For HM Government, are well all like Pavlov’s dogs?

War is peace

Last month, a horridly biased propaganda piece published in the Economist  made many alarm bells go off for those familiar with mental manipulation techniques – to the point that some readers questioned whether the infamous “nudge unit” could have helped pen the piece.
Would we put it past HMRC to now plant articles in reputable publications? Certainly we wouldn’t.

One commenter well versed in Behavioural Psychology offered interesting insights into the methods used and the aims behind them.

 “Some of the presuppositions in the language lead me to wonder if it could actually have been written, in full or in part, by a former department of the Treasury known as the Behavioural Insight Team.

To let you understand, the Behavioural Insights Team used to be a department of the Treasury but have now been hived off as a private company part owned by individuals and part by the Government. They use Behavioural Psychology to influence your decisions. One of their stated objectives is enabling people to “make better choices for themselves”. Oh really! Rather Orwellian I feel, but then behavioural psychologists do believe that we are just animals that can be manipulated, remember Pavlov’s dogs? Interestingly it would seem that Behavioural Psychologists must presumably believe that everyone just operates on animal instinct…except them. You can check out their website or indeed find them on Twitter. Their aim is to influence your behaviour and it would appear to be highly lucrative for them. Indeed in their first year of trading they managed to amass a Turnover of £4.8million and made a profit of £1.8 million. Their customers primarily being you and me, the taxpayer, in the guise of other government departments. I don’t know who will benefit from that profit but I do know that they are part owned by an EBT (Employee Benefit Trust). You really couldn’t make this up!

I digress. Back to the article.

It starts with the heading which pre-sets the expectations by referring to ‘dodgy’ tax structures.
The opening sentence states a bare faced lie (that tax avoidance isn’t legal) and makes no apologies or no attempt to water it down, so if you accept the source as being knowledgeable or authoritative, then there is a chance that you accept the opening, shamefully false, statement and if you read on without questioning that….then the scene has been set.

The first paragraph explains who is going to be the target of the article/attack and even gives them a derogatory name in quotes so that we can be relieved that it is not us who is the target, we can sneer at the “pinstriped mafia” who are the target and we are effectively given permission to dislike them and see them as the enemy, and of course putting this in quotes actually gives it authority as in “experts say”…, but then because it is in quotes, you can’t pin it on me because I didn’t say it.

The third paragraph implies that those who design, market or facilitate the use of tax avoidance arrangements could be fined a sum equal to 100% of the tax, but as Dr Bartolo has already very eloquently pointed out in the comments section, tax avoidance is perfectly legal (and any attempt at quantifying it is purely a wish list of HMRC). Surely you can’t fine someone for acting within the law. Quite so, but the paragraph reads as if it will be the case that anyone in the vicinity of the tax structure will be fined, legal or not.

This is an attempt by the Government to influence behaviour rather than run the risk of challenging these tax avoidance promotions in court and face the possibility of losing.

In this case they are trying to frighten the Accountants and similar professionals away from this area of tax avoidance. It’s all about collecting more cash. What I object to is the fact that they are trying to do it covertly by using NLP type language structures designed to influence behaviour and it’s hidden within their publications. The Behavioural Insights team are proud to call themselves the ‘nudge’ unit. They are trying to nudge you in the direction of the behaviour they want to see you take, even if that means you pay more tax than is legally due. They think they are smarter than you. It is no coincidence that HMRC recently changed its stated aims from collecting the right amount of tax, to ‘maximising revenues’”.

Other comments all also worth a read (notably those of Dr. Bartolo)

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