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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Happy Tax Freedom Day!

It is hot and humid Monday morning here in Britain and, right about now, millions of people are waking from their slumber to the start of another week.

Bleary-eyed and sticky with sweat, they will munch their toast, slurp their coffee, grab their keys and head out of their doors to do battle with another working day. A day, on the face of it, much like any other day.

Only it isn’t. Not quite. For today, 2nd June, is Tax Freedom Day in Britain. This is the day when we stop working for HMG and start working for ourselves. From today, we can begin supporting our families and not the state. Up until today, from January 1st, we have laboured non-stop for the benefit of the public sector; for all those legions of bureaucrats and rubber-stampers without whom life would be worth living.

There will be no celebrations though. No party hats, no holiday cheer and no group hugs. For the vast majority, the day will pass by without so much as a brief acknowledgement of the temporary release from bondage. There is something sad about a whole nation being so inured to the painful bites of the government that they do not even notice when the biting ceases.

Nearly half a year. Nearly half a life. What a waste.

84 comments to Happy Tax Freedom Day!

  • “…they do not even notice when the biting ceases.” -DC

    That’s, of course, because the biting never really ceases. Tax Freedom Day is a fiction, intended to dramatize the immense size of the bite, not an actual date at which the real bite ever “ends.”

    I think people should have a “tax freedom clock,” which tolls the moment during the working day — or even each working hour — when one figuratively begins to work for oneself. If people got used to thinking something along the lines of, “this half hour I work for the government, next half hour I work for myself,” they might begin to wonder how to keep more of their pay each hour.

  • “Nearly half a year. Nearly half a life. What a waste.”

    Tax money wasted though. It is used for things. Things some people consider morally right.

    Knowing those people are wrong, doesn’t not mean they shouldn’t get to use that money. Because the system of what we “know” to be right happening, is known as tyranny.

  • oops, missing word. Tax money *isn’t* wasted though.

  • Elliot… would you like to try again? I have no idea what you mean.

  • What a brilliant idea James suggests! Tax-freedom clocks!

    I can see the website and the merchandise. Including actual clocks, with a few different jurisdictions’/countries’ tax-freedom times of day marked on the clockface in different colours, preferably on a transparent insert disc dated to a year, so that clock-owners can cheaply buy a new disc each year as tax burdens in different countries shift slightly.

    I’m not joking James. I’ve thought for a while that a successful way of beginning to unravel the whole spider’s web might actually itself be a money-making venture. The path to freedom might be paved with profit or at least break-even income.

    Why not do it? Make your superb idea real?

  • when is tax freedom day in france ?
    I calculated tax freedom day for me. Somewhere in August or September.
    I’m a slave.

  • S. Weasel

    Neener neener! I’ve been keeping my own pay for six whole weeks! Tax cuts and slow income growth have moved it a little earlier in the US this year.

  • cydonia

    Elliot

    Re. Perry’s comment, I second that. I’ve seen various postings from you here and on the LA forum, but I’m still completely at a loss as to what you believe in. Are you a libertarian? If so, what sort?

    Yours in genuine confusion

    Cydonia

  • Susan

    This whole notion of tax as “theft” is a piece of ideological sophistry, since most of the money is used to provide tax-payers with defence, policing, a legal system, a health system, etc., etc. Public provision of certain (not all) services ends up being cheaper and more efficient than private sector provision. If you doubt this, look up per capita expenditure on health in the U.S., compared with France or Germany.

  • Ahhh, Tax freedom. What a concept!

    You know, Americans were once famous for paying taxes willingly. Of course, that was way back when the tax burden on a typical American was 5% or less of what he earned in a year.

    Government routinely ran surpluses then, too. Since the scope of government activity was rigidly limited by the Constitution, we didn’t have all these special interests hovering around the honey pot, trying to get their probosces into it. From the end of the Civil War through the Cleveland Administration, Washington’s biggest problem was how to spend its surpluses.

    And through all that, the country averaged 6% annual growth in GDP. Imagine that.

    Susan’s praise of centralized provision of services through government is, of course, nonsense. Government service “providers,” whatever their cost figures, have the advantage of being able to tell the customer to sit down, shut up, and wait. Shoddy, third-quality goods? Sorry, take it or leave it. We’re the State. No refunds! We don’t care; we don’t have to! And it’s amazing how often the books have been cooked, too, to hide the true costs of all these “services.” The fastest-growing portion of U.S. Federal expenditure is the off-budget portion. What a surprise!

