“Paradise papers are justified”

The revelations of the Paradise Papers have revealed that states worldwide have lost billions in tax revenues. Moral theologian Peter Schallenberg argues on our site-interview "Jesuit-flexible".

Interviewer: Most of the "deals" are said to have been formally correct because the money was invested in so-called "tax havens". Can one also, if everything is legal, morally do the wrong thing?

Prof. Peter Schallenberg (moral theologian and social ethicist at the Faculty of Theology in Paderborn): Yes, that is quite possible. We know, at least since Immanuel Kant, the separation between legality and morality. We also know the word "legitimate" in the vernacular. When something is "legitimate" to do, we mean the overlap between moral and legal. That's the question one asks in conscience: Is it really good to take advantage of everything that is not forbidden by law? Legality means what the law allows. Morality means what conscience permits. This is not identical at all.

Interviewer: Is there such a thing as a compass that you can use as an individual or as a company to find a balance between legitimate tax savings and harm to the common good??

Schallenberg: Most certainly. The first compass is the golden rule, which we also have in the Old and New Testaments: Act as you would also like to be treated. This has been further elaborated by Kant with the categorical imperative: Act in such a way that the maxim of your actions could become general law. So don't just act individualistically for your own interest, but ask yourself: If everyone acted like this, would it be good??

Thus, I believe, a very clear direction has been given on this ie and the compass clearly strikes out. One may ask: Do we really want many people to look for tax loopholes? We do not want that. It must be said, despite all the displeasure, that the tax in our country for the very most part goes to purposes of general welfare. This finances things for the general public and that is why we want everyone to pay taxes. The question is not only for private individuals, but also for companies. A new question arises for companies.

Interviewer: After all, most private individuals do not have the option of having international law firms "micro-manage" their income. Why do especially rich persons and entrepreneurs have the possibility to do this?

Schallenberg: In the case of companies, it seems that the state is more generous in terms of tax payments. This has to do with trying to create an investment-friendly climate. That is, the state ames that larger companies in particular will invest and that this will create jobs and a thriving industrial and manufacturing landscape. This is what we want. This is also what different countries in Europe want.

That's why we have different tax rates. In Slovakia they are much lower, for example, than in our country. This is to prevent the creation of industrial wastelands and that is why investors are attracted by such tax benefits. Therefore, it is not illegitimate and unlawful for the state to give tax breaks to companies over and above private individuals. But it is not legitimate when tax loopholes are used, as in this case of the "Isle of Man". That would be another special problem in the European Union, that the "Isle of Man" does not move in a fiscal and state policy no man's land. That would have to be clarified.

Interviewer: For a year, hundreds of journalists have researched. They received the data sets. Is the use of such information from unclear origin at all legitimate?

Schallenberg: This is what is always asked in such cases. This does not make the question wrong, but it contradicts somewhat the basic right consciousness to lead something with bad means to a good end. With the use of the tax data CDs from Switzerland, this had been the question before. There are different opinions. One can stand on the very pure legal ground and say a good end never justifies bad means.

Personally, I would argue a bit more – if you like – Jesuitically flexible in this case. I would say that it is not an intrinsically bad means, so it is not about killing a person or direct instrumentalization of people. These are tangible assets that were stolen in a certain way and are now being made available to the public. Since they are open to the public anyway, this is, so to speak, a marginal legitimate action and I would consider it justified.

The interview was conducted by Tobias Fricke.

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