Those who wish to appear clever about finance often cite the views of Colbert about how "the art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to obtain the largest possible amount of feathers with the smallest possible amount of hissing".
The Government is certainly, under these criteria, making a serious mess of the proposed new property tax, for that increasingly suspicious goose, otherwise known as the Irish taxpayer, is hissing vigorously before a feather has been plucked. Whilst it is unfortunate that the Government's proposals have been accompanied by a level of chaos that increasingly follows all of its enterprises, the Coalition's problems with property tax are not, alas, simply confined to the methodology of collection.
Like many other French concepts, Colbert's analysis may be superficially clever, but it is too spiritually reductive for comfort. In functioning states, taxation is ultimately informed by some variant, be it conservative or liberal, of moral philosophy. Finance Minister Michael Noonan knows well and Environment Minister Phil Hogan knows not at all, that taxation is a 'social contract' between the citizen and the State. Within this context a property tax, accompanied by real reform of local governance should be supported. This, however, is not what we are getting from a tax which is little more than an act of political piracy, designed to protect the reputation of a government which imposed a Ne Temere decree on increasing tax rates, for its own political advantage. Worse still it is yet another example of the economics of dumb austerity where in order to appease the slide rule of our troika masters, the living economy must experience a death of a thousand cuts.
Amidst growing concerns that the promises of widespread exemptions means middle Ireland will once again subsidise the millionaire and the malingerer, this isn't the only act of fiscal piracy we are enduring. The Irish political world may be stranger than fiction but it would still be odd, even by Leinster House rules, if Health Minister James Reilly secured the status of the boy who pointed out the utter nakedness of the Croke Park emperors. Like the discovery of America by Columbus, Dr Reilly's recognition of the public sector 'elephant in the room' is a creature of accident not planning. But, having spoken the truth about a deal that represents the apogee of the old social partnership-driven politics of taxation without representation, if he does not act on his finding, he risks acquiring the reputation of being the boy who having cried wolf just ran away.