    But the whole current mess is really a sermon on our failure to keep government within its Constitutional strictures. Perhaps we should have expected it.

    “Paper constitutions raise smiles on the faces of those who have observed their results,” wrote Herbert Spencer. Not that Britain has done better with its unwritten “constitution,” but the observation is nonetheless sound.

  • Andrew Duffin

    Susan, if you take someone’s property away by force, that is theft in my book.

    However I guess it’s not in yours, so I need to point out a few other things.

    “Most” of the money is not spend on defence or policing or a legal system. “Most” of it is spend on the welfare state and the health system, which means in practice, wasted on the bureaucrats and central command nonsense that drives those chaotic organisations.

    As for totals spent, I write from Scotland where we have MORE public expenditure than the famously welfare-driven economies like Sweden, and spend MORE of our wealth on our public health system than France or almost anyone else, but somehow manage to have the lowest life expectancy in the developed world.

    In my opinion, that is the result of >50% of the economy being in the hands of the public sector.

    What is the cause in your opinion? Not enough socialism?

  • Dave O'Neill

    if you take someone’s property away by force, that is theft in my book.

    I think that’s exactly what she meant about sophistry.

  • Susan

    Francis wrote:
    Government service “providers,” whatever their cost figures, have the advantage of being able to tell the customer to sit down, shut up, and wait. Shoddy, third-quality goods? Sorry, take it or leave it. We’re the State. No refunds! We don’t care; we don’t have to! And it’s amazing how often the books have been cooked, too, to hide the true costs of all these “services.”

    Well Francis, corruption, book-cooking and shoddy goods and services are all just as prevalent in the private sector. Enron anyone? Personally, having spent the last five years freelancing for multinationals, I am truly horrified by the wastage, corruption and sheer incompetence of the corporal world. Both public and private sectors require far stricter oversight than they get at present.

    Andrew wrote:
    “Susan, if you take someone’s property away by force, that is theft in my book.”

    What about democratic consensus? Or don’t you believe in that? And where do you draw the line, anyway? Unless you’re an anarchist, I imagine you believe that some sort of state, however reduced, is desirable. And for that state to exist, it will require some financial support from the population that wishes it to exist. But according to your dictum, this would be “theft” also. Please explain exactly what is theft and what isn’t.

    As for health in Scotland, I’m afraid I know little about that, but I suspect that lower life expectancy there has a greater causal relationship with bad diet than the way the health service is provided. Anyway, what I do know is that the U.S. spends more than the French or Germans on healthcare (according WHO, U.S. expenditure per capita is $4,055 or 12.9% of GDP, whereas the French figures are $2,074 and 9.3%), although almost everyone in the health business, WHO included, holds the French system to be superior. Therefore the quality of healthcare can’t simply be about funding levels, it’s equally about how the healthcare is delivered. And when a very broad spectrum of countries with mostly tax-funded national health systems offer better healthcare than the U.S. from the Rawlsian veil of ignorance perspective, you have to start considering that public provision of healthcare is indeed cheaper, more efficient and, in the last analysis, better – whatever your ideology.

  • S. Weasel

    And when a very broad spectrum of countries with mostly tax-funded national health systems offer better healthcare than the U.S. …

    …there will be ice-skating in the ninth circle of hell.

  • Susan

    Come now, Mr Weasel, are you seriously proposing the superiority of the U.S. healthcare system over that of France or Germany, despite the fact that it is much more expensive and doesn’t even cover a third of the population? If so, you are going against just about every expert in the field. Even the Tories have been talking up the French system.

  • Johan

    “As for totals spent, I write from Scotland where we have MORE public expenditure than the famously welfare-driven economies like Sweden, and spend MORE of our wealth on our public health system than France or almost anyone else, but somehow manage to have the lowest life expectancy in the developed world.”

    – Andrew Duffin

    Does anyone actually believe the system in Sweden is working? Anyone with a bit of common sense would see past the propaganda and nice polished surface and see a system ready to blow up. The “famous” Swedish welfare state is nothing but an illusion. I could give concrete examples, but I doubt anyone here have a good insight in the Swedish welfare system so that you would understand what I’m talking about.

    I live in Sweden, heck, I know how it is.

    Anyway, a Tax Freedom Day would be nice to have here too…

  • Ted Schuerzinger

    Susan wrote:
    Well Francis, corruption, book-cooking and shoddy goods and services are all just as prevalent in the private sector. Enron anyone? Personally, having spent the last five years freelancing for multinationals, I am truly horrified by the wastage, corruption and sheer incompetence of the corporal world. Both public and private sectors require far stricter oversight than they get at present.

