Declaring Independence

‘The assembly which votes the taxes, should be elected exclusively by those who pay something towards the taxes imposed. Those who pay no taxes…have every motive to be lavish and none to economise….Any power of voting possessed by them is a violation of the fundamental principle of free government; the severance of the power of control from the interest in its beneficial exercise.’

John Stuart Mill

Every so often a publication comes along that causes you to stop and think.  I have just finished reading such a publication.  I encourage everyone to read ‘Declaring Independence – Three Essays on the Future of the Welfare State’, a Centre for Independent Studies (CIS) pamphlet containing essays authored by Peter Saunders, Eugene Dubossarsky and Stephen Samild, and the ALS’s John Humphreys.

It attempts to find common ground between the traditional libertarian approach (as espoused by the likes of Charles Murray) that welfare encourages dependency, and the paternalistic approach (e.g. Noel Pearson) that a certain proportion of the population needs to be looked after and wants to be told what to do. The authors suggest that Murray’s libertarianism is valid for the majority of people, but that Pearson’s paternalism is necessary for a minority.

‘Because a few people can’t be trusted to run their own lives, no one is trusted…It’s like being back at school, when one miscreant who misbehaved caused the whole class to be kept behind for detention’, writes Saunders.  Tony Abbott, shadow Minister for Families and Community Affairs, has even suggested that eveybody on welfare should be subject to quarantining of payments (along the Northern Territories model) to ensure money goes on rent and food.

The essays put forward a twofold solution to the twin problems of government paternalism and citizen incompetence.

Part I proposes that those who need constant help and surveillance should be able to declare themselves dependent.  But this will not be costless. In particular, you will forfeit your right to vote and to sit on a jury. The logic is sound – if you can’t be trusted to run your own affairs, then why should i trust you to run mine. Like shareholders in a company, if you have paid in nothing, argues Saunders, you can hardly be expected to have a say in how the dividends are distributed. The main advantage of this approach will be to strengthen democracy as it will weaken the ability of politicians to buy votes (currently 4 out of 10 Australians rely on the government for the majority of their income).

Part II is authored by Humphreys and introduces the idea of ‘declaring independence’ from the state. The core of this idea is that autonomy and dignity could be restored to the mass of the population who would no longer have to pass on their income to the government, only to beg for its return at election time in the form of benefits (minus the cost of incompetent government provision).

Such self-declared independent people would still be subject to the laws of the land, but only those that stop them from harming others. For instance, they would not be required to wear seat belts because if they were involved in an accident, they would have to fund the medical costs themselves from their own private insurance policy.

Crucial to these ideas is the underlying premise that some people are more competent than others. We readily accept this concept on the sporting pitch, but come over all queasy when applied elsewhere. Saunders turns to John Stuart Mill again, a passionate believer in human enlightenment and self-improvement, who warned against ‘valuing the views of the ignorant as equivalent of the educated.’ 

I can’t see Brendan Nelson or Kevin Rudd jumping up and down for joy at these ideas but they are a valuable contribution in addressing the many problems caused by our current welfare system.  They deserve to be heard.

52 thoughts on “Declaring Independence

  1. I’ll have to look into this a little closer. But part 1 seems to be a recipe for creating serf class and part 2 isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

  2. Adrien

    i think the point that Saunders et al are making is that it’s better to have a small minority of dependents than a large majority. anyway, there already exists and has always existed a serf class.

  3. The proposition that only tax payers should vote would be a near impossible reform to sell. Most people don’t view citizenship as being like shareholders in a corporation and many would in fact find such a proposition abhorent. Most view citizenship as being more like membership of a community club. The point of giving the vote to a given tier of society is to ensure that the political class remains responsive to the concerns of that tier and not just elite opinion. Excluding a tier of society from voting (dependent or otherwise) makes that tier politically less relevant. Whilst it might be argued that the compassion of taxpayers would ensure that the non-voting tier was looked after politically I suspect that same compassion would be extremely relunctant to remove the vote from that tier in the first place. I think that campaingning for Tasmanian to declare independance would have more success.

    The reform also seems to assume that taxpayers are known to the state and can be allocated the vote accordingly. If GST was our only tax would that mean only business owners could vote? And if we consider the situation 150 years ago then how many women paid tax and would have been able to vote under such a scenerio. If adult women were today financially dependent on their fathers and husbands (as many still are in some countries) I would still argue that they should all have the vote.

