Friday, 20 August 2021

Tax technology opportunities

Are new tax technologies something to fear or an opportunity to do things differently?

One of the contentions in my book Rethinking Taxation (2014), repeated in several blog posts around the time, was that IT advances could change taxation in the same way that it changed other aspects of our lives.

We are now starting to see these developments happening. Real time taxation has been introduced in the UK and an article in today’s Financial Times explains how HMRC is increasingly making use of big data.

This can make tax easier for taxpayers and make it easier for HMRC to crack down on fraud. 



New taxation, new economy

My argument has always been that this opens up the possibility of making the whole economic system much fairer. 

We can calculate everyone’s tax-rate in a more personalized manner without the bureaucratic challenges this would have made this impossible in the past. 

Technology will make it possible to apply a much more thorough tax base, taking much better account of the gains that each person gets from society. 

Put together, these reforms would tax the economically fortunate much more and provide direct support to the less fortunate, skewing the benefits economy back towards working people. 

This can be achieved without the discouragement to work that some people accuse tax-and-redistribute programmes of. 

You can find out more about my proposals for a different way of working out who should get what in society by reading my book Rethinking Taxation, reading some blogs I wrote around the time, or watching some videos I made.

Should we be concerned about the developments?

Legitimate concerns remain about the digital divide and an overpowering state. My view is that these IT developments are going to continue anyway, so we have to hold the state to account and make sure that technology is used to make things better for the citizens.

My proposals should help in this regard by building direct distribution to individuals into the system, not leaving resources directly under the control of politicians or bureaucrats.

We should be concerned, but this just means we have to uphold our duties as citizens to keep ourselves informed and to hold our government(s) to account. We have to demand that the system supports those who aren’t digital natives, that the state does not adopt arbitrary powers, and that the system is making society fairer not less fair.

Taxation for the future

Governments might not be as innovative with technology as the private sector, but we voters can demand that they use the technology available in ways that improve our lives and society.

New taxation technology creates the opportunity to have a fairer economy, if only we demand it.

Monday, 9 August 2021

My courses for 2021-2

 I haven't had much time for blogging lately, but I feel I should make the effort to list the courses I will be offering to any adults who wish to take one this coming academic year. 

I will be involved in many times more courses than usual, though some of them I'm just chairing. As always, you can see the list of upcoming courses here, though for some reason the Political philosophy: An introduction online course isn't yet linked with my name though I will be teaching it again. 

This list is organized by start date but does not indicate my role. I will also be chairing some of the lectures and day schools so these appear on the list above. 

I will therefore list the courses I am actually teaching below in a more systematic manner. The main split is between those in Oxford and those which are online (in many cases there will be an online and an Oxford version of the same course topic):

Courses in Oxford

Autumn/Winter

10 week course - Thursday Evenings, Ewert House

Winter/Spring

10 week course - Tuesday Evenings, Ewert House 

Day School - Saturday 12 February 2022

Day School - Saturday 30 April 2022

Spring/Summer

10 week course - Monday Evenings, Ewert House

Summer Schools

Title TBC
1 week course 

Online Courses

Autumn/Winter

10 week course. Live meetings: Wednesdays 4pm-5pm (UK time) 22 Sep - 01 Dec 2021 

I'm offering one of the 8 Lectures for this Series on climate change, with live discussion sessions as well.

10 week course 

Winter/Spring

10 week course - Live meetings 4pm (UK time) Thursday afternoons 


Day School - Saturday 12 February 2022

Spring/Summer

10 week course - Live meetings 2pm (UK time) Tuesday afternoons 


Tell your friends! 

Tuesday, 29 December 2020

A peek into the magic factory

I am currently pre-recording lectures for a second course, having done one last term as well. 

I thought I would share my set-up, offering you a chance to imagine the magic taking place. 

Desk/equipment configuration

The first here view of the desk and equipment from an angle. 

The first thing I would point out is that I have raised both my laptop and the monitor behind up on boxes and books. 

The aim of this is to make sure that the camera is at eye-height. 

As the camera is at the top of the laptop, having the second screen peering over it means that I don't have to look too far from the camera to view the information on the monitor. 

Basically, I've got my script/prompts directly above the camera. 


Screen configuration


The second photo is of the screens. 