    Weren’t Enron punished for their misdeeds by being driven out of business? It’s a far more efficient punishment than anything Big Government can dole out.

    Susan continued:
    What about democratic consensus? Or don’t you believe in that? And where do you draw the line, anyway?

    What if the men of Samizdata had a democratic consensus to have sex with you, even if you disagreed? Don’t try resisting — you’ve been out-voted. :-)

  • S. Weasel

    Susan: I have no experience of the French system. I have some experience of the Canadian and British systems, both of which were, for years, held up to Americans as an ideal to which we must aspire.

    Then they began to crumble, as all socialist schemes eventually do. Robbing the rich to pay for the poor works well at first, less well at maturity, and ultimately goes off the rails completely. Socialism is a Ponzi scheme.

    If the French and German systems are public/private hybrids, it may simply take them longer to reach the collapse point, depending on how much their governments are allowed to fiddle with the knobs and buttons. US health care has, since the introduction of the HMO system, been leaning toward a public/private hybrid, and we are just beginning to see the unhappy results. What the WHO thinks about anything is worse than irrelevant (nine out of ten incompetent bureaucrats think bureaucracy is a good thing!)

    I’d rather collapse penniless in front of Bellevue Hospital (or any American teaching hospital) than on any other sidewalk in the world.

  • Susan,

    Given your very obvious infatuation with the Frankenreich, I am not sure you can be considered an objective analyst.

    How is it that you seem to know nothing about healthcare in Scotland (part of your own country) but you are absolutely certain that healthcare in France is the absolute bestest in the history of the whole worldest!!

    Now leaving aside, for now, the fact that you have produced no evidence to back up your rather bold assertions, let me just state that I do not favour the US system particularly as is there is monopoly control of the supply side which artificially inflates the cost of healthcare for US citizens. Still it is an awful lot better than state health care in Britain that’s for sure.

    No, I favour a truly free market in health care and, I must say, I could not suppress a chuckle when you claimed that state was more ‘efficient’ than private provision. You see, years ago lefties like you assured everyone that only the state could provide housing because the market was inefficient; only the state could make motor cars because the market was inefficient; only the state could run farms because the market was inefficient; only the state could make washing machines because the market was inefficient…and so on and so forth.

    One by one these canards have fallen by the wayside until there are only two left: health and education. Eventually they will fall as well.

    Oh and about the Tories. Well, I am not surprised they are looking to France. Even the French system is less nationalised than our own and anything has to be an improvement on the f*cking NHS!!!

  • Susan,

    This whole notion of tax as “theft” is a piece of ideological sophistry, since most of the money is used to provide tax-payers with defence, policing, a legal system, a health system, etc., etc.

    What if I don’t want the ‘services’? Do I have a choice? If I don’t want govt education, and you still take my money by force, do you still excuse the act? Because I don’t get my money back.

    This is not a ‘service’ of any sort. When I go to a restaurant and pay $20 for a meal, I expect service. If I am not satisfied with the meal, the atmosphere, or the attitude of the waiter, I take my $20 somewhere else next time. That is service. The restaurant has to change to satisfy me and make improvements in order to get my $20.

    What you call ‘service’ is the hypothetical in which the restaurant hires people to come to my house and take my money by force, allowing me a meal at their dictum after doing so. If I resist, they throw me in jail. If I claim that they are stealing, you claim, “No – they are providing a service and they are democratically sanctioned.”

    Surely you can see that the word ‘service’ is completely out of place here, much more so than the word theft.

    Theft is theft. It doesn’t matter how many people say it’s okay to steal. Taking away another’s property by force without their permission is theft, democracy be damned.

  • David Shaw

    There is a Tax Freedom Day calculator for Canadians here, and for a comparison of TFD’s in different countries have a look here.

  • Harvey

    Theft is theft. It doesn’t matter how many people say it’s okay to steal. Taking away another’s property by force without their permission is theft, democracy be damned.

    –Jonathan Wilde

    Yes – and for an adult above the age of majority, continuing to live in a country (which is in-part financed by this money taken by theft) is the tacit ‘giving of permission.’

    You can always leave, and go somewhere where the tax regime is more favourable. Somalia, perhaps? Nice developed economy they have there…

  • Susan asked: “What about democratic consensus?”

    In reply, I find it fitting to draw upon the wisdom of the great Bart Simpson. To wit, the ‘democratic consensus’ can eat my shorts!

  • Don’t have a cow, man.

    Sorry, David. I couldn’t resist.