    Of course rather than use tax as the foundation for voting you could use the receipt of welfare as the test. However the most problematic areas of welfare are in my view related to tax rebates (LITO, SATO, FTB-A, FTB-B etc) and not so much with explicit handouts.

    I must admit however that I have not read the essays. So perhaps I have got the proposition all wrong.

  4. Most view citizenship as being more like membership of a community club.

    In fact membership of an extended family might be a better analogy to describe how many people feel.

  5. Terje

    don’t get hung up on the specifics of the proposals.
    the first hurdle is whether to accept the basic premises;

    i) people are not equally competent
    ii) some people (a small minority) need the state to look after them (i.e. paternalism is valid for some)
    iii) the vast majority do not (libertarianism is valid for the majority) but are being infantilised by the state’s determination to tell them what to do
    iv) the receipt of welfare needs to be a two-way street. whether that is losing the vote, the right to sit on a jury or something else is a detail.

    My reading of the paper is that the removal of the right to vote is not about whether you pay tax, nor is it central to the arguments of the essays. however, i will try to contact Saunders to expand on this point for us.

  6. This is why I’ve always felt comfortable calling myself either a moderate libertarian or classical liberal. As much as I agree that people should be motivated to move off welfare, the points made above in the post(i haven’t read the publication) are ridiculous. How is allowing the government to strip your right to vote or sit on a jury because your welfare dependent compatible with libertarian principles?

    The models also seem to forget that there are legitimate reasons to be on certain forms of welfare/government support eg disability, death of the bread winner in the family, mental illness, studying a high contact hour course such as medicine or law ect .

    Also your approach to ‘declare independence’ appears to against equality before the law, not to mention who wouldn’t opt out of having their income taxed?

    I am not a fan of welfare in the slightest. But the idea’s listed above just seems like a ridiculous overreaction to stop welfare cheats. How about a negative income tax scheme for those who are able to work such as suggested by Milton Friedman combined with a largely private but slightly subsides charitable provider of welfare? This is a lot less radical and does not involve stripping away individual civil liberties.

  7. As a beleiver in both libertarianism and democracy, I’m always uncomfortable with the idea of denying votes to some group of people.

    There have been many ‘stupid people should not be allowed to vote’ arguments over the years, and sometimes it’s tempting to think that way, especially when incompetent populist governments keep being elected.

    The trouble is, who decides who’s smart enough to get the vote and and who’s too dumb and ‘not up for it’? You risk creating a class of ‘leader elites’, and it’s pretty anti-democratic when you think about it.

    It’s an interesting attempt to get around what is, to me, one of the challenges of liberatrianism – the fact that some people are less competent than others and actually need/welcome government control over their lives, and in supporting them the state strips away liberties from the rest of us.

    However, I think this proposal comes at the expense of democracy however, and is dangerous.

  8. I don’t often have free time during the day, so I’ll make use of it while I can.

    The idea of declaring independence has more logical consistency about it – those who are competent to assess their own affairs and determine their future capacity to maintain independence can do so. Those who aspire to such competence have a goal to aim for.

    IMHO the idea of declaring dependence is not so logically consistent. It would be nice to think that all are naturally independent and capable of rationally forming the opinion and exercising the declaration of their own dependence. Some may be, but perhaps not all.

    However, neither could operate without a binding subsidiarity agreement on the part of governments. This would have to take the form of a Constitutional amendment that states explicitly the circumstances under which the government will not act or step into the lives of subsidiary individuals, families and communities and explicitly limits the circumstances under which it will intervene).

    The present problem arises because government does not respect the realms of natural independence of individuals, of families, and of communities. Governments do not respect rules of subsidiarity…and there is no reason to expect it will do so outside a Constitutional binding of their powers.

    I recognise this is dangerously close to a bill of rights amendment. I would not advocate for a bill of rights, because I think our common law heritage is sufficient. However in the case of a Subsidiarity amendment we would be setting boundary conditions on government action, as opposed to a bill of rights trying to define (and artificially constrain) the roles and responsibilities of citizens.

  9. Part I proposes that those who need constant help and surveillance should be able to declare themselves dependent. But this will not be costless. In particular, you will forfeit your right to vote and to sit on a jury.

