Labour MP Denis McShane has quite an extraordinary article on Comment is Free today, reflecting on the Guardian's hypocritical "tax gap" campaign. He moans that:
We may denounce bank accounts in the Alps or Caribbean but who is willing to reveal the details of their own accounts? Journalists beat up on MPs and their expenses, but the BBC will not even reveal what it pays its top broadcasters from the public purse, and the thought of disclosing payments that newspapers make to sources and in expenses would have every editor reaching to abolish the Freedom of Information Act.
No Denis, you just don't get it do you? Those of us who want the use of our tax money to be transparent and accountable don't really care whether it's the BBC or you MPs - we'd like it all to be accounted for. BBC Journalists may not like that, but to be honest they are not leading the campaign. But he goes on to suggest that because we want them to account for our money they spend on themselves we all need to adopt a more transparent approach and be open about how much we have ourselves:
We need a new approach to money to make it a de-sanctified commodity, the ownership of which should be in the public domain, much as we know who owns land or shares. It took centuries after the Domesday Book to make it law to reveal the ownership of land. Market democracy requires transparency about who owns shares. Yet the ownership of money is enclosed in secrecy. Our sexuality, faiths, passions, illnesses, relationships, ownership of homes and cars have lost the aura of secrecy in which they were once shrouded.
But we still expect our ownership of money to be kept secret by banks. Until we have a new philosophy of openness about money we should not be surprised if the great lengths to which people go to hide their money - even from family and friends - is not reproduced by firms. Transforming our thinking about money will require philosophers to make the case more than MPs to propose laws. And we have not even started. Money secrecy remains the last taboo. [From Denis MacShane: Lift the lid on the secrecy of money ownership | Comment is free | The Guardian]
Too bloody right we have a right to keep our wealth private. The big difference is that what we have is ourmoney, or what is left of it when you've taken your share. We take care over where we spend what's left, most of us, and all we want is for you to show you are careful about what you spend the rest of our money on. It's all our money. Government doesn't just magically produce money for you to spend on your homes and travel and so on, it takes it from us.
Only a generation ago each schedule on someone's tax return would be evaluated for its tax by a different tax inspector, so that no one inspector would have a complete picture of anyone's overall worth. Now you want us, what, to emblazon our bank balance across our foreheads for you and everyone else to see?
You forget that money is not itself wealth. It is just the tokens with which we buy real wealth - the things we value. You already have so many ways of poking into our actual wealth as you have enumerated - land, shares and so on. But these are not made public for the benefit of others. They are public because they are conditional property - claims that we have to assert in law. And in cases like shares, interests that have to be disclosed in the cause of market transparency.
But if I spend all of my spare cash (not that I have any sadly) on vintage cars, wines, art, jewelry, or whatever, and keep them to myself for my own enjoyment, you'll never find them. Nor have you the right to find them or expose them. So why should you have the right to know how many of our tokens remain unspent in our accounts? You people are just tinkering around the issues here, probably just trying to obfuscate the trail that leads to your trough. This melt down, and the internationalization of money flows and places to keep it are a fact of modern life. I have long said that this could be a great liberalization, or a journey towards totalitarianism. Your idea of us being expected to show you our money all the time is part of the latter journey, which exists solely in order to maintain the power you think you have.
Too right it's the last taboo. But being taboo does not make something bad!