  • Susan: Regarding tax-as-theft is hardly sophistry if a person regards ‘nightwatchman’ functions as being the only legitimate function of the state. Whatever ‘worthy’ things you think the state is spending money on, if those things are not within the legitimate role of the state, then the funds for those things are the proceeds of theft. You may not agree the state should only be for those very limited things but that does not make it sophistry for those who disagree with you to say the means of funding what we think is illegitimate is ‘theft’. If we feel it is not legitimate, how can we say otherwise?

    Even on the purely utilitarian arguments you offer: firstly healthcare in the USA is not a ‘free’ market… it is massively regulated. Secondly, expenditure is not always a good guide to the quality of a service. I have been a hospitals patent in the USA and Britain… and the US one was vastly superior.

    However even if you were correct (which you are not) and ‘better’ services could be gained from public funded, what is the moral case for using the violence to state to fund things coercively when non-coercive alternatives exist? If all that matters is utility, then what if it could be ‘proved’ that a fascist state was better at providing healthcare, law and order and making the trains run on time. Should be logically all start supporting the NF/BNP? And as for democratic consensus, you going to argue that democratic consensus override objective morality? What if the democratic consensus is for all black people to be expelled from the country? Does that make it okay? What about the non-collective rights of individual black people to not be ethnically or racially ‘cleansed’ regardless of the ‘democratic consensus’? If you think that it does not make it okay, then just maybe you will be morally and intellectually salvageable once you realise that democracy is not the source of legitimacy it claims to be. Democracy and liberty are only passing acquaintances, but then I have yet to see liberty is something that much matters to you.

  • mark holland

    Of course after the libertarian revolution Harvey will be leaving the land of Adam Smith to live in Germany so that he may continue to gladly hand over his money to the state. Golfer? Get ready to cough up for a £700 a year state golfing licence!

    Hang on a minute, isn’t the national sport in Germany smuggling one’s money to Switzerland? Boris Becker and Steffi Graf have both been caught.

    And what’s this? Golly, some Germans are trying to have their tax burden reduced. Ingrates! Off to the Somali gulag for them!


  • Guy Herbert

    Harvey,

    Getting into almost any other country permanently ain’t that easy. And the choice, assuming one could, is not all that prepossessing.

    For all its faults, Britain remains relatively free and tolerant. I wish it were more so, however.

    Am I not entitled to declare some of the state’s policies immoral while still living here? Do I have to accept them whole and support them all?

  • The funny thing is, we’ve had a plethora of lefties turning up here and telling us that if we don’t like in Britain or the EU then we can jolly well go and live in China or Somalia or Timbuktu or somewhere.

    Reminds me so much of the old Colonel Blimp Tory types who used to confront lefty students back in the 1960’s and 1970’s and tell them to ‘go and live in the Soviet Union then’.

    Plus ca change, eh

  • Susan

    David, you’d probably be horrified to know that we share some common ground: no, I don’t think the state is better at producing motor cars or washing machines, or steel or coal, for that matter. I put health and education in a different category, though, because I think universal education and healthcare are in everybody’s interest. In countries where there is a significant failure to provide such services, you see the development of an underclass that ultimately threatens everyone’s welfare. Take a trip to Rio if you want to see the phenomenon at first hand. And the only way to ensure that everyone gets decent healthcare and education is for the state to be involved at some level.

    Ted wrote:
    “What if the men of Samizdata had a democratic consensus to have sex with you, even if you disagreed? Don’t try resisting — you’ve been out-voted.”

    Well Ted, perhaps I wouldn’t be able to resist your charms, who knows. But your point – that in a democracy the majority can unfairly impose its will on a minority – is a spurious one if a country enjoys a constitution which enshrines the rights (and limits to those rights) of its citizens. Anyway, what exactly are you proposing to replace democracy?

    Jonathan, your restaurant analogy is wrongheaded. There are some services that can only be provided through the participation of everyone, based on democratic consensus. Look at defence, for a clearer example. How can any individual opt out of its provision? “The army’s mission is to protect all the citizens of the U.K. with the exception of Mrs Jones of 17, Acacia Avenue SW11, who has decided she doesn’t want to be protected.” Is that feasible? How does defence fit into your picture? If all tax is theft, then can national defence only be provided through theft? What are you proposing?

  • Paul P

    Susan,

    Not sure how you justify your assertions.

    1) Try looking at the cost of
    water in England (privatised) vs. the cost of
    water in Scotland (public utility). You’ll find
    Scottish water is at least 25% more expensive.

