Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The hypocrisy of Jimmy Carr?

David Aaronovitch has a typically good article in the Times today (£) arguing that tax avoidance is a moral issue, rather than a legal one. He makes a particularly interesting analogy too:

What I am saying is that it isn’t just up to the law or the government to set our ethical and moral boundaries, any more for taxation than for fidelity — partly for practical reasons. In the Times report yesterday the tax avoidance consultant, Mr Lyness, boasts that whatever legal road blocks the authorities can erect, he will always find a route round them. There needs to be something else.

The law is an inherently blunt instrument, and Mr Lyness is right. He and his ilk come in earlier and work later than their counterparts in HMRC. No matter how complicated tax law is made to try to prevent large scale avoidance, the bomber will always get through. Aaronovitch ends up relying on a good old fashioned shaming to put things right:

Failing that — and this is yet another reason why I would like to see Scandinavian-style public declaration of tax returns — they should be shamed and ridiculed by the rest of us.

I'm not sure to what extent he'd advocate similar treatment for fidelity, but there we are. Mutatis mutandis and all that, and I suspect that tax avoidance probably is now considered a greater moral failing than infidelity by many. There is, however, one aspect that I don't think I agree with:

The predictable response was that the comedian Jimmy Carr, who had satirised aggressive tax avoidance not too long ago, had proved himself to be a roaring hypocrite by engaging in it himself.

This hypocrisy accusation also surfaces in the Telegraph, by both James Delingpole (who should pull his damn finger out and get on with Coward in the Woods) and Tim Stanley, and I don't agree with it. Jimmy Carr's entire angle on life is that humour is hermetically sealed, and that jokes exist in and of themselves, without needing to tell a wider truth. Janice Turner interviewed him a while back, and this is what struck me most:

“You don’t pick a comedy style,” Carr says, “it picks you.” And he discovered he did not want to share his life experiences or relate some comedic truth. “I just think of funny things and whether its true or not doesn’t make any odds to me. Offensive or inoffensive? Don’t care. Just: is it funny?”

It's a pretty bleak view, but I think it does insulate him from accusations of hypocrisy. Jimmy Carr's stand-up isn't a reflection of his true beliefs and opinions. If it did, he'd have more to worry about than accusations of hypocrisy...

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