There used to be a tradition around this time of year where broadsheet newspapers would ask politicians what books they were taking on holiday as their summer reading. Some went for populist options to show they were ‘in touch’ with the electorate. Others chose heavyweight tomes by Proust, Ayn Rand, Thomas Piketty, or similar, to flaunt either their intellectual or ideological inclinations!
Frankly, I doubt that any of their selections got read. Both Piketty’s ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’ at 696 pages, and Rand’s ‘Atlas Shrugged’ at over 1100 pages are frankly too heavy to be supported whilst lying prone in a deck chair. And Proust’s ‘À la Recherche du Temps Perdu’ at over 3,000 pages would give you a pretty hefty blow to the head if you fell asleep whilst holding it aloft!
However, I’ve found a book that all politicians should put on their summer reading list. Its light, at just 300 pages including notes. It’s a paperback, so shouldn’t cause injury. And its message doesn’t require any interpretation. First published in 2015, The Joy of Tax by Richard Murphy, isn’t on any best seller lists any more, nor is it bang up to date.
However, I reckon it should be required reading for politicians of either stripe. Not that they will of course, because dogma does not permit such forays into joined-up thinking. But, even if you don’t subscribe to the author’s ultimate prescription for the ideal tax system, this little book is the perfect primer for the understanding of tax. Not only does Murphy remind us of the history of taxation and what exactly tax is, but swiftly deals with the naysayers who seek to undermine it for their own purposes. He also demolishes some of the canards that have become the backbone of much debate around the subject.
Laissez-fair capitalists my rend their clothes and tear out their hair at the notion, but tax can also have a social purpose. Murphy reminds us of the pillars on which an equitable tax system should be built and the fundamental ideas that can help fashion it. A ‘must read’ for ALL aspiring politicians!
Murphy was appointed Professor of Practice in International Political Economy in the Department of International Politics at City University London in 2015, as a part-time appointment involving research and teaching. Previously he had been a visiting fellow at University of Portsmouth Business School, the Centre for Global Political Economy at the University of Sussex, and at the Tax Research Institute at the University of Nottingham. He was the founder of, and remains on the Board of Directors of, the Fair Tax Mark.