Is it wrong for someone to decry certain tax breaks for the wealthy and then take advantage of those tax breaks himself?

I don't think so. The allegation here doesn't seem to relate to the two acts in isolation. The worry is not that

Decrying tax breaks for the wealthy is wrong.

Nor is the worry that

Taking advantage of tax breaks for the wealthy is wrong.

Rather, the wrong is a kind of compound:

It is wrong to decry tax breaks for the wealthy while also taking advantage of those same tax breaks.

In other words, the charge is one of moral inconsistency or hypocrisy. The reasoning here seems to be as follows:

[1] Moral hypocrisy is wrong.
[2] For a wealthy person to decry tax breaks for the wealthy and then take advantage of those same tax breaks amounts to moral hypocrisy.
Therefore, for a wealthy person to decry tax breaks for the wealthy and then take advantage of those same tax breaks is wrong.

This argument is clearly valid: If [1] and [2] are true, then the conclusion necessarily follows. So if there's a problem here, it lies in the truth of the premises. Are they true?

[1] is tricky. Some moral principles operate on the thought that there's something inconsistent about morally wrong actions. One such principle is Kant's Formula of Universal Law. Without going too far into the details, Kant's principle says that an act is wrong if the principle the person uses to justify it (her 'maxim', in Kant's language) cannot be consistently willed as a universal moral principle. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kant-moral/#ForUniLawNat Notoriously, such principles are open to a number of objections. Other moral theories (for example virtue theories) might entail that such hypocrisy exhibits a vice — a lack of integrity, perhaps.

In any event, I propose we grant [1], even though it may be harder to defend than it appears. For a stronger case against the argument can be made by examining premise [2]: It is not obviously hypocritical to believe such tax breaks are unjust, say, while nevertheless taking advantage of them. This is because the former is a criticism of the tax system of the political regime one lives under, but the latter does not amount to an endorsement of that system. Compare: One might think that the rules of a game are unfair, but so long as one is compelled to play the game, one is permitted to take advantage of those rules. Note the analogy to taxes: We generally don't have any reasonable way of avoiding paying taxes (we can avoid it only by moving to another country or by going to prison). We are in effect compelled to pay taxes, so even if the tax system is unjust, we are not required to forego benefits that we would not receive under a more just system. The receipt of the benefits doesn't imply any endorsement of the system being just. In short, we don't have an example of hypocrisy because we don't have a conflict of moral attitudes. One's public attitude toward the tax system need not be at odds with one's private attitudes putting that system to one's best advantage.

Two points here: First, it might well be supererogatory to forego these tax benefits — that is to say, it would be morally admirable to do so but not morally obligatory. Second, it would be hypocritical to accept such benefits, believing them to be unjust, while (say) publicly advocating against reforming the tax system so that it is more just.

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