Crowdsource Accounting: Reflect On Convoluted Tax Machine

Theres about a month to go til I rendezvous with the artists whom I spent a wonderful week with in Southend. And one of the themes we discussed has just reemerged in my mind with a slightly off hinge idea, which is just an idea but I feel the need to get in on digital ink and out there to see if it’s mad or could be done. Please note I am sounding off from a position of ignorance and it’d be great to get feedback to see if anything I sketch below sounds plausible

Precarious labour and the impending savage cuts were ever present in our discussions at Metal Digital Labs. Thinking back to these themes got me thinking: would it be interesting to make a statement on the tax system in the UK that legally facilitates tax avoidance. This stems from a discussion of how several of the self employed among us remarked what a difference hiring an accountant would make to your tax returns. Through their accounting software (which I assume is Sage though maybe there are other accounting software models out there) qualified accountants can find the best frame for your income which minimises your tax for that year.

This same process scales all the way up, most offensively in the corporate tax dodging highlighted by UK Uncut.

I have no experience of the UK tax system and even my encounters with the Irish system were limited. However I can remember several instances in which scores of my peer group claimed back tax which they didn’t even know they were entitled to have back. I also know that in Ireland there is a 5 year cap on how far back you can claim back for tax (whereas revenue can request any non paid tax over the duration of your whole tax paying life).

This is a roundabout way of putting this fact simply: to me the tax system seems designed to founder those intimidated by its intricacies or those who cannot afford to pay for a skilled navigator to chart them through what they should and shouldn’t be paying. It may even be that lots of people just aren’t bothered with clawing back a small amount of money relative to the ardour of successfully exploiting the nooks and crannies of the system would demand. Which IMO is fair enough and to be expected.

But supposing we could design a system to crowdsource the labour/computational resources/skills of the accounting population among us. A few of us will be fortunate enough to have a mate who will aid us on tax returns. But what if there were a way to aggregate the sum spare time of accountants to ensure a much larger proportion of the population got back everything they were owed. Basically I’m wondering would this make any kind of significant dent on the exchequer returns? Or if not that then would it perhaps be enough to provide money to those organisations savaged by the recent arts cuts.

Which is why it would be interesting to dress this investigation in an art project/action research proposal: secure funding and use that to pay our crowdsourced workforce of accountants. Then we ask members of the population to sign up on the provisio that any money saved from their account goes towards a kitty to help arts organisations that have lost funding.

I’d love to know if there would be a significant amount of money to be attained from the squeezed middle Britain and to then give them a say in where that money is going rather than simply draining off as extra funding for the Government. If nothing else I’d like to explore the impact of a system which requires experts to successfully navigate and utilise to its maximum extent, experts whom the vast amount of people may not be able to employ. And of course I’d like to crowdsource it because of the precarious labour overtones that attend on that whole area.

As to what artistic instantiation it might take? I’m thinking one could rebuild the MONIAC computer, but instead of water calculating the economy perhaps a visualisation of the fragmented nature of labour inherent to crowdsourcing could provide the impetutus for it’s analog computing (admittedly this was literally the last thought that entered my head)

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~ by Stephen Fortune on April 15, 2011.

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