    Cool, I now declare myself dependent so don’t have to vote or do bloody jury duty. Do the authors of this paper have any idea how many people would be happy to sacrifice these rights to live off the state?

    For instance, they would not be required to wear seat belts because if they were involved in an accident, they would have to fund the medical costs themselves from their own private insurance policy.

    They must also fund their families, possibly for the rest of their lives if permanent disability arises. Ah, then they will just declare themselves dependent and so not have to vote …

    What if I chose to drive an unroadworthy car and killed a few people in the process. How will that cost be determined? Easy, I, or my family, shall have to be enslaved to those who lost their loved ones because of my freedom. After all, a life for a life … .

  10. John- the system would hardly encourage more people onto welfare. Though I think a lot of people on the dole would be happy not to vote, so it’s hardly as disincentive either.

    To be honest, centrelink payments suck; $200-$300/ week is really nothing when compared to a full time job. The only people who WANT to stay on payments are either old/ disabled and can’t work, or they are from a culture of unemployment and don’t realise just how much better work is. Students live off the public purse, but most end up as taxpayers- though I agree HECS repayments could be extended to living allowances.

    I think the bigger problem with welfare is “family welfare”, the idea that singles should pay for people to have children. FTB, baby bonuses and child care subsidies all fall into this category. There seems to be a sense among taxpayers that they are entitled to something- even among pensioners “I paid tax for 50 years, so the government should ensure I can keep my house.” The hard thing is- this view is somewhat legitimate, especially given that used to be the prevaling view and attitude before super- but the government isn’t a savings fund, nor should it be. There’s also a sense that taxpaying families should be helped out, because Australia needs children to support the country’s economy (and government budget) in the future.

    It’s well and good to talk about cutting government, but first the sense of entitlement needs to go. And EMTRs need to be lowered so there’s incentive to come off the public purse.

  11. Shem – before my time but not before most pensioners time there was a social security tax designed to pay for pensions. The fact that people who paid it might feel ripped off if they were denied the pension should not surprise.

  12. Mark, they can’t make you vote, just cast an invalid ballot. Pretend to tick, or write a rude message on the form!

  13. For those who haven’t read the paper, I’d encourage you to do so. Some of these responses are anticipated and others framed. To clarify, John’s paper is about declaring independence. Eugene Dubossarsky and I make the declaring dependence argument. They’re presented in the same volume but are separate sets of ideas. Peter Saunders ties them together in his intro, from which pommygranate draws most of his summarising comments.

    Eugene and I propose the welfare choice model as a way of thinking about the interrelationship between dependency and enfranchisement, not as a policy proposal.

    We take it as read that democracy is an ongoing experiment. The current configuration of suffrage needn’t be thought of as ideal, and shouldn’t be thought of as the end of the experiment either, e.g:
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/germany/2275407/Germany-plans-to-give-vote-to-babies.html

    We argue that the welfare state is a tragedy of the commons when recipients are also voters. The just means of resolving such a conflict of interest is to ask those affected to make a choice. We suggest that this choice could be offered in a market setting, i.e. each individual decides when his need is significant enough that he’d trade his vote for relief at others’ expense; he can move between dependence/non-voting and non-dependence/voting as his circumstances dictate.

  14. Terje- what do you think we should do about the pensioners? I feel very torn about the whole thing.

    I think children should have a greater responsibility for their parents. But should “negligence” of elderly relatives come into account the same way it does for children?

    Some pensioners that had say, 10 kids (pre-contraception) might have worked their whole lives and only had their house to show for it. Now, due to the cost of living, even keeping their house is a struggle for some. Should they be forced to sell off their house and move when they come from a generation where home ownership was the primary goal and it was expected the government would support you once you could no longer work?

  15. Shem,

    I am a dole bludger so I know how hard it is to survive on the dole. Apparently I am too stupid to do basic clerical work, I have physical limitations which prevents me doing labouring work, I do not fit into any box so cannot receive any employment assistance. People in my situation do not give a damn about voting and jury duty, we just survive on whatever scraps we can find.

  16. “Should they be forced to sell off their house”
    No, but it’s pretty simple for them to get a negative equity loan on it and live happily for the rest of their lives. This stops the phenomenon of asset rich but cash poor people getting government subsidies.

