Erik Hummels: The Various Proposals for Peace Tax legislation
Some people hold the strong conviction that nobody should support military preparations or actions, either by contribution through taxation or any other means.
Without Peace Tax Legislation, a proper provision for conscientious objections in this domain, these people will continue to feel extremely uneasy about paying all their taxes. Or they may decide to refuse to pay part of their taxes. Then they come up against the financial problems of seizure and fines.
1. Seven countries
In seven different countries Peace Tax Bills have been introduced in Parliament. Most of the bills propose the establishment of some sort of Peace Fund, from which a range of activities to further peace could be financed.
Sometimes repeated introduction seems necessary of Peace Tax Bills seems necessary in an attempt to change the militaristic attitudes of government. This can be the same bill as in the previous years with a small alteration or amelioration or a bill with a totally different approach can be introduced, like in Germany.
In all the seven countries, the introduction of the Peace Tax Bill can be considered as the promotion of a human right. Respect for human is one of the conditions to achieve a more peaceful world.
Besides this human rights aspect, there is the aspect that an appropriate funding of peace is necessary, through the establishment through legislation of a Peace Fund.
It sounds money-money-materialistic, like 'money makes the world go round'. However, one of the basic conditions of each social activity on a large scale, like the promotion of peace has to be, is appropriate funding. Peace should be a part of each state budget, as is military defence now. At this moment, peace is extremely underfunded. However, it is important to define what is meant by the word 'peace'.
In the various proposals for Peace Tax Legislation the word peace is seen as a dynamic process of cooperation among all peoples. A cooperation founded on respecting freedom, equality and human rights. A cooperation founded on a fair distribution of resources as well, to meet the needs of peoples. We see this in all the tasks and duties of the various proposed Peace Funds. The word peace does not only mean the absence of war, but the absence of situations that end up in war.
So far I spoke of the necessity of proper peace funding. Now I will explain something about the approaches of democracy towards minorities, which will be of use for my speech later.
A state of peace would be appreciated by all people. But most citizens are educated to believe that military measures are necessary. Currently, radical pacifists are a consistent and durable minority in a non-pacifist world. Sometimes a compromise is preferable to prevent or solve a problem between a majority and a minority, above subjecting the minority to majority rule. But one cannot compromise on matters of principle. One cannot have an army and not have an army at the same time.
5. Conscientious objection
A provision for conscientious objection is then the wise manner to solve the conflict. In this way the different positions can be respected, without moral superiority being attributed to either the majority or the minority. The various proposals for Peace Tax legislation are in fact constructive proposals to gain recognition and respect for the very strong convictions of them who have insurmountable objections against the military designation of their tax money.
In the United States, Peace Tax Bills have been introduced into the House of Representatives since 1972, and into the Senate since 1977. The bill is now called the Peace Tax Fund Bill.
In the American Bill, the provision is related to income, estate and gift tax. The amount of payment to be transferred to the U.S. Peace Tax Fund is part of the tax assessment.
This part is a proportion, a fraction, in which the actual appropriations made for military purposes are above the stripe and in which the total of the appropriations is below. It is not permitted for compensatory money to flow to the military because of the existence of the Peace Tax Fund.
The American Peace Tax Fund would be under the control of the Minister of Finance and a Board of Trustees. The individual can apply for the use of the provision if they have a conscientious objection to war on grounds of religion or belief, including moral and ethical conviction.
On 21 May 1992 a hearing was held by a Subcommittee of the Committee on Ways and means of the House of Representatives with regard to the bill. A lot of representatives of peace organisations and denominations spoke in favour of the bill.
Currently, the Peace Tax Bill is getting closer attention on Capitol Hill. The most problematic part of the bill is the section on eligible receivers of money from the proposed U.S. Peace Tax Fund. The bill introduced this year seeks to meet this problem. There may be another hearing next year, possibly in the Judiciary Committee of the Senate, because of the constitutional aspects of the bill. Contacts have recently been made with the White House.
Since 1985, many bills have been introduced in both the Belgian Senate and the Chamber of Representatives.
The bills have been discussed in the parliamentary framework many times. In one session, the Minister of Finance said it was a good initiative, but he could not himself agree with the principle that a citizen himself gives a designation to his tax money.
The Belgian bills are limited to income tax. In the bill of 17 March, 1995, the amount of the payment which has to be transferred to the Peace Fund is a part of the tax assessment. This part is the fraction in which the military defence expenditure is above and the total tax revenue below .
This differs from the American proposal, in which the total of the appropriations is the amount, the figure below the stripe.
It is difficult to decide which proposal is better. Although it is a technical matter, it is important. Governments have other ways of raising finance in addition to tax revenue, so it can make a big difference.
