Tax justice in austerity: logics, residues and attachments


In the wake of the UK government’s post-2010 spending cuts, talk about tax justice has become more audible and urgent. Campaigning groups such as UK Uncut have sought to bring the contested tax affairs of a number of multinational corporations, and notably Vodafone, to wider public attention, and have called for the introduction of a ‘Tax Dodging Bill’. In the House of Commons, the Public Accounts Committee scrutinised the avoidance of corporation tax by multinationals during the 2010-15 parliament, leading to widely reported interrogations of representatives from Amazon, Google and Starbucks. This article examines the moral reasoning that prevails in post-2010 tax justice discourse. Drawing on data from an online ‘occupation’ of Vodafone’s Twitter feed in 2014, during which UK Uncut supporters were invited to ‘[t]ell Vodafone what you think their dodged tax should be spent on’, it explores how the ‘injustice’ of tax avoidance is established within the context of austerity. It goes on to examine the ways in which tax justice discourse activates economic imaginaries in austerity, with a specific focus on the ‘tax and spend’ cycle. I develop the argument that tax justice rhetoric tends to perpetuate a residual conception of taxation that emphasises its function as a mechanism of redistributive justice, and tends not to take account of the intensification of neoliberal marketisation and privatisation of public services. The article concludes by evaluating the opportunities and challenges that these residual conceptions afford – both for the tax justice movement and for a politics of public ownership.

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New Formations 87: Austerity