I put the PowerPoint slides on the laptop and the presenter view in a window on the right side of the second screen to indicate what the next slide will be. To do this I start the presentation, then in the presenter view there is an option to 'swap screens' which puts the slides on the laptop and the presenter view on the monitor. Then I take the presenter view off full screen so that I can make it smaller and move it to the side. 

I like to have the Panopto/Replay window on the left-hand side of the monitor. Then I can press record and see the time recorded and the image of myself to make sure it is working. 

After pressing record on Panopto I then get the document to the front, get the cursor down to the presentation and click on that so that it will respond to my clicks thereafter. 

Then I make sure I am smiling at the camera before welcoming everyone to the video.  

Setting it all up in these ways is a bit of a faff of course. It takes a little while to get everything in place, but I think it is worth it. Once it is all set up everything is right where you need it and you can just go through your presentation without too much difficulty. 

So that is it! That is the way I've been setting up for my lecture recordings.  

What do others think? Does anyone have any thought, suggestions, tips or tricks? 

Thursday, 26 November 2020

Learning for Free: Academic resources for non-affiliated students and scholars

Most of my students in adult education do not have an 'institutional login' which would enable them to access online books and journals that are behind paywalls. 

That is true also of independent scholars. 

Indeed, it is true of everyone who wants to learn but isn't a member of a University! 

So, how can people access scholarly work without spending large amounts of money to buy books or access to journal articles. 

Via a local library?

You might be able to access online material in your local library. The Access to Research project aims to make this a possibility in the UK. 

Your local library could arrange for you to borrow a physical copy of a book you were particularly interested in via an 'inter-library loan.' These services may be limited, though. 

If you live near a University they may offer you the chance to enter their library and browse their collections. You may have to apply for permission, of course, but their website should indicate what they offer. 

But what about online resources? What resources available free online

JSTOR

JSTOR is a website that provides articles from very many academic journals (not always the most recent ones though). 

JSTOR are currently (during the pandemic) offering I think 100 free journal articles per month, up from the usual six, so if you can find a journal article via JSTOR you may be able to download it (though not all will be available). You can set up an account here: How to register & get free access to content – JSTOR Support

Academic's own websites 

Some academics make the penultimate version of their paper available, even if the full version is behind a paywall.

They usually do this via their personal or University website, or on their accounts on academic websites such as academia.edu, researchgate, ssrn...

Google scholar often provides links to these free versions of papers when they are available. Clicking on the link will sometimes lead you there, or the pdf link on the right-hand side...or click on the 'all ## versions' to see links to the several versions, some of which may have freely available links (though be a bit careful - these may not be legitimate). 

Image by Gerd Altmann

Old books

Classic books that are out of copyright are often freely available online. 

Project Gutenberg has been working to transcribe classic texts that are out of copyright and make them available to all. 

However, there are many other websites that offer older books, such as google books and many subject specialist websites. 

Book introductions 

You can also often view the first pages of a book online. This can give you an idea of whether it is really useful to you or not before you go on to buy it (or request it from your local library).

Publishers sometimes provide the introductions to their books to tempt people to buy them. 

Google books (and Amazon ‘look-inside’) sometimes show the early parts of a book.

There are often options, if you want to read the first part at least.

Other online resources

There are loads of interesting materials provided online. 

Academic lectures are sometimes available to view to You Tube, or University Websites. 

Specialist podcasts exist in many academic fields, and some of these will be accessible to newcomers. 

Many academic institutions, museums and so on have made their archives available to view online. 

For a collection of free resources (or at least free during the current Pandemic) you could look at this "Curious Minds" collection of recommended online materials.

Free online courses

You need to pay a small fee for the courses I teach. This is to cover the cost of putting the course together, the administrative support, and obviously to pay me for my time. 

However, there are sometimes free courses available via various providers.

The Open University lists its free courses via Open Learn

You can find these listed on sites like Coursera and EdEx (alongside paid courses). Some of these are MOOCS - Massive Open Online Courses, which provide online content for people to work through in their own time.

The idea with these is often that you can view the content (or the first part of a course) for free in the hope that you then pay to get the qualification in it. 

A lot of these free online courses won't have the same active input from a tutor as a paid course would, but they could provide you with a useful introduction to a topic. 

Have I missed any? Let me know! 

As time goes on I hope that more and more academic work will be available without paywalls. "Open access" is becoming more common. 

Academics want their work to be read and influence society after all! 