  17. Shem

    Should they be forced to sell off their house

    you’re sounding like a latte socialist.

    they could a) sell their house and buy a cheaper one b) tap their 10 kids for support

    some pensioners won’t have these options – that’s why the age pension is there.

  18. People in my situation do not give a damn about voting and jury duty, we just survive on whatever scraps we can find.

    John, I’m sorry to hear about your position. Having said what you’ve said, would you be happy to declare ‘dependence’? Say hypothetically, if you were to have a committee with oversight of your life, who decided the most cost effective way to provide for your life so long as decent standards were met (as decided by the ‘non-dependent’ voter), and assume they more or less managed to do this – would this be a good situation for you assuming you were happy to forgo voting, not being able to smoke, etc

  19. Mick,

    This is an example of how much I want my life controlled by others. A few days ago I went to the doctor to get an anti-depressant. I told him the exact drug I wanted and the dosage. The drug I chose has some remarkable neuroprotective properties. People may not be aware but a cardinal feature of antidepressant drugs is that these stimulate neurogenesis. Good doctor, he knows I know more about this than him so defers to my judgment. In other medical issues I may defer to him. I wouldn’t trust a committee in a pink fit and one reason for that is this: an expert on a particular matter can give far better advice than a committee of average Joes. So a non-dependent voter is very likely to make one mistake after another.

  20. So, if I can summarise: you cay ‘an expert on a particular matter can give far better advice than a committee of average Joes’, but at the end of the day we could appoint an ‘expert’ to the committee. What you’re saying is that it’s imperative that you are the judge of the quality of that expert, and in many situations you would defer to your own knowledge.

    So, in light of that, your preference would be something like a minimal level of welfare but with full entitlements. What about if the only entitlement you had to forgo to be on welfare was voting and jury duty? Would that personally work for you?

  21. No Mick, what would work for me is if someone would just give me a job to be off welfare so I could not have to worry about finding money for the next meal and concentrate instead of returning to some research I was involved in years ago. That’s all I really want but I am a very eccentric person. I know a number of people who are welfare dependent and will remain so, those people would willing forego voting and jury duty rights.

    The problem with an expert on a committee is that the committee members will dilute the value of the expert’s contribution. Committees a Rudd’s equivalent of an orgy and often provide about as much intellectual value as orgies. Non-political committees are very valuable but I remain doubtful the same exists in government related matters.

  22. Innerestin’.

    A. How are you going to eliminate non-taxpayers from the electoral rolls when there’s a consumption tax? You can vote if you bring a supermarket receipt?

    B. I know what you mean but don’t you want to get rid of income tax?

    C. What in heaven’s name does eliminating poor people from the rolls have to do with freedom? If that’s what you believe why don;t you just say so?

    Come on it’s an even older and more respected school of political philosophy than liberalism.

    Oh and…

    D. Why don’t you just concentrate on things that might happen in this life on this planet?

  23. Good points Adrien,

    The idea of excluding some people from political processes because they are welfare dependent is elitism through the back door.

  24. This is a hideously bad idea almost guaranteed to make libertarians look like tossers. Saunders has always been trying to get paternalism in through the back door and now he’s recruited Noel Pearson. FWIW, I’m with Jarryd above – that’s the sort of libertarianism I recognise and endorse.

    Some people are going to hash up their lives. That’s the nature of the beast. In trying to prevent a minority from losing, paternalism seems destined to prevent the majority from winning. I know Pearson is broken-hearted about Aboriginal disadvantage, but much of that is due to people receiving subsidies to live in areas that are economically simply not viable. Strip away the subsidies and Aborigines will move to the cities and finish up like the rest of us – a mixture of winners and losers, rich and poor, clever and stupid, etc etc.

  25. Doesn’t seem like anybody hear will lower themselves to the point of actually reading the papers before concluding that they know better.

    Adrien & John seem not to notice the extremely simple answer to their point of determining who to exclude… the people self-select.

    And whinging about “elitism” is hollow. For those wanting to discuss reality, they will notice that all humans are NOT equal. If you want to call recognising diversity “elitism” then fine. I will call it “sanity”.

    And sceptic… we already live with all the paternalism you’re complaining about. You might like it, but please stop insisting that you should enforce your preferences on those people, including me, who don’t want or need your “help”. I want to opt-out. And the only feasible reason for not letting me is that you think you deserve to run my life.

    How about you actually read the paper.