    2) Re. your comment about comparative health care costs, I agree the cost in the US is high but
    you are not comparing apples with apples.
    Healthcare is not a commodity. One wonders
    how much dental cost and cosmetic surgery goes into the US total for instance. The US liability insurance cost is going to be about 10 times higher (but this is not without benefit as you can sue your doctor/surgeon to the hilt if something goes wrong – difficult to do in other countries from direct experience).

    3) Public services cost alot in the US. For example, they spend much more money on state education programs per head than most others but are, paradoxically, significantly less numerate/literate than in most European countries.

    4) It seems the Tories are most impressed with the Dutch system which runs on a system which uses private capital. The tories could never talk about privatising the NHS else they’d never get into office so they are limited to making it as efficient as possible (without fully privatising it).

    I am wondering how you came to the conclusion
    that public services are, in the main, more efficient
    than privatised services. Was this taught to you at school?

  • Susan

    Perry – the trouble is that what one considers as the legitimate functions of state is so subjective. For example, I want any state I live in to ensure that everyone within it gets an education and decent healthcare. But for you, these things are beyond the remit of government. Fair enough, but how to resolve this dilemma? I think the only way is for people to get together and decide what the functions of government should be – i.e. through democratic consensus. For you, democratic consensus is value free and can be used to arrive at morally objectional decisions. Agreed. And in most countries there is a higher court of appeal than the legislative assembly – be it a constitution, the House of Lords, the Senate in France, etc., etc. Are such bodies subject to the same problems as democratic consensus? Yes, but at least they are dealing with the problems in a more abstract, less partisan manner. Basically, ultimately, it still comes back to democratic consensus, which in turn comes back to having some faith that men and women can arrive at moral decisions. Do they always? No. But what’s the alternative? An appeal to God? As Churchill said, democracy is the least bad of all systems. Just what is the libertarian perspective on democracy? What do you see as the alternative? I’d be interested to know.

  • David,

    By “democratic consensus can eat my shorts”, do you mean that in your view, states should not have armies funded by taxes?

    If so, I disagree. I think people should be free to move countries, within certain practical reason, and to choose whether they want to live somewhere with taxes for X or somewhere with higher taxes for X,Y and Z, or somewhere that can’t defend itself properly (which I think would happen without centralised armies).

    It seems to me that things will change in Britain when more people have become convinced that they should change, because of democratic consensus. Political parties are obliged to react to their voters, and this is the good thing about democracy. It’s not perfect, but it makes evolution possible because there is a real (if limited) discursive relationship between those in political power and those who get them there.

    Most people in the UK do genuinely seem to want to pay for the NHS now, and when we have successfully convinced them that it would be better not to bother, is when they will change their ideas. This will have an effect on who they vote for, and what policies those parties represent.

    It’s slow, of course. A bloody libertarian coup would be much quicker. But also much more bloody. Spreading memes here seems much better to me.

  • Susan,

    You might like to read this

    “When Paulo Renato de Souza accepts an appointment to become Brazil’s minister of education, he faces extreme challenges. Public education in Latin America’s most populous nation is widely viewed as a failure. Brazil’s vast population of poor children often attends schools that are both physically inadequate and have inadequate textbooks. His own department has seen a parade of ineffective leaders and has only indirect authority of state governments responsible for primary education.”

    So it seems that Rio’s teeming slums of illiterate children is the result of Brazil’s state education system. Doesn’t that sound remarkably like Britain? And so it should. We also have a state education system and a large and growing feral underclass.

    No, Susan, I am quite sure you don’t believe that the state should make washing machines but my point is, that fifty years ago, you probably would have. The only reason you do not believe such nonsense today is because of people like me patiently explaining to people like you that is was manifest nonsense.

    Health and education are not ‘special cases’. What makes them more vital than food or shelter or clothing? That fact is that healthcare and education are merely commodities and services like any others and we would all be a lot healthier and better educated if they were treated as such.

  • S. Weasel

    There are some services that can only be provided through the participation of everyone, based on democratic consensus.

    What democratic consensus? It’s a complete fiction to pretend that everything which happens in a democracy must be with the consent of the governed or it couldn’t have happened.

    What if nobody in any party is addressing the issues that matter to you? What do you do? Vote a third party? Vote the party that comes the closest and hope they get the hint? Not vote at all? March on London?

    People have been doing all of those things in increasing numbers in recent years. Perhaps there aren’t enough of us, or we believe too many different things, or we aren’t organized enough, or we don’t have a sufficiently coherent message.

