The word “Italians” conjures up a number of epithets. Take, for example, “Corrupt Bastards.” The Italians are mired in corruption. This is either despite or because of the fact that they are Catholics and their equivalent of royalty is the Pope.
But if you ask an Italian why Italians are so corrupt, he will leap to his own defense and insist: “I’m not—it’s the others.” He’ll blame the politici and the ricchi. So you say: “Oh, come off it! You’re up to your necks in it, the lot of you!” And he will maybe come clean but then trot out the old Italian proverb invented specifically to defend his nation from this very charge: “Ma tutto il mondo è paese (But all the world is the same town).”
But the world isn’t, is it? One simple example among all the many different forms of corruption, and one that shows how far down the food chain the rot goes in a nation, is tax evasion. The Italians are world-beaters in this minor branch of the corruption industry. You know that there is something odd about a country when, if a client should leave a bar without a printed receipt for his caffé macchiato or calice di Chianti, the bar owner commits a crime.
Living in Italy has had a weird effect on my moral compass. Tax evasion is a crime here like everywhere else. I ask you: “Fine, but is tax evasion also immoral or heaven forbid, a mortal sin even?” And here is my answer: “Not necessarily.” And so I ask you this: “Should it therefore be treated as a crime?” And my answer is: “Not necessarily.”
I know what constitutes moral and immoral behavior, but I know little about the technical side of mortal sin. So I was very pleased to discover that many prominent Catholic theologians agree with me on tax evasion—those, that is, not yet possessed by l’Astuta Serpe Satan and his army of demons, AKA Partito Comunista Italiano, whose toxic derivatives infest Italy’s every nook and cranny.
Possessed Catholics, on the other hand, known as cattocomunisti, and their theologians are adamant: Tax evasion is a sin because it is theft and involves lying and so is in breach of the seventh and eighth commandments.
Balderdash! How can I steal my own money?
No one likes paying taxes, but in a properly functioning democracy most people pay them on the basis of give-and-take. And most agree that it should be a crime not to pay them.
Italy, however, is not a properly functioning democracy. According to Ignazio Visco, governor of the Bank of Italy, the tax increases and new taxes the Monti government is drip-feeding into Italians’ lives will raise the tax burden to an unsustainable 45%. This compares to a tax burden in America of around 27%.
The only slogan that the Italian left has these days with a bit of traction is “War on the Tax Evaders!” But such a slogan rings hollow in a country where tax evasion is a way of life. To the Italians, taxation itself—not tax evasion—is theft. And I can see their point.
But even if the Italians paid all their taxes, what real difference would it make? In 2009 they failed to pay 120 billion euro ($157 billion) of taxes owed. But that is mere pollo alimentazione compared to Italy’s huge public debt, which at 120% of GDP stands at $1.9 trillion.
Stealing a pen that belongs to someone else is theft. But refusing to pay a tax is different for one simple reason. Tax is not someone else’s private property. And whereas a pen is always a pen, a tax is just a tax. And whereas some taxes are just, others are unjust.
There comes a tipping point beyond which a just tax becomes unjust. As the Boston Tea Party rebellion of 1773 showed, taxation without political representation is unjust taxation. If a government demands that you pay all your income in tax, it cannot possibly be wrong to refuse. Does the Italian left and those they have possessed in the Catholic Church really believe that those American rebels, those heroic warriors in the struggle for freedom and democracy, were thieves?
But it does not end here as I discovered by reading the crystal-clear words of Catholic theologian Don Carlo Rusconi in a recent speech to students at the Istituto Superiore di Scienze Religiose in Rimini, a famously ugly beach resort on the Adriatic coast about 30 miles from me. This was in response to a statement by Italy’s Catholic bishops, sadly well and truly possessed, that paying taxes is “a moral obligation.”
Don Rusconi wrote:
First, I must satisfy myself that the Italian tax system is a just one; otherwise, for me to pay my taxes would be an injustice. Secondly, I must satisfy myself that no money from my taxes goes on financing state abortions or wars; otherwise, I become guilty of something that my conscience rejects.
Che uomo! And why stop with abortion and war? Personally, I find it immoral that tax money pays for so many public-sector non-jobs, or so many spongers not to find jobs, or that it subsidizes so many useless people or pays for so many corrupt political parties to represent not the people but themselves. (There are dozens!)
I would have few moral qualms about tax evasion here in Italy. I see nothing wrong with evading this corrupt, bloated, and useless state at every opportunity. The trouble is, not being furbo (cunning) like an Italian, I have yet to work out how.
Thomas Aquinas demonstrated in the 13th century that not even theft is necessarily a mortal sin. The starving man who steals a chicken does not commit a sin so long as he does not steal it knowingly from another starving man. As for that eighth commandment, the world could not survive without lies. How could any decent man possibly tell an ugly woman the truth?
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