    As a side note (and please recognise that this is entirely off-topic) JohnH — I simply refuse to believe that a sane, able person can’t get a job in Australia. If you have a car & licence then you can always deliver pizzas. Tele-marketing jobs are a dime a dozen. Service industry has a shortage of workers at the moment. And rural employers find it hard to keep workers.

    I agree it should be easier to get a job (by getting rid of regulations that restrict employers) and I agree that people aren’t necessarily going to get the job they want (I want to be an astronaut — seriously)… but I have seen the dregs of society searching for work, and getting it within a few days. It’s hard to walk around the streets without tripping over “staff wanted” signs in some areas. Even the illegal workers I know seem to get a job within a few weeks.

    For people with serious mental/physical problems, we do indeed need to consider how better to deal with their unique (and relatively rare) problems. Given their serious needs, they probably would benefit from more individualised care instead of some cookie-cutter approach. Civil society is a wonderful thing.

    But anyway — neither the “dependence” nor my “independence” paper calls for scrapping welfare. That is the “hard libertarian” position… but both papers are searching for more moderate paths towards greater self-reliance. I would have thought taking millionaires off welfare would have been a fairly acceptable first step. But apparently that’s too radical for sceptic & friends. Sigh.

  26. “The idea of excluding some people from political processes because they are welfare dependent is elitism through the back door.”

    Hardly through the back door. I don’t think the CIS was trying to casually slip in elitism into the policy picture here – Peter Saunders pretty directly references a previous essay collection ‘in praise of elitism’
    What they are trying to do is break the conventional discourse in Australia that unthinkingly values egalitarianism as an ends itself.

    I have read the papers, and I do find the idea very appealing, especially of course, independence.
    My main issue is with voting rights of independent/dependent.
    In the first page of the Samild/Dubossarsky essay, they reference Caplan’s work on systematic voter bias and economic misunderstanding.
    But how is removing those that are dependent from the voting pool going to make smarter democratic decisions? Personally, I am independent under the definitions of the essay and consider myself relatively more educated and intelligent than the average Australian. On the other hand, I know there are many individuals far more intelligent, educated, well read than I who have widely different opinions on economics. As I said, elitism was certainly not taboo in this essay – there were critiques of stupid jurors who can’t understand complex legal arguments. So by that it is implied smart people should be making the democratic decisions only. But intelligence is only a matter of degree. I may be smarter than a dole bludger, therefore I should have a vote and he should not. However Noam Chomsky is probably smarter than me (in most objective respects), but I would abhor the idea of him being more entitled to a vote.

    Also, the fact of being dependent should not automatically disqualify a vote. A person who is physically disabled for example, a paraplegic, may understandably require the care of the state. But he might be just as mentally lucid as an independent person and be in the position of an independent person were it not for his physical handicap. So the logic of not being able to take care of oneself as justification for denying a vote breaks down – the reason the paraplegic cannot take care of himself is not because he would be mentally unqualified to ‘run the lives of others’, but because of a physical state that is not his own fault.

    I like the idea of letting people declare independence, but why make them make a choice between that or declaring dependence? Losing voting rights is something that will never sell. Elitism makes sense, but you will never convince anyone in Australia. Declaring independence as a means to reduce churn is a much more sensible welfare reform proposal than radically rethinking suffrage and trying to create two distinct classes in society.

  27. I simply refuse to believe that a sane, able person can’t get a job in Australia. If you have a car & licence then you can always deliver pizzas. Tele-marketing jobs are a dime a dozen. Service industry has a shortage of workers at the moment. And rural employers find it hard to keep workers.

    You simply refuse to believe. That says it all. Fuck the evidence, you just refuse. I have TMJ, can’t do telemarketing work. Last time I tried it I would walk out with my jaw clicking away into my ear canal. I have limited vision so must restrict my driving. In case you haven’t noticed monocular vision people have 7 times the accident rate of binocular vision drivers. Many countries prohibit people with my degree of visual impairment from holding commercial driving licences. It can be this bad:

    “Driving was a major problem for most participants.
    Difficult activities included accurately judging
    distances between a car and other objects; backing up
    into a parking space; overtaking other cars; managing
    oncoming traffic; negotiating narrow roads; turning
    corners; coping with glare; and driving in the rain, at
    night, or at dawn. Loss of confidence with driving was
    common, particularly when the participants were in
    unfamiliar environments or driving unfamiliar cars”

    Experience of Monocular Vision in Australia – Monocular Vision – September 2004, JVIB

    I have facial disfigurement, the studies on that show it is a huge barrier to employment. But of course you already have all the answers to why bother checking your facts?