Of course, publishers want to make money from this work, which is the reason for the limits; if things are free they don't make any money back on their investments. 

Nevertheless, in the shorter term, there are many resources available without becoming a University Student. 

I've listed some above, but do feel free to add further links in the comments below. 

Learning takes time and effort, but it need not necessarily require a lot of money. 

Tuesday, 11 August 2020

Afronomics blog: "The Social Contract, Tacit Consent, and International Taxation"

I'm a little late to report on this, but earlier in the Summer I was pleased to have contributed a blog to a Afronomics law symposium : Taxation and the Social Contract in a Post-Pandemic Era: Domestic and International Dimensions

There are lots of interesting blogs on there so do check it out but I'll put a copy of my essay on here as well for completeness: 

The social contract, tacit consent, and international taxation

What do we owe our states and what do our states owe us? This is a difficult question, sometimes answered by invoking a social contract between the rulers and the ruled which implicitly sets out the rights and responsibilities of each.

Matters get even more complicated where international citizens and multinational corporations are concerned. Are they party to multiple social contracts? Or none? I will argue that if there is a social contract, then those involved in the international tax system—including tax evasion and facilitating novel forms of tax avoidance—are party to it.

The Social contract

Socrates famously chose to face death rather than exile when condemned by his fellow citizens. He felt this was his duty to his fellow Athenians, perhaps an early invocation of the idea that there is a social contract between city and citizen.

The social contract tradition is most associated with thinkers such as Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, who considered what life would be like without a state to set rules and enforce them. This stateless scenario is sometimes called the “state of nature.” Hobbes pessimistically assumed that life without a leviathan state would be ‘solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.’ Locke on the other hand, felt that people would respect and enforce natural rights even without a state.

For Hobbes, a social contract to create a state was necessary to provide peace rather than war of all against all. For Locke the state was necessary because people would not reliably enforce natural rights in the state of nature. Whatever the state of nature is really like—and many such as Rousseau will disagree with both these thinkers—the point is that people would come together to create a state.

Express vs tacit consent

Perhaps there were pre-historic acts of state creation among individuals. More likely there was a gradual process of domination by some over others that over time has got us to where we are. Either way, the idea that we now are bound to the state because some ancestor of ours bound themselves is unconvincing. Their consent is not our consent.

Are there are other ways that we consent to the social contract? Voting and pledges of allegiance have been suggested, but these do not seem like reliable and universal instances of consent. If everyone is forced to do these things, then it cannot be taken as a sign of voluntary consent.

Locke believed that “nobody doubts but an express consent, of any man entering into any society, makes him a perfect member of that society, a subject of that government.” For him, then, immigrants can be said to have given express consent. If they are asked to sign an agreement, such as an immigration visa, then perhaps we can agree they have signed the social contract.

For native-born citizens, Locke felt it was enough to rely on implicit, or tacit, consent. Benefitting from the society, whether that be having “possessions, or enjoyment, of any part of the dominions of any government” is taken as a sign of tacit consent. As a result they are “obliged to obedience to the laws of that government.”

Hume’s criticism of social contract theory

David Hume presented a devastating criticism to the idea that all members of society have tacitly consented by enjoying the benefits of society in his essay “Of the Original Contract.” He pointed out that most people don’t even think about the issue, but even if they did, taking enjoyment from society cannot be a sign of consent.

Hume famously wrote:

Can we seriously say, that a poor peasant or artizan has a free choice to leave his country, when he knows no foreign language or manners, and lives, from day to day, by the small wages which he acquires? We may as well assert, that man by remaining in a vessel, freely consents to the dominion of the master; though he was carried on board while asleep, and must leap into the ocean, and perish, the moment he leaves her.

Hume also rejects contract theory in general for other, controversial reasons, and there are plenty of other criticisms of it. Nevertheless, even Hume accepts that the immigrant who settles in full knowledge of the government and laws represents the “truest tacit consent.”

To recap, we cannot rely on tacit consent providing proof that all members of a given society have agreed to the social contract. However, those who immigrate and those who have no major impediments to leaving do not have the excuse that Hume’s “poor peasant” has.

