Guest post by R. SRIVATSAN
Reflections on the many paradoxes of the demonetization process: the schizophrenia of the BJP, the desire of the well to do, the baffling sacrifice of the have nots, the faults and fault lines that propagate through our society in crisis.
Narendra Modi and Arun Jaitley, in their brilliant strategy to kill black money through the withdrawal of currency, show no basic understanding of what the term ‘black money’ signifies. Prabhat Patnaik has recently argued there is no such thing as black money – there is only a black economy. However, one aspect of the black economy is the refusal to pay taxes and instead hoard wealth in the form of currency that is not recorded in bank deposits. Another is the payment of bribes with untraceable currency to authorities and politicians who use their position of leverage as personal property on which they charge a rent for use. Both these uses of black money as corruption have a common lineage. In both cases, corruption is the failure of categories that were supposed to have been water-tight. A) “All income is taxable” B) “Public servants are true servants of the people”
But first, here is an attempt to shake our convictions that the refusal to pay taxes is a moral evil. To do so, let me take the example of a Hollywood film, Stranger than Fiction (2006). The plot of this film, which has a quite complex fantasy storyline, baits the viewer’s desire through the emerging love interest between an IRS auditor Harold Crick and his investigative target Ana Pascal, who runs a bakery. Ana is a conscientious objector against taxation. She argues that she openly defies taxation since she doesn’t support the hegemonic objectives of the USA which spends most of its revenue income on weapons of war and destruction. Ana is thus the beautiful and charming face of morally upright conscientious objection which masks the libertarian hatred for a state that taxes more than minimally. As Robert Nozick asserted long ago such taxation is seen as thievery, against the sacred right to private property. Ana’s position thus also masks the refusal to redistribute wealth through welfare. As a viewer, I found it extremely difficult to think of Ana as an evil person. She was the most charming free-spirit I had encountered on celluloid (well, on a TV screen) for a long time. The objective of this sub-plot of film criticism is to help the reader shed the ready moral judgement that not paying taxes is a universal crime and a sin against society, so that it becomes possible to examine exactly what the complex nature of the act that constitutes tax evasion is. Continue reading Corrupt Notes – the Black Comedy of Tragic Error: R Srivatsan