Friday, 27 May 2011

Time to up the ante

Richard North has issued an invitation which every one of us truly loyal to those ideas we espouse on this medium cannot ignore. With wisdom he doesn't offer a manifesto. He doesn't attempt to distil our variegated political standpoints into vague and embracing generalisms. He doesn't offer a New Jerusalem. He makes the point quite simply 
As we argued yesterday, developing the traditional political party is not the best way forward. A party, perforce, must expend the bulk of its energy organising to fight and win elections. Necessarily, it will devote the smaller part of its energy to the cause it was set up to promote. More usually, if we can take anything from history, it will eventually betray that cause.
Richard offers the suggestion that our uniting on a single point, on a change so simple that it requires no embracing ideology, which he terms Referism, will break apart the cankerous State. Quite simply, it offers control of the State's budget to us - all of us - on a annual basis.  It's the 'wisdom of crowds' on a national scale. You will all know the evidence in support - if 500 people are asked to guess the weight of a pig, the average of the 500 guesses will be closer to the actual weight than any individual guess. Poll a million voters on how much MPs should be paid and you will get exactly the right answer. 

We've been here before, of course; back then it was called Chartism. Chartism wasn't a party - it was a popular movement. And one so irresistible that its demands were largely met, with one exception. The Chartists called for annual Parliaments "since members, when elected for a year only, would not be able to defy and betray their constituents as now". There's no chance of revisiting this particular constitutional reform, but Richard's suggestion, of an annual budget 'vote' by the entire electorate via the internet, is actually rather easier and rather better. 

We're into scary and unknown territory here - the populace, us, actually having real power rather than just being allowed to run the village hall by Dave. It's the ultimate form of democracy. And the Swissies do it to a limited extent, so it's not impossible. And it frightens the Mandarinate and the political class rigid, so it must be good. 

Count me in. 


WitteringsfromWitney said...

I've already enrolled, R!

The Filthy Engineer said...

Unfortunately I can't comment on his blog as it is virtually an invites only forum. I however agree that it is time we overturned this political farce that has crept up on us. So count me in.

Anonymous said...

The real problem is that politicians in the UK or the EU, have huge amounts of money at their disposal, with no check on their powers to spend or throw around the world.

Switzerland OTH sidesteps the first issue by making the cantons the sole authority for levying taxes. As cantons are small, they do not have absurdly huge amounts of money at their disposal. In addition, there is a legal maximum on the rate of taxation. This further reduces the amount of disposable money available.

Furthermore, all budget proposals for the year by the canton or the federal government, is subject to a referendum, by law. On some relatively modest budget change, the Swiss can still force a referendum by collecting sufficient number of signatures.

There is no inheritance tax. However, capital gains on private property (such as profits from the sale of shares) are tax-free..

All this reduces the ability of politicians to play fast and loose with taxpayers money.

From Wiki

The federal constitution imposes certain limits on taxation at the federal cantonal and municipal levels. To begin with, it provides that no tax may be levied except where provided for by federal, cantonal or municipal statute.[7] Because statutes can at all levels be made subject to a popular referendum, Swiss tax rates are in practice set directly by the voters through instruments of direct democracy.[8]

The constitution mandates that taxation must be general and equal in nature, and it must be proportionate to one's ability to pay.[7] The Federal Supreme Court has interpreted this as prohibiting a regressive tax,[7]although flat rate taxes (as instituted in several cantons) are held to be constitutional by tax law scholars. Moreover, double taxation by several cantons is constitutionally prohibited, as is a confiscatory rate of taxation.[7]

As most of the tax raised is at the cantonal level, cantonal politicians are truly held responsible for tax and spend decisions, as the taxpayers are in close proximity, both politically and geographically, to the taxpayers. This makes Swiss politicians keenly aware of the taxpayers breath.

anon anon said...

I'm in.

Robert of Ottawa said...

Who is going to engage in the annual referendum over the budget? The political parties, that's who. So what's the diff?

Sorry, Richard has come up with a useless idea here; much better "bring out the timbrals". It is fear of the people that keep the elected true.

Robert of Ottawa said...

Which is why the Americans insist upon the 2nd amendment "right to bear arms". The US government understands they are dealing with an armed populace - which is why the Democrats always want to overthrow the 2nd. - then they could bring in their unwanted socialism. Simple.

cuffleyburgers said...