The Belgian bills have no special regulations about the consequences for the military budget and the budgets of other departments. The Peace Fund is under the control of the Minister of Finance and a General Council, made up of representatives from parliament and from peace and development cooperation NGOs.
According to the 1995 bill, a taxpayer can apply for the provision only on the condition that he states he has a conscientious objection to the military designation of his tax money. There is no examination of the seriousness of the conscientious objection.
9. The United Kingdom
Two bills have been introduced into the House of Commons in Britain. The first was introduced by Dennis Canavan MP in 1986, and the second, by Neil Gerrard MP in 1994, entitled 'Conscientious Objection to Taxation for Military Purposes Bill'. According to this bill, the 'military' part of the taxes which the conscientious objector has to pay would be transferred by the tax office to a fund for non-military security.
All taxes are involved. The amount that has to be transferred to the Non-Military Security Fund is determined in a different way from that in the American and Belgian bills. The amount is an average payment. This average payment is the amount obtained by dividing the Defence budget by the total number of registered voters.
Which system is better? The American and Belgian systems are more precise, but the British proposal has a very practical solution and involves all taxes, not just some of them.
The fund may not be used as a substitution for government expenditure on anything eligible for peace fund expenditure. In the British bill, the established Fund is under the control of a Board of Trustees of which the members are nominated by the Prime Minister.
Any person on the electoral register who has a conscientious objection can apply for the provision. Such a taxpayer will be registered as a peace tax payer. There is no examination of the seriousness of the conscientious objection.
The Peace Tax Bills we have considered up to now have not considered the creation of a levy specifically for military expenditure, a sort of special 'militax'. Let us look therefore, at Germany.
In Germany, a Peace Tax Bill was introduced by Die Grunen (Green Party) in 1986. The bill was discussed in the Bundestag, the German House of Representatives. The last bill was introduced by the Green Party with Alliance 1990, a party based in the new federal states and was again discussed in the Bundestag.
The bill regulates a new way of financing military defence, through a special Military Fund. In the bill, income and salary taxes are involved. A part of these taxes will be a purpose levy and will not flow to the general fund of the Treasury, but to a Military Fund. One can refuse to pay this part and the refused part will instead flow into a Conversion Fund. The tax money that has to be transferred to the Conversion Fund will not flow to the Military Fund, of course. The system necessitates a tax increase if not enough money is in the Military Fund, and if the government wants the same amount of military expenditure as they stated in the budget.
The Military Fund would be controlled by the Minister of Defence and the Conversion Fund, by the Minister of Labour and Social Affairs. According to the German bill, each income taxpayer can apply for the provision only by condition that he states he has a conscientious objection to the military designation of his tax money.
11. The Netherlands
In the Netherlands a Peace Tax Bill was introduced in 1989, followed by a modified bill in 1992.
The Dutch bill covered income tax, salary tax, property tax and succession tax. The amount of the payment which has to be transferred to the Dutch Peace Fund is a part of the tax assessment. This part is the fraction in which the budget of the Department of Defence is above and the total budget of the state below.
The denominator, the figure below the stripe of the fraction, is not the total of the appropriations as in the American bill. It is not the total of the tax revenue as in the Belgian bill, but it is the total budget of the state. I think that the Dutch option is less precise than n the American and Belgian option, because budget is an inherently temporary and uncertain concept. It is very possible that the real appropriations are more or less than as foreseen in the budget.
In the Dutch bill the sponsors have tried to respect the sovereignty of the parliament to control the budget. This implies that the payment to the Peace Tax Fund does not lead to an equivalent reduction of the Defence budget. The possibility exists even that the budgets of other departments are cut in connection with the activities of the Fund. In the Dutch bill the Minister of Defence has the control of the Peace Fund.
According to the bill everyone who has conscientious objections to military taxation can apply for the provision. the seriousness of the conscientious objection can be verified.
On 24th September, 1993 the permanent committees for Defence and for Finance of the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament charged with the preparative inquiry of the bill, made their provisional report.
The bill was not considered topical enough.
The Christian-Democrats (CDA) mentioned that since the bill was introduced in 1989 there have been developments with regard to the deployment of the armed forces, that in areas as Iraq, Cambodia and Yugoslavia the armed forces were and are participating in different peace and humanitarian operations, that the tasks of the armed forces is at the moment to be prepared for peace operations and humanitarian aid.
A number of Green Party (Groenlinks) MPs consider that now one of the most important tasks of the Dutch armed forces is preventive peace keeping within the framework of the United Nations, in which nonviolent conflict resolution plays an important part.
Implicit in all this is that the political parties do not understand why someone can utter conscientious objections against the military designation of tax money on pacifist grounds when the military is doing so much peace work.