    Or perhaps people who choose to make government a career, no matter their party, start with the premise that government is a good thing? If the main problem is government itself, how do you convince government to restrain government?

    If a clear majority of people believe in something that no politician will address, what’s the recourse? Vote for the other guy who isn’t addressing it?

  • Susan

    Paul P. wrote
    “I am wondering how you came to the conclusion
    that public services are, in the main, more efficient
    than privatised services.”

    That’s not my view. The private sector is more efficient at providing many services, clearly. But not always. Surveying the various healthcare systems in place, I’d say some kind of public system with private input, such as in Holland or France, is more efficient at providing the services people want.

  • “It seems to me that things will change in Britain when more people have become convinced that they should change, because of democratic consensus.”

    Alice, I think we’re talking about two different things here. When it comes to influencing elections and government policy then, of course, the democratic consense (or ‘public opinion’ as it is better known) is relevant. In fact, it is paramount.

    However, that does not mean that public opinion can validate a moral wrong or negate a principle. If public opinion supports the persecution of black people or imprisoning gay men for being gay then that is wrong and repugnant regardless of the number of people who vote for it.

  • mark holland

    “What is this thing called consensus? Consensus is something you reach when you cannot agree.”

    Attributed to Margaret Thatcher (but I seem to remember that in The Downing Street Years she says that she heard it first from the Prime Minister of the Bahamas (or somewhere like that).

  • T. Hartin

    Susan (who has a remarkable appetite for abuse, and is unfailingly civil, by comment posting standards), retails one of the misconceptions that always sets me off:

    “Come now, Mr Weasel, are you seriously proposing the superiority of the U.S. healthcare system over that of France or Germany, despite the fact that it is much more expensive and doesn’t even cover a third of the population?”

    The healthcare system in the US is available to every single US citizen. There is no law forbidding healthcare providers to care for one third of the population. Indeed, by law, emergency care providers are required to care for every single person who sets foot on their property, and are not allowed to ask if they have insurance or can afford it until after the patient has been stabilized.

    Many people in the US lack health insurance, but this is not the same thing at all as saying they have no access to health care, which is what Susan implied. This is like saying thaty ou must be homeless if you have no homeowners insurance. Many who are “uninsured” are young people with jobs who have waived their insurance because they are healthy and don’t feel like paying the premiums. Others rely on charity care, which is quite prevalent in the US as it is required of tax-exempt providers.

    The US health care system delivers the highest quality of care in the world, drives the vast majority of medical innovation in the world, and is open, by law, to every single person in the US. No wonder it costs more – it should, because it is better than onyone else’s.

  • Susan

    David – I’ve spent pleny of time in Rio and I know full well that there is a complete breakdown in the state education system. But that is simply a result of a more general breakdown of the state system. Whole segments of the population now basically live outside the state – or in a state within a state if you like, run by the drug barons of the favelas. The problem is not that there is too much state, but not enough: what Rio needs is proper policing and improved infrastructures. The neo-liberal experiment hasn’t worked, which is exactly why the population has voted for Lula.

    Would you agree that there are some services that one is morally obliged to provide, independent of its cost to you? If people are starving, as they are in Brazil, isn’t there a moral obligation to feed them, even if they can’t pay for such a service? I see education and healthcare in the same light. Even if people can’t afford them personally, I feel I want to live in a society where they get them. How to do that, except through government involvement on some level, even if only as the project manager?

  • mark holland

    Backing up T. Hartin.

    From Reason.Com
    Free Market Health Care
    It’s time for a truly radical proposal

    First, how much of a crisis is it, really? Politicians typically claim that 41 million Americans do not have health insurance. Please note that lack of health insurance does not mean lack of health care. However, a new Congressional Budget Office study has found that the number of Americans who are uninsured at some point during the course of each year is 59 million. But before someone screeches that the “crisis” is 50 percent worse than we thought, the study also notes that the number of Americans uninsured over the course of the entire year is actually much lower, between 21 million and 31 million, depending on which of two surveys one accepts.

    Who are the people uninsured for a year or more? It turns out that 60.5 percent are under the age of 35, and 80.2 percent are under 45. Furthermore, 86.1 percent of those uninsured for a year consider their health to be “good” to “excellent,” and they are not wrong. Consider the risk of death faced by those under 35. In 2000 there were 134,419,000 Americans in this age bracket. Of the 2,404,598 Americans who died that year, 112,005 were under 35, or about 4.6 percent. Using death as a crude measure for serious health risk (can’t get more serious than death), the under-35 uninsureds were risking one chance in 1,200 of dying from whatever causes in 2000. And while 60.5 percent seems like a high number, keep in mind that the rate of the uninsured among the population as a whole remained small—only 7.3 percent of those under 19 were uninsured for the whole year; the 19-24 bracket was at 14.4 percent; and the 25-34 group came in at 12.3 percent.

