Not an easy road

A brief tour to the current concept of taxes as a source of funding for Citizens’ Rights.

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Although the current political, legal and social foundation of taxes has Man as the center, this has not always been the case.

Its historical genesis is strongly associated with the financing of the war and other extraordinary expenses of the Administration in times of peace.

These forced contributions, which were not only monetary but extended to personal benefits, were imposed without limits. On the other hand, its system of validation – normative and philosophical – was very different from the current one, even though they were according to the criteria of each period about the legitimation of power and its historical context, in general, related to national defence.

That is why we say that in this matter, it has not been an easy road.

There has always been a clear correlation between the conception of the tribute and its implementation and those norms and needs of the Empire, City-state or State where they belonged, as with any other branch of Law.

Historical references on tax collection go back to the earliest government organizations in Egypt, Mesopotamia and China, about five thousand years ago.

They were applied later in Greece and after a great development in Rome, they remained in the Medieval Cities, until finally arriving at the first governments of the present countries of the world.

The task of the tax collector, because of its historical origins, has always been clearly unpopular, causing adverse manifestations, based on the lack of adequate limits, that generated manifest inequities for the citizens.

Fortunately, much has evolved – ever since – that power of the state. The first advance was given by the requirement of the principle of legality, which establishes that the taxes must have legal basis – generally of a Parliamentary type – that can not be delegated. They must be in accordance with the constitutional principles of the State, which will help to delineate it (O. E. A.,  1998).

Thus, in its political face, the tax becomes a public power to impose, as a regulated obligation to manage the application of tax laws.

Due to the later developments of the doctrine on the acts of government, the tributes become founded: they have as purpose to ensure the sustainability of the management of the common good, according to certain principles, limits and obligations of the parties.

Subsequently, other more complex developments emerged, such as the principle of proportionality (Fernández González, 2000).

This principle consists of assessing the facts demonstrating the contributory capacity of those obligated to pay, that is, the quantum of the obligation to give and proportionately, increase the correlative obligation to contribute.

Other principles were added later, such as equality, which requires equal treatment in equivalent circumstances (Bonell Colmenero, 2005) and the non-confiscation of income principle, as a limit to the measure of state power of taxation (Naveira de Casanova, 1996).

The consideration of progressivity in the application of aliquots was also introduced as a way of redistributing income, adjusting the contribution to the exact scale of the taxpayer’s economy (Barberán Lahuerta, 2006).

It was opportunely stated that the correct application of justice demanded equity in the tax, taking into account special situations or vulnerable sectors that merited a different treatment (Gherardi and Rodríguez Enriquez, 2008) regarding the general rules and principles of taxes.

Finally today, topics such as the admissibility of extra tax purposes in taxation are discussed, that is, what activities should be taxed and why. And there is also controversy over the possibility of taxing unlawful acts, among other issues.

The current view thus departs from the historical paradigm by relying on two key ideas that, with a greater or lesser degree of implementation to date in the different current tax systems, constitute a common aspiration of the same: the sense of tax and the responsibility of the Parts of the obligation.

In relation to the first item, the faculty of taxation is not conceived as a public power of the coercive type, unilateral and based on the supremacy of the State over the individual.

On the contrary, it is understood as a means by supranational States or entities to secure certain economic resources that allow them to properly perform the functions and competences that correspond to them and to which they are bound.

The purpose of the tax is to make it possible to exercise the rights of citizens.

But in addition, it is a bilateral relationship of Public Law, where it is fundamental to understand, on both sides, the importance of its existence and the sense of its magnitude: the State must attend and respond to the needs and opinions of the citizens.

Its nature is that of public service, and as such, it recognizes limits and guarantees that must be respected in its implementation and enforceability.

In turn, the faculty-duty that constitutes its exercise includes diligent and objective (transparent) action, effective, according to the resources it consumes and efficient, in terms of the results to be obtained.

Likewise, it is important to advance the commitment of taxpayers and companies to adopt responsible and ethical practices on tax matters.

These should be based on commitments to the public administration that should be in accordance with their values, as individuals and as corporations.

A current conception of the link between parts, has to aim for a mature relationship, with new spaces for institutions that will generate benefits for both parties – such as self-control, proper introduction of incentives, facilitation of compliance – where voluntary compliance rules and the exception is informality and fraud.

This kind of need is of strategic type, more and more as time passes. Its achievement will have an essential role for the sustainability of administrations in the medium and long term, due to economic, demographic, technological impact in the labor market, urbanization and climate change.

This step will require that the administration can not disengage from the results to which the product of the effort required to the taxpayer should be destined.

On the contrary, in a public service relationship, the State must be accountable for the proceeds and justify the investment and return for the benefit of society, in accordance with the principle of responsibility for government actions.

The tendency today has thus, great differences with the architecture of the thought of the past historical experiences.

We said above that in principle, tribute is conceived as a means for supranational States or entities to secure certain economic resources that enable them to create an environment in which it is possible to adequately guarantee the exercise of citizens’ rights. This is its contributory aspect, the obligation to contribute to the common support of the state apparatus. The management of the public is not possible without sufficient resources. For this reason, the beneficiaries or users of the state structures should contribute to its maintenance.

They must do so to the extent of their ability to contribute or other variables that the laws take into account when measuring and defining a taxable event.

However, other taxes are required on the basis of principles of law that do not finance the operation of the State but serve to other valuable purposes whose fulfillment is in charge of the State: security, defence, equity, the creation of a system with proper incentives,  the preservation of strategic assets, etc.

This is a consequence of the fact that the state function is one. All policies and efforts in cross-cutting issues should be aligned, creating well-planned synergies, so as to be able to effectively fulfill public responsibilities.

We refer to topics such as security, education, health, energy, economic and social development, justice, ecology and culture, science and technology.

The road traveled has led the faculty of taxation to a place that – fortunately – has little to do with its historical background.

This identity has not yet been consolidated, due to the permanent changes resulting from globalization and the evolution of thinking about the interrelationship between International Taxation and Global Development.

In the next article we will see why.


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