    Such arrogance on your part. Assuming you know all the relevant facts. I have done more types of work than in a year than many people have done in their entire lives. Once again a libertarian demonstrates such a presumptuous and arrogant attitude that it takes little effort to realise why they are regarded, as skepticlawyer noted, as a bunch of tossers.

    I should never have voted for you.

  28. how is removing those that are dependent from the voting pool going to make smarter democratic decisions?

    Winston – these essays make no argument about intelligence and voting – they are not discussing ‘smart voting decisions.’

    The argument is simply that those who contribute to society should have a say, those that don’t, shouldn’t. it may be too radical for most here, but it makes perfect logical sense.

  29. In trying to prevent a minority from losing, paternalism seems destined to prevent the majority from winning.

    the pamphlet is not about paternalism nor does it endorse paternalism.

    have a read first.

  30. Shem – My attitude to the aged pension is closely represented by the view expressed in the LDP policy (as it stood in late 2007). In short keep the aged pension but over time gradually increase the elligibility age.

  31. Hasenkam, you not only suffer from TMJ – you also have PLOM. That stands for Poor Little Old Me. People like you are obviously not the ones who would choose to declare independence from the government.

    That’s fine, but since we each choose our own attitudes, there may be others with TMJ who would make a different choice. That’s the point of the articles on which this post is based.

    I’m unsure about some of the practicalities of the proposal, but I inherently like the idea that those of us who don’t suffer from PLOM can choose to avoid the loss of autonomy and dignity that comes from compulsory dependence.

  32. 1)JohnH’s paper can be taken as independent of StephenS’s paper. You can implement one without implementing the other. You can like one without liking the other. Personally I prefer john’s approach
    2) Restricting the franchise sounds quaint now but it is hardly reactionary or elitist. John Stuart Mill supported restricting the franchise and Hayek’s idea for a 3rd chamber would effectively have given more power (to overrule legislation) to those who were not tax dependent. Personally though I think it is the wrong approach tactically and pragmatically though I don’t regard it with the obvious moral repulsion some people here do. A better approach is to focus on constraining the ability of government to tax and spend PERIOD rather than fiddling around with the franchise, an idea that had bad PR and can backfire.

  33. Jason; A better approach is to focus on constraining the ability of government to tax and spend PERIOD rather than fiddling around with the franchise, an idea that had bad PR and can backfire.

    It sounds like you want a libertarian solution, funny none of us thought of that.

  34. There are a number of reasons why I think restricting the franchise is a very poor means of cutting the size of government – a lot of pain (in terms of the reactions we are seeing here which would be multiplied in outrage ten fold in the general public) for very little gain

    1) we know that historically there has been very little difference between the ALP and Coalition in cutting government, in some respects the ALP has had a better record at least in the past. And which party disproportionately gets the vote of the tax dependent? The ALP

    2) Libertarians are fond of invoking public choice theory and what does publc choice say? All kinds of subsidies and transfers are easy to get through where there are concentrated gains (among the beneficiaries) and diffused costs (i.e. spread among all taxpayers). The tax/welfare dependent are just one of the very many groups who can take advantage of this and in doing so expand the size of government. Since these are the least articulate or politically active members of the community they are probably less good at lobbying than other groups anyway. In short there are *lots* of groups including producer groups whose lobbying efforts have contributed to the current size of government and they don’t need to be tax/welfare dependent to have the incentive and ability to do so.

    3) what are the latest sources of government expansion? The tax/welfare dependent are not the ones pushing for us to go it alone with an ETS to be a shining beacon to the world. They are not the ones or not the only ones pushing for Fat Police and FuelWatch and ChildCare Watch and all the other ridiculous ideas of the Rudd government.

    As I say, I fail to see how much government can be cut simply by restricitng the franchise.

  35. Jim

    I don’t believe you’re getting the distinction.

    My point is that at best restricting the franchise can be categorised as a means of cutting goverment by constraining the *incentive* of goverment to tax and spend (i.e. all this vote buying business that pommy alludes to) and as I explain above not a particularly effective one.

