Tuesday, 2 January 2007

The end of the free society?

I came across some disturbing statistics over the weekend. Apparently, less than half of the eligible voters in the UK work in the private sector. The rest are either state employees or on state benefits.

This is important because a free society requires the citizens to keep their government in check. It is easy for those who do not rely on welfare and who are not paid a salary by the government to insist that their rulers take a long term view of their needs, look to the health of the economy and not just the wealth of the public finances, and rule in the interests of the nation and not simply serve a host of special interests. But a client nation where the citizens rely on receiving money from the state cannot exercise the same restraining hand.

Of the 44 million on the electoral register, only 20 million are either employed in the private sector or are self-employed. Over a third as many (7.1 million) are employed by government, and their interests lie in pushing up public sector salaries and benefits at the expense of taxpayers; we have already seen the effect of this in the government’s spineless and unprincipled decision not to properly reform the civil service pension scheme. The rest are made up of 11.8 million pensioners, 2.7 million on incapacity benefit and 3.2 million on various other benefits, many of whom pay very little direct taxes and yet all of whom have a vested interest in seeing public spending – and consequently direct taxes – rise.

Benjamin Franklin described democracy as “two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch.” In this case, the welfare dependent and those on the government payroll now outnumber those whose productivity must ultimately pay the government’s bill. Yesterday I wrote that “It may seem at present that intervention and the large state dominates, but the tide will turn. The voters, be they the over-taxed middle class or working class playthings of bureaucracy, want freedom.” However, if over half the voters are dependent on the government’s ability to squeeze money out of the remaining less-than-half, that is not the case.

Ultimately, freedom relies on autonomous individuals agreeing to pass over a proportion of their wealth to the public good. This is not the case if a predatory government can use the votes of its clients to extract ever more from a minority of independent wealth producers. The results will not only be spiralling taxes and unemployment and a generally worsening economy, which we are already seeing. It will be to draw ever more people into government control, ever expanding its power until we are all its subjects.


Manny said...

Hello again Thomas,

Just one question this time:
Are you really sure you're a liberal?

Just about the only thing in this blog I have an argument with is your assertion that freedom requires individuals to give a portion of their wealth for the public good. If by that you mean, to support the military, the police, and the judicial system, I agreee. Anything beyond that, we start getting into an arbitrarily confiscatory realm.

Manny Pimenta
Lunar Explorer

Tom Papworth said...

I think you may have misunderstood what I meant when I said that “freedom relies on autonomous individuals agreeing to pass over a proportion of their wealth to the public good”.

I am not saying that freedom requires that individuals hand over money; it would be entirely possible to have a free society in which individuals did not (though I do believe that the machinery of government, justice and law enforcement would need to be financed at the very least). I am saying that freedom requires that those handing over their wealth consent to the process.

In general there is agreement in society that government is empowered by the people to raise taxes; the debate is around how much is raised. However, if the power to decide is in the hands of those who spend rather than those who pay, there is a danger that the state will become nothing more than a predator.

There is a separate question about how one deals with those refuse to pay any tax at all but still benefit from the public goods. But in answer to your question, yes I am a liberal. You appear, however, to be confusing liberty with anarchy. Liberty requires the protection of individual life, freedom and property. Without any such protection what one has instead is a violent free-for-all in which life, freedom and property can be taken by force. I am not an anarchist.