According to Lynnley Browning’s story in the NYT, Switzerland has agreed to hand over information about bank accounts at UBS that may be used by Americans avoiding taxes. 

Inasmuch as I do not condone tax cheats, I should not care about this. And yet I find that I do.

On one level, lawbreaking is just lawbreaking. And I favor the rule of law. People who disagree with laws should work to overturn them, not violate them.

On a second level, however, I recognize that some laws (such as oppressive taxation of the rich) are grossly unfair; that the chances of overturning them in this century are nil; and that their effects on one’s life can be tremendous. Ultimately, that which is moral is that which serves one’s own happiness. So, in that perspective, yes, I accept that lawbreaking can be justified and that those who are forced to it can be victims.

On a third level, though, it seems to me that far, far too many wealthy Americans are perfectly content to cut legals corners for their own personal gain, but have little concern with overturning the governmental oppression that forces them to engage in such behavior. In the last election, it is said, Wall Street was a Democratic enclave. If anyone who did not throw himself and his millions into violent opposition to Obama’s election is now going to have his secret Swiss bank account exposed, I say goody. 

Lastly, and more generally, I am sad for Switzerland and for the West. It has been said that the individual freedom we have enjoyed in the West resulted in part from the fractionation of the European continent into small, competing nations. Oppression in one land could be countered by escaping over the mountains to another. (An old joke says that that is why so many Jews are violinists and so few are pianists.) Swiss bank secrecy represented a last symbol of that tradition. Now it is gone.


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