Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Democracy and property rights

An email reached me today from Detlev Schlichter, who had some frighteningly insightful comments on democracy and property rights:
The way modern democracy has developed, it is entirely incompatible with any notion of property rights. Property rights today are never absolute, they are conditional. All property in our society belongs ultimately to the state. You are simply allowed to use some property as long as you keep paying whatever fees and levies the state imposes on you, and as long as you conduct yourself according to what the state deems appropriate. The moment you fall behind paying your dues, any and all your property is at risk of confiscation.

As Doug Casey says: Try not paying your property tax for a year or two and you will find out who really owns your house.

Already more than 160 years ago, the German philosopher Max Stirner wrote that the existence of a state and the notion of private property are incompatible. The state has the monopoly on legalized violence, on taxation and on legislation, and those who run this monopoly have no interest in protecting your property but every interest, and every means, to invade it. While that was also true of monarchic states, at least there it appears that the inherent class chasm between rulers and the ruled encouraged some restraint: kings and dukes were afraid of the mob. In democracy, the state represents the mob. It could well be the fate of every democracy to ultimately descend into mob rule, and no environment is more suitable for this than a prolonged economic crisis.
I've been reflecting recently on how a stable, minimal state could be maintained without the injustice of an aristocracy.

The universal franchise does seem to be a large part of the problem. As a believer in meritocracy, I couldn't countenance any sort of caste system, but it cannot be right, or sustainable, for net beneficiaries of the state to vote for increasingly generous payments from a wealth-producing minority.

Rothbard argues quite convincingly that there is no such thing as a just tax. For now, though, I'm still inclined toward minarchism rather than anarcho-capitalism, so I seek a tax regime that is
The best I've been able to come up with so far is a system that taxes passports, and nothing else.

Passports would not be required to leave the UK, though other countries may still require one for entry. The passport office would require no more personal information than at present. Overall, the government would need to know much less about us. How you make your money, for example, would be no business of the state.

Passports would come at a cost sufficient to fund a police force, courts, and a military capable of defending us against credible threats.

Passports would also entail voting rights. Those unable or unprepared to meet the fee would be disenfranchised, but it hardly seems the right word in this context. Anyone would be free to vote, provided they fund the (minimal) services they enjoy, and the cost would hopefully be less than is currently collected through council tax.

As I wrote in 2010:
In 1900 the government spent £265 million, equivalent to £24 billion today. If spending had been kept at those levels, council tax would suffice to cover it.
In 30 years' time, the world will be a very different place. It seems unlikely that a welfare state on current lines will exist. Sooner or later, we shall all have to live within our means. The buck cannot indefinitely be passed to the next generation. We can only hope that there is not too much bloodshed in the transition.

[1] I remember a good article on the deadweight costs of taxation that Jamie Whyte published with The Times. It is currently stuck behind a paywall that libertarians can't begrudge, however much we may lament the passing of free linking.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting comment indeed! Trying to figure out a tax system that encourages smaller government rather than the opposite is an interesting exercise.

    BTW, I would like to get in touch. Do you accept emails, and if so, could you respond to my message? My email is