[Viewpoint] In search of honest taxpayers

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[Viewpoint] In search of honest taxpayers

It’s still your money, whether you are using it to pay taxes or make donations, but you often feel entirely differently in the two cases.

You make a donation voluntarily and often have a content and rewarding feeling. Taxes, however are another issue. Simply, you are obliged to pay taxes and sometime instead of a warm, fuzzy feeling you feel forced. A small donation does not necessarily mean small gratification, but if you pay less in taxes, you often feel relieved. Typically, you want to make the biggest donation possible, while seeking to limit your taxes. You enjoy making donations and compliment others for doing the same, whereas you might be tempted to avoid taxes yet feel angry when others dodge their obligations. If you make a donation secretly, it can be even more rewarding. But if you attempt to evade taxes, you can wind up behind bars.

A few days ago, the National Tax Service detected a new tax evasion scheme, and many citizens felt furious about the crime. Those salaried workers, who pay more taxes over the year and rejoice when they get a tiny tax return at the end of the year, must have felt especially angry and disappointed at the dishonest practice of the tax evaders.

Charity acts by celebrities such as Kim Jang-hun and Sean-Cheong Hye-young have inspired many of us, but the news might have made some potential givers reluctant. If you are one of those people who are have second thoughts about making donations, please reconsider. If your goodwill is tainted by the disgraceful acts of shameless people, it would be a tragedy for society as well as for the health of your own soul.

It seems almost vulgar to reiterate the details of the scheme. A lawyer claimed an income of 37 million won ($31,360) for five years but spent 560 million won. He sent his two children to schools in the United States and made 32 trips abroad. He hid his amazing talent of increasing his wealth by 1.7 billion won by buying 13 townhouse units.

A motel and restaurant business owner claimed that he made 40 million won in five years, but he lives in a 3 billion won apartment. He has purchased three more apartment units and accumulated over 2 billion won. Since there are over 40,000 business owners who have evaded taxes, these particular feats might not be so special.

They just cheated in order to spend money on themselves that should have been a national asset to be used for the public. Can such a lawyer be trusted to defend social justice? Can we assume that such a restaurant owner made efforts to provide healthy meals to customers?

Are they good sons and daughters if they supported their parents with such money? What will their children learn when their lavish lifestyle is provided by such shameful money? Your pleasant decision to give should not be affected by these selfish families.

Even if you did not make donations, you are a respectable citizen. It is just as good as giving if you faithfully pay all due taxes. We can consider taxes as a price to pay to the nation for providing the conditions in which you can make a living income.

At the same time, it can be thought of as a donation since it is used to help those who are less fortunate.

Norwegian tycoon Olav Thon wrote in his autobiography that the biggest purpose of making money is to pay more in taxes. He says he is doing his best to pay as much tax money as possible to the tax authorities. By paying more taxes, he is practicing “giving” on a large scale. Last year, he made 14.6 billion won and paid 13.3 billion won in taxes. It might be more rewarding and meaningful to work hard and pay taxes every month than donating the entire fortune accumulated through life just before passing away. A Jewish proverb says that giving when you are healthy is gold. Giving when you are ill is silver. Giving after you are dead is lead.

In order to keep the spirit of the honest man alive, whether it is donations or taxes, there should be two premises. The first is that tax evaders should be tracked down and forced to pay the price. The other is that the taxpayers’ money should be used properly and not wasted.

If not, the innocent and honest citizens have to make judgments. You taxpayers are voters as well. It is not so easy for an honest man to defend his own wallet.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Hoon-beom
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