    Constraining the *ability* of government to tax and spend and regulate is something else altogether – measures such as ‘starve the beast’ tax measures, increasing tax competition between States, constitutional amendments (e.g. compensation for regulatory takings), abolishing regulatory agencies, etc.

  36. Jason
    I think I do get the point. Any restriction of franchise can be used as an excuse to further restrict the franchise to other groups who form a minority, say for example those selfish wasteful bastards who use excessive energy resources by insisting on living out past the regular public transport routes.

    I have looked at enough green bullshit to develop quite a good case for it myself.

    I would much prefer a system where the state is restricted both in what it can do, and what it can take.

  37. “We argue that the welfare state is a tragedy of the commons when recipients are also voters”.

    The welfare state approach is a tragedy of the commons regardless, even when recipients are not voters (as, say, under the workhouse system of the early 19th century or the even earlier Speenhamland system). The thing is, the costs of it are spread regardless. Eliminating welfare doesn’t help either, in our time and place, as we no longer have untapped resources that people could take up for themselves; without those and without welfare, you get spread “Vagrancy Costs”. Either way, there is a market failure encouraging levels of unemployment above the optimal.

    Professor Kim Swales has suggested a Pigovian approach to the problem (Distributism is a Coasian approach, as is slavery), equivalent in the long run to Negative Income Tax or Basic Income but faster acting and without their transitional funding problems. It would work regardless of voting rights, short of hitting Malthusian limits, except for the risk that people might vote themselves support levels that were sub-optimal from being too high (ignoring for the moment the problem of what happens “at the edges”, where one country’s tax regime meets those of other countries). So there is a case for depoliticising there – only, since the whole population would be affected indirectly and there would be no direct recipients at all, there is no way to address it through restricting the franchise on the basis of recipent status.

  38. Either way, there is a market failure encouraging levels of unemployment above the optimal.

    Good one, PM. governments impose all sorts of impediments to labor markets but when markets are unable to clear because of labor market rigidities etc. people like you suggest that is market failure.

    Moderator: Seriously can we have just one fucking rule on this blog. Can we ban the term “market failure” on any thread. There is no such thing as market failure and it’s frequent (ab)use is really annoying.

  39. Jason — I also prefer my approach. 🙂

    JohnH — I’m sure I could get you a job if I could be bothered. But given your attitude of “poor me… look at me… you should all be privileged to give me your money” then I’m not really interested. I know people with more problems than you… but they complain less and achieve more.

    Perhaps, if you’re claiming that you fall into that category of people who have such serious mental or physical problems that you can’t run your own life, then you should accept the idea of other people helping to manage your life. And then you might try being thankful.

    Anyway, this has nothing to do with my paper. Which I suspect remains mostly unread by those who criticise it.

  40. I admit Johns paper is unread by me and I do hope to remedy that soon. However I still found the idea as it was presented in this thread worthy of discussion.

    I agree with Jason that the franchise is not set in stone. I support the position of Switzerland and the LDP policy position that makes access to citizenship (and the vote) for immigrants with permanent residence subject to a longer delay (12 years in Switzerland, 10 years in LDP policy). It took me quite a while to get comfortable with this idea but now I think it makes lots of sense. However I also agree with Jason that suggestions about restricting the franchise in a more general way makes little tactical sense. The 2020 summit already chucked up the idea that people who have an excessive carbon footprint should lose the vote.

    Now I’ll go and read the paper.

    http://www.cis.org.au/occasional_papers/op111.pdf

  41. 1) I started reading the paper, I’ll finish it tonight.

    2) The LDP is unlikely to ever implement this as policy. Even Temujin, were he elected. It is a theoretical discussion befitting the ALS and CIS. The LDP focuses on liberal policy that has potential popular support. The LDP will prefer to focus on EMTRs, middle class welfare, corporate welfare, etc. Liberal reform that people would vote for.

    3) Declaring independence is sound- if you want to opt out of medicare, public schooling and welfare (even if you lose your job) you should be eligable for a tax reduction. Tax would still need to be paid a) for military, police, courts and emergency services (opting out of the fire brigade? Lol…..) b) tax is theoretically meant to be about income redistribution- the rich pay for the poor- a total opt out of tax would mean only the poor pay for the poor- welfare would go bankrupt.

