Lie detector tests won’t work with tax cheats
The first ever Touchstone pamphlet, The Missing Billions, was about taking the tax gap seriously and increasing government tax revenue is an essential part of the TUC alternative to cuts. So I’m obviously glad to welcome the commitment in Danny Alexander’s speech yesterday to raise £7 billion a year by a crackdown on tax avoidance and evasion. It’s not just an economic necessity, it’s morally right, and I agreed with his argument:
There are some people who seem to believe that not paying their fair share of tax is a lifestyle choice that is socially acceptable. It is not.
Like the benefit cheat, their actions take resources from those who need them most.
Mr Clegg is going to say something similar today, and the fact that it’s upset the Daily Mail will obviously hearten all sensible people.
We’ll need to look at the details, but it’s nice to be able to welcome government plans. There’s one detail that worries me – a couple of reports pass on the news that the DWP is looking into “lie detector tests” of the sort that have been used to deal with benefit fraud.
Let’s leave aside for now the point that this is a rather illiberal idea. I am opposed to using this technology for the same reason as I have opposed using it on benefit claimants. This technology has a very poor track record and the US National Academies reported in 2003 that
empirical research on the validity of the technique has been far from encouraging.
They point to problems with reliability and a study showing results no better than chance.
I suppose some good could come out of this. If the government does actually go ahead, perhaps the defenders of the rich and powerful will be willing to admit that using this technology is just as much a “bully boy tactic” when its applied to benefit claimants as it is when its used to discover tax cheating?