altruism, and at the other there is the altruism of the state collective.
As it happens, I believe that having the state collective as the basis of all altruism is extremely dangerous. I am a great believer in individual altruism, so I say to the wealthy that they should not only pay their taxes as Parliament intends but be altruistic and engage in philanthropy wherever they can. Let us win the moral high ground for lower taxes so that people can give more voluntarily and demonstrate that voluntary individual altruism is a better basis for society than coercion. I believe that liberty is the proper context for all virtue. There is very little virtue in obedience to an inescapable authority or in simply submitting to the pay-as-you-earn tax system, but there is a great deal of virtue in someone making their fortune and choosing to give it away.
There seems to be a suggestion inherent in the debate that people who are wealthy have in some sense done something wrong. If somebody in business has at every step created value for other people without force or fraud, they are justly wealthy. If people believe that wealth has been obtained by criminal acts of force or fraud, criminal prosecutions should be pursued. If people are wealthy because they have made a just profit and created value for society, they should be applauded. If we are to have a free, just and prosperous society, we must reconcile ourselves to the notion that profit is a social good.