Are we afraid of tax or just afraid to talk about it?
Or are some of us really afraid that people will get to understand it?
Whatever the system, people will complain they personally are taxed too much; for evidence witness the cries of horror at very low levels of taxation when income tax or death duties were introduced. Sometimes people extend their overview to “everybody is taxed too much” or “everybody is taxed too much except for X who is on the fiddle”. In fact everybody knows (absolutely) of somebody (or some class of people) who they are convinced is on the fiddle
Attitudes to this vary. Some, especially on the libertarian right, admire it as a blow against The Man, others, especially on the left, mutter darkly about one law for the rich and another for the poor.
In Lewis Carroll’s Sylvie and Bruno there is a scene in which the crowd chant “less Bread, more taxes” but this remedied by the flick of a switch, all rather reminiscent of contemporary attempts at people-herding, if perhaps more effective.
The small state radical right has a long history in the USA, as you might expect in a country founded on a rebellion against taxes (though protesting their legitimacy, not their level), but not in Britain. The homegrown right has always flirted more closely with fascism in the economic sense, where the state is all powerful, with an ugly side helping of racism.
In post-war Britain there was a consensus about the role of the state, and that the state should be properly funded to look after health, education and security (national and policing), with that extending to the control of certain branches of the economy – energy (including coal), railways and other infrastructure. As far as this country was concerned, small state politics begins with Margaret Thatcher, and it came under the rubric of lower taxes, especially for the rich and for corporations. Of course a substantial part of this was the breaking of the trade unions
It is clear why the business classes might want small statism as a policy of self-advancement. As many of them already subscribed to a peculiarly British notion of education (that it must be better if you pay for it and besides it leaves someone else to look after your kids) and had no time for the unsuccessful, the recipients of “welfare”, it made sense for them. The great achievement of the modern small-statists (even followers of Ayn Rand) has been to convince those protected by the state that this is a bad thing and that they should either get a grip or curl up and die.
In recent years the right wing press has had great success with putative tax rises that will not actually affect very many people – look at the fuss they manage to create around inheritance tax, paid by fewer than 10% of estates, or to increases in higher rate income tax paid by about 10%. They have succeeded in alarming people who are never likely to have to pay those taxes. Just the word “tax” makes them gasp and stretch their eyes. One might say to them “get real” but in these days of voting with guts not brain, it won’t get far.