Aye, well, there's the rub, isn't it?


An interesting point made in a letter to The Observer:

At the risk of prompting incredulity and ire in equal measure in these days of a “low welfare, low tax, high wage” economy, I, for one, would not be opposed to higher taxation if I were able to feel that the revenues thereby accumulated would result in improved public services and in the amelioration of the increasing inequality that blights our society.

We would all be willing to pay more if what we received were better matched to our desires, if what we received increased our utility more than the cost to us in cash. However, the problem is that government has already exceeded its ability to work this magic for us.

There are undoubtedly things that both must be done and which only government can do. Thus the herding of us into the taxation net to pay for the national defense (of whatever size that may be, however organised), a criminal justice system (of whatever size and however organised) and so on through that list of things that must and can only be done by government is fair enough. We are, after all, around here minarchists, not anarcho-capitalists.

However, when marginal tax revenue is earmarked to pay for train sets to the Midlands, train sets that don't even pass their own cost benefit analysis, or barrages in that gaping chasm between Wales and England (although that is to be paid for by gouging us through our energy bills, not our tax ones), or an expansion of that outdoor relief for the dimmer scions of the upper middle classes that is Official Development Aid, it's not entirely obvious that, at this stage, more government is in fact worth the extra money we must pay for it.

The question then becomes, well, how can we increase our utility by deploying our cash, our accumulated effort, in a better manner? And the answer is that if government cannot manage it, as it cannot at this size, then we should be shifting more of our spending to market based methods, not filtering it through the preferences of the political class.

For example, if someone, like our letter writer, feels that inequality is too high and that he should be paying something to reduce it then the answer is in his own hands. Take some of the money he has and give it to a poor person. Inequality is thus reduced without the politicians splurging the cash on train sets, recreations of Offa's Dyke or gap years for Johannes and Jocasta.

The answer is thus in our own hands, not that of the tax system. For we cannot in fact, given who ends up in politics and deciding how that extra tax revenue is spent, make sure that more tax is indeed spent on what we desire it to be spent upon. Thus don't give them the money, deploy it instead as you would wish.

Of course, it is possible that someone, somewhere, has some clever plan to being the spendthrifts to heel in which case answers on a postcard to one G. Osborne, 11, Downing Street please. It's just that no one ever has cooked up such a plan, not in all the recorded history we have available to us for study. Thus we reach that tentative conclusion that it's simply not possible, although we're willing to entertain potential solutions. Just as we are for those flying jet packs we were all promised. But we do fear that it's something, like the jet pack, beyond the laws of reasonable physics and human nature.