Thursday, 3 March 2011

Liberty Free Libertarianism: Taxing Yourself Elected

I for one welcome our new minarchist overlords - Flag of the People's Republic of China - milords could not possibly object!Here's a hardy perennial weed in conservative and right-libertarian commentary: disenfranchise net recipients of tax moneys, so as to remove the temptation for everybody to ruin everybody else by trying to vote themselves rich.

The standard arguments against this are obvious, and just as obviously don't convince the arguers. So I want to make an argument I haven't heard before, which must just naturally convince all pro-market anti-government folk as no other argument could. Their proposal is almost guaranteed to entrench monolithic Big Government and collectivized service provision forever, unless one supposes the complete benignity of the government!

Follow the purely political logic, as government-sceptics rightly do in other cases. What sort of government could and would enact such a proposal? Clearly, a government which didn't expect public sector workers to vote in its favour. It will be now pretty much certain of re-election next time around, since in a modern society that makes a very large proportion of the opposition vote thrown into the dustbin. Unless...

...unless the government starts shedding public sector jobs, or doing anything at all that will make room for the discontented and displaced workers in the franchise-bearing private sector. Enemies stuck on benefits or in dead-end make-work public sector jobs are good enemies from this government's point of view! Alas, the evil does not end there.

Popular with workers in Sector X? Legislate non-monetary advantages for that industry, or find ways to nudge or force private persons to use its services. Mandatory electricity-style fees payable by residents towards 'competing, private' security utilities, anybody? (Does the company that battens off my electricity bills either generate or distribute actual electricity? By thunder, it does not!)

Unpopular with workers in Sector Y? Make it impossible to make a legitimate profit in it without the aid of government subsidies to "help Y meet the tough but fair standards of 21st-Century civilization". Proceed by the quickest road to whatever degree of nationalization knocks out the despised ones' franchise. In extreme cases, just kill the industry altogether and import the necessaries.

Always make sure nominal charges and prices are high for people in precarious or low-end jobs, so that they will need in-work benefits exceeding their official tax contributions in order to make ends meet. Indirect taxes on the goods they consume are a good wheeze for this, since the immediate payer is some corporation or other. Sales taxes with onerous rules for proof, tardy payment, and fearsome penalties for mistakes might work nearly as well. The targets still end up paying the money which is later recycled back to them in benefits, but it only shows up on the books to their discredit. Eureka!

Rinse and repeat for a while, and what you have is a self-perpetuating enfranchised aristocracy, to whom everybody else is for accounting and voting purposes beholden. The boundaries of nomenklatura command-and-control and of mere crony capitalism are about as meaningful as they get to be in decadent Marxism-Leninism, and whether the resulting economy is more nearly communist or fascist is a nice question for people who care whether the stick-up artist is dressed more like Superman or Batman.

This is not a prediction of dire doom. This is a description of the direct incentives obtaining for any 'democratic' politician who starts disenfranchising tax-takers.

Of course, not all politicians are rats. They may act nobly, wisely, and against their own selfish interests. They may even do so collectively. Such things are not impossible.

But, "Vote for these shiny policies, since their advocates will surely govern nobly, wisely, and impartially!" is not a libertarian, or even an honestly conservative, position to assume. It is assuming quite another position altogether. So even if disenfranchisement were intellectually coherent or just - which I dispute vehemently - there is nothing at the end of it but a chaotic and forcibly collectivized bag of snakes.

If the unlimited democratic franchise is bad for liberty, any form of government-controlled franchise is inherently going to be a hundred times worse! How this can be hard for any government-sceptic to understand, I have no idea whatsoever.

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