International Taxation

International taxation has received increasing attention recently, as those involved have been using the system to engage in tax abuse. These activities cost billions of dollars in tax lost tax revenue to states in Africa and elsewhere. There are various forms of tax abuse, some clearly immoral and illegal to others that are in a moral grey area. The aim of the tax abuser is to achieve ‘double non-taxation’ where they pay no (or virtually no) tax in any of the countries in which they do business. We can compare what the business would pay if it its entire operation were in a single country

My claim here is that all those involved in international taxation cannot use Hume’s ‘poor peasant’ excuse to engage in tax abuse. Elites and investors are not forced to benefit from a country. I will consider the relevant parties, using Kenya as an example state.

Multinational companies do not have to have operations in Kenya; they elect to locate there based on the benefits they expect to obtain. If they take advantage of their international set-up to evade taxation, or even reduce their tax rate by taking advantage of spurious loopholes and transfer mispricing, then they are breaking the social contract they signed when setting up in Kenya.

Wealthy international individuals similarly do not have to have investments in Kenya. They choose to engage with Kenya and are therefore bound to the Kenyan people via their contract with the Kenyan state.

Taxation professionals, such as lawyers and accountants, are also bound to the social contract. This is going to be the case if they are outsiders who are benefitting from working in Kenya, or even working with clients with interests in Kenya. However, local professionals are also going to have skills that should provide them with opportunities to leave Kenya; they cannot use the ‘poor peasant’ excuse.

Perhaps we can even add members of the local elite as well. They will often have the resources to be able to leave Kenya and would be welcomed elsewhere.

Other excuses or justifications for tax abuse?

Another Humean ‘excuse’ would be that the parties would not have considered leaving, and therefore cannot be said to be tacitly consenting. I think it is enough that the individuals have been in a position where they have made decisions about where to base themselves. This is bound to be the case for multinational companies, of course, but I think it will apply to most individuals involved in the international tax business.

A second line of excuse might be that some states are illegitimate, and it would be better not to provide revenues to governments that violate human rights. This is a compelling argument. However, I would question whether the correct response to human rights violations is to extract wealth from the state. This is not going to make the situation any better. The benefits from tax abuse could be placed in a trust fund to be used to support a future legitimate government. It certainly cannot justify making profits from the state.

What does the state owe?

The social contract is between the state and the people. The state is a supra-human entitle of course, but certain individuals have responsibilities to ensure that the state honors the contract: the head of state, members of government, and high-ranking officials.

They owe the citizens protections from external threats, but also internal ones as well. If the state is illegitimate, as mentioned above, then the social contract is broken. In this case, the international investors should boycott the state, or at the very least engage only in ways that benefit the people of the state and not their oppressors.

My focus here is on international taxation, and in this regard, officials should be looking to ensure that their citizens do not lose out from international taxation. Officials should view tax abuse as a threat to the citizens of the country, and certainly not an opportunity to exploit for personal gain. My focus here is on the other parties, however.

What do citizens and international investors owe?

I expect one main response to my argument will be that the social contract only requires people to follow the law. If those involved in international taxation do follow the law, what is the problem? If they break the law, then they are subject to legal sanction, and rightly so. But does this cover all cases?

In some cases of tax abuse, the law is broken but the state does not realize because those involved hide the situation. However, this is to say that some people who claim this defense are acting in bad faith. Of course, it would be wrong for states to punish those who have not broken the law. However, this does not mean that all those who have not been found guilty have done nothing wrong. They should not fool themselves or the rest of us.

The deeper complaint is that those involved in international taxation should not be actively seeking to enable tax abuse which robs states of revenue in the first place. Hopefully, professionals will already inform the authorities of any wrongdoing, and also inform the government and civil society of any new loopholes.

Multinational corporations might take the position that they have competitors who will be seeking out international tax advantages, meaning that they need to as well. There is no room for expensive do-gooding in the corporate world; do-gooding companies will just get taken over by more ruthless rivals. The international corporate world is akin to Hobbes’ ‘state of nature.’

However, companies and their agents can respond to this situation in two ways. Option one is to advertise that these loopholes exist, to express that they are a source of great regret and that they should be closed as soon as possible. Option two is to quietly take advantage of the loopholes, and to seek out new ones. To seek to empower low-tax and secrecy jurisdictions and to undermine attempts to clean up the system. Option two does not seem compatible with the social contract to me.

Conclusion

Political obligation in general has come under fire from philosophical anarchists, and I have not responded to those objections here (though I remain unconvinced). There are also other theories of political obligation as well as consent theories. But even if tax abusers claim to be philosophical anarchists, I would argue they should avoid engaging with states (perhaps basing themselves in stateless areas of the world) rather than seek to gain from investing in them.