    So the vast majority of those who died under age 35 died with health insurance. But it may be specious to emphasize such correlations anyway. After all, we don’t blame the 1,801,459 deaths of people over age 65 in 2000 on the fact that they are the beneficiaries of the federal government’s Medicare program.

  • Susan,

    Jonathan, your restaurant analogy is wrongheaded. There are some services that can only be provided through the participation of everyone, based on democratic consensus. Look at defence, for a clearer example. How can any individual opt out of its provision? “The army’s mission is to protect all the citizens of the U.K. with the exception of Mrs Jones of 17, Acacia Avenue SW11, who has decided she doesn’t want to be protected.” Is that feasible? How does defence fit into your picture? If all tax is theft, then can national defence only be provided through theft? What are you proposing?

    There is nothing wrongheaded about my analogy. National defence is a public goods problem. And I don’t mean ‘public’ in the way you mean ‘public’. I mean a public goods problem in which the provider of the service cannot control who benefits from the service. If a large group of people decided to provide defense for a price, many ‘free-riders’ who did not pay would benefit, simply out of geographical reasons. Another example would be a lighthouse. The builder of the lighthouse cannot control and charge fees to all ships that benefit from the light emanating from the lighthouse. In such cases, a more compelling argument can be made for govt provision of these services.

    However, education, like food and clothing, is not a ‘public good.’ When you down to it, very few things are true ‘public goods’.

    These private goods are best provided by the private firms because the customer has a say (just as in the restaurant analogy) what kind of service he gets. Otherwise, he takes his money elsewhere until the service provider makes changes to satisfy the customer.

    You want cheap, effective healthcare? You want education for a fifth of a price it is right now? You want plentiful energy at the flip of a switch? Get the govt out and let individuals decide the most efficient ways to deliver them!

  • Susan,

    So according to you, if the government experiment fails, the answer is lashings more government. Yes, I see.

    I have never been to Brazil but from what I have read the ‘neo-liberal experiment’ was not a free market deregulation at all but a highly corrupt process of graft, franchises, state favours and corporatism. It is called a ‘neo-liberal experiment’ by the same people who complain about Britain’s ‘ferocious free market economy’ (yeah, which is why we spend nearly half the year working for the government).

    “Would you agree that there are some services that one is morally obliged to provide, independent of its cost to you? If people are starving, as they are in Brazil, isn’t there a moral obligation to feed them, even if they can’t pay for such a service?”

    Ah, now we’re getting to nitty-gritty. If you feel a moral obligation towards your starving neighbour then why are you assigning that obligation over to the state? Is that not simply passing the buck?

    Let me ask you a question, Susan. I want you to assume that we have no welfare state, no benefits and no taxes. There is only private provision and charities. Your next-door neighbour has lost her job, she has run out of money and she is hungry.

    Would you, off your own bat, reach in to your pocket and help her? Would you take her some food?

    If the answer is ‘yes’, well good for you. But why do want to assign that privilege to the state. Why not just help her?

    If the answer is no, then clearly you feel no moral compunction to help her, in which case why do want the government to do something which you are unwilling to do yourself?

    I have to go do some earning now, so you can ponder those questions if you wish.

    TTFN

  • S. Weasel

    Indeed, by law, emergency care providers are required to care for every single person who sets foot on their property, and are not allowed to ask if they have insurance or can afford it until after the patient has been stabilized.

    Quite true. In fact, one of the reasons hospital costs are high in the US is the rate of non-payment. Government and insurance companies pay through the nose, but individuals who are caught without coverage usually renege the charges to one degree or another (and it doesn’t affect credit ratings).

    In essence, it amounts to a backdoor, de facto socialized medicine scheme. Probably not the best or most efficient way to handle things, but it’s not the cruel, toss-yer-sick-granny-in-the-street health care system so useful to European propagandists. And there’s still (just) enough of a free market about it to stimulate research and innovation.

    A few years ago, I decided to dump my HMO for a more old-fashioned scheme. That is, I buy catastrophic health insurance (in case I get a case of the Black Death or get hit by a bus), and for routine health care, I stick my hand in my pocket.

