GIOVANNI BIRINDELLI (12.5.2013)
“Banking secrecy has had its day,” declared Pierre Moscovici, the French minister for the economy, in support of the attempt by the governments of ten (for now) European countries to put in place, “possibly within the year,” as the La Stampa newspaper reported, “a multilateral platform for the automatic exchange of bank account information which will make it possible to effectively curb tax evasion.” The history of principles that have ‘had their day’ is a long one and it invariably marches to the beat of the States’ ever-increasing need for cash.
In 1914, for example, the European states needed to finance the First World War and with the gold standard in place this would have necessitated a staggering increase in the tax burden. At the time, this increased tax burden would not have been easily accepted by the citizens, so it was decided that the gold standard, the principle on the basis of which counterfeiting is unlawful, had ‘had its day’. This decision allowed the States to print money from nothing and thus tax the citizens ‘on the sly’ through inflation. If the gold standard had not been abandoned, that is, if money (the most marketable good) had not been abandoned and with it the principle that counterfeiting is unlawful, the First and the Second World Wars would not have been possible.
The list of the principles which, given the States’ ever-increasing need for cash, those at their head have decided over time to have ‘had their day’ is very long. Among these principles, the following can be cited purely by way of example:
- the principle that prohibits misappropriation, whose abolition was necessary to allow banks the privilege of fractional reserve banking;
- the principle of equality before the law, whose abolition served to allow, among other things, fiscal discrimination (progressive taxation, for example);
- the principle according to which, in Italy for example, the burden of proof lies with the State when it accuses a citizen (in tax matters, as it happens);
- the principle according to which looting is unlawful (see the current taxation measures in general and, in particular, compulsory levies on current accounts or the wealth tax);
- the principle according to which a person can do what he or she likes with their property provided they do not harm others, the abolition of which in Italy has served, for example, to outlaw the use of cash; and specifically:
- the principle that protects the privacy of individuals, in this case bank secrecy.
In all these cases, of course, those who hold political power decided that these principles had ‘had their day’ only in specific cases, just coincidentally those in which the States needed to generate cash, whereas in all other cases these principles generally remain alive and well. The reason why more and more principles have ‘had their day’ in particular cases affecting the coffers of the States is that principles are constraints which impede the States’ tendency to expansion, that is, to increase their dimensions and functions. In the (long) period of history in which the ‘law’ understood as a specific measure (that is, as an instrument of power) has replaced the law (the general and abstract principle, the limit on power), there is no reason why this tendency of States to expand should come to a halt in the face of principles rather than sweep them away, one after another.
The economic effects of this progressive dismantling of principles that have ‘had their day’, and the consequent expansion of the machinery of state, are disastrous. To hide this disaster for as long as possible, that is, to postpone the systemic collapse produced by this progressive dismantling of the law in specific cases, the States are dismantling the law (principles) even further, in a vicious circle which cannot continue forever.
Naturally, those who hold political power have always given high-sounding justifications for this progressive dismantling of principles: generally an arbitrarily defined ‘interest of the country’ or an equally arbitrarily defined ‘social justice’ (as if there could be a ‘macro’ justice in contradiction with and separate from a ‘micro’ justice, i.e. as if an action that is unlawful when an individual commits it could become lawful if it is committed by the State).
The fashionable justification today for dismantling the last remaining principles is the so-called fight against tax evasion: having looted everything lootable, the States are scraping the bottom of the barrel before the shipwreck. It is astonishing how many people are willing, in the specific case of tax evasion and contrary to what they themselves do in every other case, to condemn this escape from coercion without first having judged the nature of that coercion. Indeed, tax evasion cannot be judged morally (and therefore legitimately prosecuted) without first morally judging the tax system within which it occurs, that is, without first judging on a consistent basis of principle the way in which the taxes are levied (for example, whether the principle of equality before the law has been respected or not – and I would point out that equality before the law is not merely different from legal inequality but opposed to it) and what they finance (whether the minimal state, however it is non-arbitrarily defined, or otherwise). If it were possible to condemn the escape from coercion without first judging the nature of that coercion, then one ought to condemn the escape of a prisoner from a Nazi concentration camp solely because he escaped, something which those who condemn tax evasion a priori generally do not do. But the totalitarian State (the Nazi state like the contemporary state) is by definition always right and therefore escape from its coercion is always a crime: the way taxes are levied and what they finance does not need to be logically and consistently justified on the level of principle, it requires only a – possibly qualified – majority.
It is civilization that has ‘had its day’, and this has occurred at the point and to the extent that the law has been replaced by particular measures, that is, once the instrument of power usurped the place of the limit on power. And to this substitution, to this long process of decivilization, Europe has and is contributing in a decisive way. As Nigel Farage said in a recent speech to the European Parliament, “This European Union is the new communism. It is power without limits.”
In the present matter of bank secrecy it would be wrong to identify Austria, which rejects the violation of banking secrecy on the plane of principle, as the solitary defender of civilization. In actual fact, like any other modern state, it has replaced law with special measures: it has a discriminatory tax system, a fiat currency, fractional reserve banking and so on. In the specific case of banking secrecy, Austria (for now) has taken up the defence of the law and civilization against European barbarism. But the rule of law and civilization can only be defended with consistency: defending them in specific cases is the best way to destroy them both with the consent of a benumbed and complicit citizenry.