I have not considered all the arguments against consent theories—I have focused on Hume’s early criticism of the social contract. My argument, therefore, is a conditional one. If there is a social contract, then certain participants in society are clearly party to it. This will include those in a position to engage in tax avoidance and evasion using the international loopholes.

References (all accessed 24 June 2020)

Dagger, R. & Lefkowitz, D. "Political Obligation" The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2014).

Locke, J. Two Treatises on Government [1688]

Hobbes, T. Leviathan [1651]

Hume, D. “Of the Original Contract” from his Essays: Moral, Political, and Literary [1751]

International Bar Association, Lipsett, L. and Cohen, S. B. Tax Abuses, Poverty and Human Rights (2013)

Plato Crito [399BCE]

Rousseau, J. J. Discourse on inequality [1755]

Monday, 30 March 2020

Hourly Averaging videos!

For years now I've wanted to create videos about my hourly averaging system, but never got around to it.

Well, the current coronavirus outbreak has spurred me on to get on with it.

I've made three to begin with but I might make more depending how things go. Making them has been a welcome distraction!

Do let me know what you think of them and let me know any ways I can explain it more effectively.

Translations
You Tube provides automatic subtitles, and these can be translated into other languages.

This would be particularly relevant for the third video in which I talk through illustrative examples. I underline various numbers in the tables as I talk about them, so this would accompany the

However, if anyone would like to have a copy of the slides in order to create versions in different languages do let me know!

Monday, 23 March 2020

How to fill an empty stadium with atmosphere

These are challenging times.

Sport has understandably been postponed as events with large crowds are discouraged if not outlawed.

Some have discussed continuing without spectators. This still risks transmission among the players and staff. However, perhaps it might be considered safe enough in a few months time.


Let’s say that behind-closed-doors sports are deemed safe but spectator crowds are not for some time. Here is my proposal:

Sports with Live Fan noise
Live music venues and support companies all around the world are struggling without any business.


Image “SCAPE” by Jaanism

There is lots of high quality PA equipment and technical experience going unused. Why not divert these to stadiums and pipe in the crowd noise to generate an atmosphere?

Where will the noise come from? The sound can come from the fans at home. Most viewing devices have microphones built-in or have a port into which to plug one.

Teams can offer their fans the option to pay for a high-quality premium feed. Those with the premium live feed could have their feedback sounds piped back into the stadium and played on the loudspeakers.

Fans could start up their old chants, cheer when their team does well and contribute to the experience as they used to. People at home might cheer much louder if they know the players and their fellow fans will hear them!

As well as additional loudspeakers placed throughout the stadium, it might be possible to hook up the existing speaker system to give an ever fuller sound.

The away teams could be given a less powerful array of speakers than the home team in order to ensure there is ‘home’ advantage.

Sports clubs would get revenue from the premium feed as well as revenue from broadcasting the games on TV or on the internet using a secondary feed.

Games could be played in a staggered way so that those without much to could watch games on the secondary feed quite a lot of the time if they are bored.

Potential downsides


There are a few things to work through.

One is the latency and delay in the feed. The whole thing would only work if the visuals and audio coming back were reasonably in synch. Too much of a delay and it be bizarre for players and fans alike. Certainly singing songs won't be possible if everyone is a few seconds out of synch from others. Hopefully by prioritising a paid premium connection getting this feed the ‘feedback’ sound would be quick enough. Maybe singing wouldn't work but cheering could. The secondary feed could of course be allowed lag without any problem.

Another is that it might be strange for the players. They will be ‘playing for the cameras and not the crowd. But who cares? Lots of football (soccer) players run to the cameras to pose for those watching when they score anyway!

A third concern is that some people might during quiet moments shout obscenities. This can happen at regular televised games of course, and hopefully the system can be designed to filter out unexpected noises (like someone new coming into a quiet living room and shouting).

Huge upsides


People miss the Camaraderie, belonging and just the distraction of sporting events. We could all do with something a bit ‘normal’ in our disrupted lives.

Watching sports teams play is much better when there is crowd noise.

I think it would be worth trialling at least, when it is possible to do so.

It would be particularly good for tennis; the crowd noise can be muted leading up to the serve!

Stay safe everyone and keep helping one another get through this!