I used to be passionate about politics. I debated at school and college, edited the Oxford Union magazine and generally had arguments at the drop of a hat about how the country should be run. Happily, I’ve calmed down since then, and I know now that my political beliefs are just the expression of a few pesky genes. That means there’s no ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in these matters. We’re all simply following orders. This post will simply outline what would make me happy. I don’t claim it would solve all the country’s problems, but it would be nice to think it would appreciated by any like-minded readers out there. Apart from Daniel Hannan, there aren’t many popular writers and politicians speaking from the libertarian camp, so they need all the help they can get.
I believe in freedom of contract and caveat emptor. I believe the role of government is to decide binary questions of right and wrong where there is a clear victim of force or fraud. In all other cases, the market has the flexibility to arrange as many different solutions as there are people on the planet. Some libertarians believe in limited government. As far as taxation goes, I don’t believe in government at all. I also don’t believe that the end justifies the means. That means that every law has to apply to every citizen in every situation. If it doesn’t, it should be scrapped.
So what would the world look like if I had my way? Clearly, transitional arrangements would have to smooth the road to this economic and philosophical nirvana, but I don’t imagine all that much would change. We would still go on with our lives, earning money and tending to our loved ones. All that would happen is that we would get richer much faster, and the scope for government corruption and inefficiency would be dramatically reduced.
The first thing to say is that we would still have a government. Laws would still have to be passed or (more importantly) repealed. Treaties would still need to be signed and decisions made in all walks of life. However, the scope for misgovernment would be much smaller because there would be no taxation to pay for government spending. Parliament would have to be funded by voluntary subscription on the part of the voters, and there would be so little it could do without any funds that it would probably only sit for a few weeks or months a year. I would keep the House of Commons and either abolish the House of Lords or replace it with politicians voted in by proportional representation. To be honest, the exact shape of parliament wouldn’t matter, because it would have so little power. Updating the criminal justice system every now and then is not a full time job for 650 politicians, and major decisions would be taken far more often on the basis of referenda. The population would even have a say over whether we went to war or not. After all, killing people costs money, and kings throughout history have had to go down on bended knee to their paymasters when they wanted to go to war. In this case, the paymasters would be the citizens of the entire United Kingdom, and that means that we would no longer be able to be members of the European Union. If there is one thing I’d be sure to do, it would be to make certain that parliament was once more sovereign. The idea of foreigners passing laws affecting citizens in the UK is wrong, and that’s all I have to say about that.
Taxation is wrong in my view, so the first and most obvious change to people’s lives would be that we stopped paying taxes. That sounds like pie in the sky, but we’ve become so used to the post-war status quo that we’ve forgotten the historic norm. Over hundreds and thousands of years, people haven’t been taxed until the pips squeaked. There have been cruel despots and tyrants aplenty, but the total peacetime tax take and government spending as a share of GDP has hardly ever been as high as it is now. Sixty per cent of our taxes go towards paying for services. If I ruled the world, the government would stop providing those services and hand over the job to the private sector. The other 40% of the funds is currently earmarked for redistribution. All that would happen in future is that people would have to examine their own consciences and decide how much to give and to whom. Worthy causes would flourish. Others would get little support. The voluntary sector would take over looking after the poor and needy, and we’d never again have to complain about poor government decision-making during economic hard times.
People worry about the privatisation of the NHS, but it’s clearly not fit for purpose in its current state. Something has to change, and the obvious solution is to spin off individual hospitals into the private sector. Doctors are already largely private practitioners, so it’s not as though we have an entirely government-run healthcare system at present, and there are already major health insurance providers such as BUPA. People may protest that smokers or those who have ‘unhealthy’ lifestyles are a drain on the system, but that is one of the glorious benefits of the private alternative. Nobody would have to pay for anybody else’s bills. That doesn’t mean that the poor would starve or be left to die. Hospitals and clinics were always until very recently set up by benefactors, charities or the church. Returning to such a system would restore the incentive to live a healthy life by linking personal choices to the price of healthcare insurance and treatment.
Some say the armed forces are a ‘public good’ that cannot be provided by the market. Well, I cannot imagine even for an instant that the people of this country would discard our army, navy and air force just to save a few quid on their taxes. I honestly don’t know how we would arrange to pay for our defence without the guaranteed income from taxation, but it would have to be from some form of voluntary levy. Yes, some people wouldn’t pay it, but others would. As with every other service the government currently provides from money taken by force from the taxpayer, it would in future be provided by the market, by charity or voluntary subscription.
If the armed forces can be paid for and organised without the benefit of taxation, then the emergency services certainly could. Different towns might set up different systems. In some places, there would be a voluntary levy, in others an insurance-based system for fire and theft. Whatever the solution, it would be down to the local population to decide.
It boggles the mind how far people are prepared to test a failing system to destruction. Albert Einstein once said that the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Again, I honestly don’t know what the education system would look like in my imagined future, but one thing is certain: the government would have no say in it. It’s not the government’s job to school our children. It’s not the government’s job to set exams. It’s not the government’s job to decide the entry requirements of our universities. Government was never a part of the equation until late in the 19th century, when it took over the role from the church and other charitable providers by bribing them with taxpayers’ money and then finally nationalising almost all schools.
Individuals would not be the only beneficiaries of the abolition of taxation, of course. Businesses would benefit hugely from the removal of VAT, corporation tax and National Insurance. There would probably be a flood of foreign businesses setting up shop in the UK to benefit from the generous new régime. Red tape and tariffs would also have to be cut to stimulate trade and employment. The minimum wage is an offence against freedom of contract so would have to go, as would any government licences to practise medicine, the law or any other profession. People should be free to choose the doctor or lawyer they prefer without having to pay for the hike in fees brought about by government-sanctioned monopolies. Our withdrawal from the EU would also mean an end to the Common Agricultural Policy and any other regulations brought in to interfere with free trade. We would finally be able to trade with whomever we liked and prove David Ricardo’s insight that removing all trade barriers – even unilaterally – would make the country richer, not poorer. There would be winners and losers, and in some cases the new rules would not benefit the country as a whole, but then that’s not the point. ‘Natural monopolies’ would not have their profits reined in by regulators, so prices might go up, but at least the companies would reap the rewards of their investment, and the monopolies could be contested by new entrants. There are always network effects and economies of scale in every business. The answer is not to create a special regulator for each industry but to grant companies a level playing field.
I have a dream, and the consistent feature of this dream is the removal of government interference from my own life and the lives of millions around me, whether family, friends or strangers. In this dream, I would try to put in place a system that was fair to each individual. I wouldn’t try to maximise the wellbeing of the whole country, but I’m quite sure Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ would make sure that the country was still better off than it is now, whether economically or from any other point of view. I know my view of ‘fairness’ is not everyone’s – in fact, I know it’s just a product of my genes – but even a prisoner of his genes can write a manifesto.