    4) Declaring dependence… This is a harder one. I find the theory sound- only those without the capacity to provide for themselves should receive welfare, people unable to provide for themselves must be bad at decision making hence should not vote. It’s something of an insult to the elderly and disabled however. And with 1 in 3 people experiencing depression (which is more than “poor me”- as those who have experienced it know) sometimes getting work is harder than “just getting off your arse”- cognitive distortion can be a real impairment for those with low self-esteem, it isn’t so much that the long term unemployed CAN’T work, but rather that they believe they can’t, because they often come from a culture where they aren’t valued and given positive reinforcement. Starvation is a good cure for depression, I admit- I’m sure people in third world countries are too hungry to be bound by a fear of failure as some long term welfare recipients are. But stripping voting or even leisure rights is hardly the way to encourage self-esteem and promote the positive self-image that would move people into work. Compulsory exercise programs would probably be better…

    Uni students? Well, I think that HECS for Austudy should be considered, but we need to remember that this will act as a disincentive to work after Uni.

    So in general while the shareholder analogy is sound I don’t overly like the idea. Paternalism, in the some cases is justified, I think. Known unemployed drug users should have their payments given as vouchers- no taxpayer should have to pay for pot, booze or ciggies. Neglectful parents (as assessed by an expert) should have conditional payments. Compulsory exercise/ other physical programs would help a lot, I think- a healthy body leads to a healthy mind and a healthy self-image. But what is the cost of all this paternalism compared to an unconditional flat citizens’ income? Will it lead to a reduction or increase in welfare expenditure? Is it worth improving some peoples’ lives through paternalism even if it does end up increasing government expenditure? Kind of gotten off-topic, but these are the questions we need to answer, I think.

    I do think this topic is important however. It cuts to the core of freedom. And begs the question “Should freedom be unconditional or should it only be granted to those who use it responsibly?” Already most libertarians say children and teenagers don’t deserve freedom- only their parents do. Do we extend that parental priveledge to government paternalism for those that abuse their welfare? It is critical to argue, I think.

  42. Brothels on mars, you (a) aren’t paying attention and (b) don’t want to be told (particularly since you want to ban any mention of those things).

    Have a look at both parts of what I wrote, rather than taking one on its own and drawing the wrong conclusion. Here are the two legs:-

    – With welfare, there are spread costs from funding it.

    – Without welfare, there are spread costs from having vagrants around doing their thing (we have to look at theory and history or at other countries to see this).

    That’s where I got “either way” from. Regardless of whether the government intervenes or not, you get spread costs and that makes a Tragedy of the Commons – which is a market failure. Not a failure of the free market, but a failure to be a free market.

    You, on the other hand, refused to look at the “no welfare” branch, jumping to the conclusion that there was only the government intervention branch and building in your entrenched view that nothing ever goes wrong without government intervention. To you, that looks like no market failure because markets aren’t allowed to work – but that wasn’t what I was telling people. It’s a “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” thing, and the mere fact that the damning going on right now is at government hands does not mean we wouldn’t get damned by the other arm of the dilemma if we only stopped this particular government intervention.

  43. Shem

    should freedom be unconditional?

    freedom should always be conditional. we already take away people’s freedom and their right to vote if they commit a felony. we also ban children from many activities because we don’t view them as being sufficiently responsible.

    i.e. the precedents have already been set.

  44. Pommy- so? Forget precedents, what is moral? Libertarianism is supposed to have a consistant ethical stance- I guess you could say welfare is contactual, so it is allowed to be conditional, then again that is almost sounding like the “social contract” argument…

    Isn’t unconditional welfare MORE consistant with freedom than conditional welfare? Welfare itself is an affront to freedom, but out of two evils surely the freedom maximising option is better?

    I’ve diverged into stream of consciousness philosophy but given we claim to be libertarians with a constant philosophy surely that is important. Or are we just pragmatists like everyone else? Do we only support freedom if the end result is agreeable to us? If so, how can we claim the moral high ground and how can we even justifiably use freedom to support our arguments?

  45. Tem, you mean we should read items before judging them? Why can’t I just save time by finding out the name of the author first? I’ve never yet read a Phillip Adams article I agreed with, so it’s now automatic to not bother reading the column. So what’s with this be-fair-and-read-the-whole-thing advice?

Comments are closed.