The super-rich must pay more tax: it’s a matter of evolution

Paying off our debt by making the billionaires contribute more is in keeping with our hunter-gatherer nature

It is thought that the biggest US corporations have cash piles of in the region of $2 trillion lodged “offshore” because of their aversion to taxes. Photograph: Jon Boyes/Photographer’s Choice/Getty

It is thought that the biggest US corporations have cash piles of in the region of $2 trillion lodged “offshore” because of their aversion to taxes. Photograph: Jon Boyes/Photographer’s Choice/Getty

Tue, Mar 18, 2014, 01:00

Many years ago, I attended lectures in university on human evolution and learned about our hunter-gatherer forefathers. As I remember it, we are a unique form of mammal in that we gather food collectively for later consumption by the collective.

It is because we evolved while operating such a system that we have emotions that range from selfishness to altruism, suspicion to goodwill, and outrage to a sense of what is due. We are one and all obsessed with the concept of fairness, yet intrinsically inclined to look out for ourselves and those closest to us. It is a dynamic that you can see at work any day of the week.

When it became obvious that the type of politics that had operated during the Ahern years had brought the country to the edge of catastrophe, I was prompted to read up on political philosophy. The
first text I read started by saying that political philosophy has its origins in ancient Greece and evolved from the understanding that people needed to work together if the individual, and the collective, were to flourish.

I was instantly reminded of what I had learned about hunter-gatherers and the evolution of our emotions. And all that has happened since has served to support this idea that the political debate that has been prompted by the economic crisis is an expression of our hunter-gatherer nature.


Huge crisis
Ireland appears to have come through its huge economic crisis in relatively good shape. Those who continue to suffer because of the crisis may baulk at such a statement, and that is understandable; but the fact is that many analysts are surprised that the trauma caused has not been even greater than has been the case to date.

It seems the slump may not be as sustained as many had feared. The upturn in the numbers in employment during the second half of last year has taken
most economists and policy-makers by surprise. We have foreign investor groups bidding for former Irish Nationwide mortgages that just a year ago the Government presumed would end up with the National Asset Management Agency. There is a lot of positivity about our economic prospects.


Gloomy situation
A few years ago when the situation was looking particularly gloomy, the Governor of the Central Bank, Prof Patrick Honohan, observed that the collapse of the Irish economy had been dramatic, and that the turnaround, when it came, might be equally so. Perhaps his hunch will turn out to have been correct.

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