The idea is a good one, but until we have a populace that actually cares more about liberty than about X-factor or the premier league, and has been brainwashed into thinking that more spending on health/welfare/an industrial policy (for gods fucking sake) is a good thing then we will get nowhere.

Therefore I see the free schools movement as a good start -perhaps we might start to get a higher proportion of open minded teachers inculating the values of Adam Smith JS Mill etc. which are the root of a decent and free society.

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Anonymous said...

Another issue that has come up here, and at EU Referendum, is the state's monopoly of power. This power is coercive to a huge degree, backed up with armed force that is used without thought, and a subsequent investigation on its use swept under the carpet by a pliant judiciary or the in-house IPCC(not the AGW/Climate Change one).

In Switzerland it is almost the other way round. Each adult male is required to do his civic duty to protect the nation by being part of the armed forces for a certain duration, and later, can be called up when he is required. He keeps a state of the art automatic weapon, with ammunition, at home. The reason this can be done without serious mayhem is that the Swiss are satisfied with their state - it is one that is in accordance with their wishes. Therefore an armed militia can exist without serious mayhem only and only if there is a broad agreement on the state and its instruments, as well as, the canton/state can be changed whenever the people so desire.

Direct democracy of the Swiss type is not perfect, but in an imperfect world, it is the best that I have seen so far. In any case, the Swiss can change the nature of the canton or the federal state whenever they wish to do so by collecting enough signatures on any issue that is getting up their collective nose. I read recently that in the canton of Ticino, enough signatures have been collected(just 1100 required), for a referendum on banning the burqa. It is clear that the burqa was getting up Swiss nostrils.

A citizen's militia in England can only come about after Direct democracy has been in affect for several decades i.e., till most of the frustrations and pent-up angst has been mollified.

Jeff Wood said...

DP111 makes excellent points on the Swiss system.

My suggestion on the topic of a referendum on the Budget is that it is less likely to work effectively without the abolition of PAYE.

Until everyone joins the self-employed and other business owners in having to view their tax bill and pay what is due, there will be no real engagement with how money is raised and spent, which inspires an intelligent interest in the referendum.

Anonymous said...

Internet voting is extremely easy to rig.


Blue Eyes said...

Elections in the UK are almost exclusively about the budget. Sorry, but any "campaign" being run by the nuts at EU Referendum can count on my being on the other side.

Anonymous said...

Why not just let me decide where I spend my own money?

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Anonymous said...


The GDP of the UK is around 2 trillion pounds. Assuming that one way or other, the Treasury rakes in 50% of this, we have £1 trillion spending money available to the PM and the chancellor. This is so huge a number that not even the Treasury has any idea what this number actually means in actual spending terms - you know the Margaret Thatcher handbag economics. £1 trillion is 1 million millions. Now how can a voter, or even a mathematician, decide that the government budget is fine, too huge, or misallocated, when such huge numbers are being considered. No way.

What is required is to reduce the amount of tax taken up by an authority. When the figures are smaller, then we have the desirable situation that the central government has less money to throw around, as well as the money becomes comprehensible for a voter.

Switzerland, or really its people, have made the cantons the sole authority for levying taxes. As cantons are small, they do not have absurdly huge amounts of money at their disposal. In addition, there is a legal maximum on the rate of taxation. This further reduces the amount of disposable money available to politicians.

Let us do the sums. Assuming Swiss GDP at £400bn, and 25 cantons, a maximum tax take of 30%, we have 400*.3/25 = £4.8bn average per canton. Thus the average Swiss voter has to make a judgement on a sum, though still huge, is atleast on the right side, when compared to £1000bn that the UK voter will have to decide on. From this it follows that what we should be looking at is the devolution of taxation authority, not just to the shires but even lower, to the boroughs or voting wards ie to the ward. This is the ward that a MP represents. The ward then decides, or its people decide, how to spend the money on the ward - education, health, police illegal immigrants etc etc, and what % to be sent to the central government to run what only central government can. Now we have accountability, with fixed sums, and fixed legal requirement how the money is to be spent. In addition, as the ward councilors and MP, are now local, they can be got at. The canton/ward is highly unlikely to be charitable to the centre, as it holds the purse (but not so huge as to give it ideas of greatness), has the responsibility and bears the consequences.

These are just ideas, and need to be discussed. Maybe the ward is too low a level, and the shires may be better. But what should always be kept in mind is that the amount of disposable money available to a couple of individuals (in the case of the UK, the PM and chancellor), should be kept as small as possible. Wards minimise it, while the Shires increase the amount of money available.