There was no longer any MP in Parliament who was ready to promote the Peace Tax Bill and the Green Party decided to withdraw the bill in November 1993.
In Australia a bill was introduced in the Senate and House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1989 by Senator Vallentine. The short title is: Peace Trust Fund Bill. Only the income tax is involved.
The amount of the payment which would have to be transferred to the Peace Trust Fund is a fixed percentage of ten percent of the tax assessment. The Australian bill does not have special regulations about the consequences for the military budget and the b budget of other departments.
The Peace Trust Fund would be under the control of the Minister of Finance and a Board of trustees. Each income tax payer would be able to apply for the provision on condition that he states that he has a conscientious objection to the military designation of tax money. There is no examination of the seriousness of the conscientious objections.
The bill has never been discussed in parliament.
In 1989 a bill was introduced in the Italian Chamber of Representatives by MP Guerzone and others.
In the Italian bill only the income tax is involved. the amount of the payment which would have to be transferred to a Department for Unarmed Civil Defence would be part of the tax assessment. This part is the fraction in which the budget for military and arms-related expenditure is above and the total budget below.
In the Italian bill a civil non-armed defence system is proposed. Substitution effects are not expected. The Department for Unarmed Civil Defence would be under the rule of the Prime Minister. In the bill each income tax payer could apply fro the provision.
The bill was reintroduced in 1993, but has never been discussed in parliament.
As we have seen no Peace Tax Bills from seven countries have had enough political support. The objections have covered a whole range of issues:
A peace Tax Bill is not serious, is too idealistic, is dangerous. It is unconstitutional, it would violate the sovereignty of parliament over budgets. It is impossible because defence is a collective, indivisible good, like the care for good dykes and seawalls. A Peace Tax Act would violate democratic decision-making, would violate the equality principle, conscientious objectors would get a privilege, it would violate the principle that everyone has to contribute to the defence of the country. It denies the possibility of existence of conscientious objections in the domain of mixed taxes.
There are political problems. A Peace Tax Bill endangers the rights of the state, it creates a precedent, the floodgates argument, it creates the necessity of a general regulation, the bill is not topical anymore, the bill makes tax law more complicated than it already is, a Peace Tax Act would have only a pure symbolic permissive character.
To accommodate objections will legitimise the fact that the sate designates human and financial resources for all kinds of military activities. One sees also that a Peace Tax Act is financially uncontrollable, an open end. It enlarges the already high work burden of the Internal Revenue Service. And so on.
The most important problems are always the problem of the sovereignty of parliament, the floodgates argument and currently the argument that the bill is out of date, given that the army is now involving in helping to create peace in the framework of the UN.
15. The sovereignty of parliament.
In most countries the power of the parliament is in some way the result of a long fight betwitx parliament and some king of king or other despotic person with regard to who decides matters of income and expenditure of the nation. Control over budgets is the core of the power of the parliament. Without that it is a paper tiger, only a debating club, a pub. therefore each parliament considers this as sacred and something that has t o be respected always.
All the various Peace Tax Bills have more or less tried to respect the sovereignty of parliament. It is a problem that can be solved by giving the parliament the last decisive word about government income and expenditure.
16. The floodgates argument
The second problem I will consider, is the creating of a precedent, the floodgates argument. When the floodgate is open, all the water can flow in. When conscientious objections against the military designation of tax money are fully recognized, then everyone can refuse to pay taxes with regard to certain designations, for example in the domain of education, health etc. The tax system would not work any more.
Of course this objection has to be taken seriously. many solutions are possible and it has to be said that the remark that the tax system would not work anymore is made too quickly and is unfounded.
It is possible to make specific provision for conscientious objections against the military designation of tax money. One ground is that the pacifist position is well known. Deeply help convictions in this field are considered to belong to a classical type of thinking which can be seen as specific and different from conscientious objections in other domains.
The topicality of Peace Tax bills is in doubt, because even people who think they are pacifists believe in the use of armed forces to further peace. In that case one cannot have conscientious objections against paying for the military. In this type of debate one has to explain that some pacifists reject all military types of conflict-resolution.
The position of the radical pacifist is that it is strictly forbidden to destroy other people. All military preparations or actions, military intervention belongs to these, lead to the killing of our fellow human beings.
It will be clear that this conviction must lead to great problems if one is forced to pay taxes while the military is paid therefrom. Well then, a Peace Tax Act is a solution to that problem.
The various concrete proposals for Peace Tax Legislation in the world show us that Peace Tax Legislation is a real workable concept, worth lobbying for and as such realisable. If one really wants legal measures to be taken, emphasis must be laid on the pacifist arguments without neglecting all the other problems.