Wednesday, April 06, 2011

That’s not Fair!

Never a more common phrase barked amongst children as the inequities of a situation. Interestingly the phrase never dies, as adults; we continue to comment on the inequities of life. Not surprising that the very basis of the assessment isn’t the result of looking at those around us, but rather to those who we feel have somehow benefited more than we have. The yardstick of fairness is purely external. The most interesting thing about speaking up about inequities tends to surround our ‘lesser’ position compared to others. Should we possess a greater allotment than another – we are never the first to cry out ‘That’s not fair’. Granted, there are those who have compassion for the less fortunate, however the cry to fairness is deeper and more heartfelt when our ‘account’ is under review. I would love to meet the executive who receives a sizeable compensation increase, far in excess of her colleagues, and expeditiously approaches the executive committee with the inequity of her outrageous compensation The establishing of fairness, however, takes a different tone as one moves from the area of the school yard to the functioning adult of society. Inequities of the school yard are managed through primal instincts of ‘fight or flight’. The disparity is either resolved through force or the oppressed slinks away. As adults, we haven’t evolved beyond ‘fight or flight’. The passionate minority will take up signs, pump-up adrenaline and hit the streets. Then, often their passion for the oppressed runs right in the face of TV cameras and police night sticks. Conversely the majority, complain to everyone they meet of the inequities in the world and how they are hard-done by. Either the majority adults are passive-complainers who thrive on perceived injustices simply to have something to talk about. No change has come about from profuse complaints to a self-absorbed insular audience. Change in any forum requires commitment to the cause and using the established channels to achieve objectives by non-radical means. History has been indelibly altered by such greats as Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, and Abraham Lincoln who identified disparities and focused on bringing about change. On March 25 news hit the web of General Electric, America’s largest company, who had no tax liability for 2010 and received a $3.2B rebate from the federal government. This news took on a life of its own becoming almost viral. All of sudden there became a clamor of voices how ‘unfair’ this is. Even one media giant openly condemned GE for their ‘use’ of the tax system, only later to be exposed they had taken advantage of the same tax situations. What these pundits fail to realize is that GE and other huge organizations have done nothing wrong. They have chosen not to seek out inequities but rather focus on self preservation. They, like every tax payer, have access to the same Income Tax Act. They, like every taxpayer, have access to a marketplace of tax professionals. Last time I check there is nothing that precludes anyone from exercising their rights under Income Tax law. During my tenure in public accounting and even to this day I listen to the complaints of how the tax system isn’t fair. My only retort – if you don’t like it, vote to have it changed. Ironically, a well known Canadian Tax lawyer, Vern Krishna, C.M., QC, LL.D, FCGA, in his article Tax Simplification is Imperative, recently wrote how tax simplification is an economic, political and moral imperative. I believe we have come down a long and winding road of an enactment of statute to fund vital initiatives to a monolithic and virtually complex law. We should focus our attention away from those, like GE, who have enlisted the expertise of those who have assisted in their commendable tax position. We need to focus on two real issues at hand, those who have, in retaliation or otherwise have taken the ‘flight’ response and are thereby costing tax authorities hundreds of millions of dollars per year in searching efforts to bring these people to justice. We also need to take up our pens to write letters, to cast our ballots and to build coalitions to enact long term ‘fairness’!