    I was astonished to discover that an office visit is still around $65. A complete blood workup by an independent lab is around $100. Scans, shots…all of it is to be had à la carte. Once a year, I get measured, poked, scanned, x-rayed, shot up and prescribed, all for a fraction what I spend maintaining my car. Or my HMO.

    (HMO stands for Health Maintenance Organization. It’s a quasi-private scheme that was launched fifteen or twenty years ago in the US, purportedly on the idea that maintaining health is cheaper than treating disease. Actually, that’s a bunch of marketing poop. The actual concept is something like an all-you-can-eat buffet – paying a flat fee every month in return for a full service clinic and access to doctors on demand. The thrust of them, predictably, became keeping things as cheap as possible, so administrators tried to influence medical practice to that end. Doctors loathed them and felt they were being forced to offer substandard care, but many ended up in the system by default. Initially, they were heavily subsidized by government and, not surprisingly, many went bankrupt when government monies were pulled out. Errrr…sorry for the rant).

  • Susan

    David wrote:

    “Let me ask you a question, Susan. I want you to assume that we have no welfare state, no benefits and no taxes. There is only private provision and charities. Your next-door neighbour has lost her job, she has run out of money and she is hungry.

    Would you, off your own bat, reach in to your pocket and help her? Would you take her some food?

    If the answer is ‘yes’, well good for you. But why do want to assign that privilege to the state. Why not just help her?

    If the answer is no, then clearly you feel no moral compunction to help her, in which case why do want the government to do something which you are unwilling to do yourself?”

    So you’re suggesting that we should fall back on family and friends in times of dire need, and that if they can’t or won’t help us, then so be it. It’s a big, bad Nietzchean world out there, and you’d better get used to it. But what if my jobless neighbour is a shy, retiring type with no friends and family? What if she’s black and living in a racist neighbourhood? Should she be treated differently because of it? If so, on what moral grounds? No, I believe she should have access to basic services independently of what her entourage thinks of her.

    That’s the nub of the matter. In the type of society I want to live in, I want people to have access to the basics – food, healthcare, education, etc. – even if they can’t afford them. I don’t want it to be an ad hoc situation where people are provided with these things solely if they can afford them or their friends and family are willing to cough up for them. And I don’t see how that’s possible unless, ultimately, the state is willing to underwrite the provision of these services if needs be. Yes, under circumstances I’m perfectly happy for the state to undertake the provision of these fundamental services that I believe everyone should have access to. Because, in a democratic society, the state is or should be the legal expression of the community, of which I am part. It’s not a separate thing from us, it is composed of people who we have voted to be our representatives.

  • T. Hartin

    A slight correction to S. Weasel, who said:

    “Government and insurance companies pay through the nose”

    Well, private payers pay through the nose, anyway. Depending on the government program, government payment rates may amount to only a fraction of the cost of providing the service paid for. This is known to health care policy wonks as cost-shifting, and is a major reason that premiums have gotten so high for private payers. It is, really, a de facto tax.

    Susan, bless her, says:

    “Because, in a democratic society, the state is or should be the legal expression of the community, of which I am part. It’s not a separate thing from us, it is composed of people who we have voted to be our representatives.”

    No, the state is a separate thing from “us” – it is an insitution that is distinct from the rest of society, just as any corporation or other organization is, and it pursues its own ends, which may or may not be the ends that we voters have set for it. The danger of this approach is that it sets democracy above every other value, including the rule of law and, yes, basic human rights. If the state is elected, it represents us, and can therefore do no wrong, is the implied chain of reasoning here.

  • Gil

    Susan,

    It seems to me that the reason that you want the state, rather than private institutions pooling voluntary contributions, to provide poor and shy people with the goods and services that you want them to have is that you think that the choice of whether to support these causes should be taken away from your neighbors. You believe that they should be forced to support these causes under threat of imprisonment.

    Please excuse me if I don’t see your willingness to spend other people’s money as noble or generous.

  • Susan

    T. Hartin, bless you, so what exactly are you placing above democratically elected representatives? The rule of law? But isn’t it the democratically elected representatives who ultimately decide what the law is that should rule us? Basic human rights? I though libertarians weren’t very keen on those. In any case, who or what decides what these rights are? I think the people who post here are fundamentally confused when it comes to democracy. Instinctively, you dislike the thought that of it providing legitimacy. Yes, we all have problems with the essential relativity of the concept. But what exactly are you appealing to that is higher? Democracy, in theory if not always in practice, suggests that people should have the society that the majority of them want. What else are you suggesting?

  • Susan

    Gil writes:

    “It seems to me that the reason that you want the state, rather than private institutions pooling voluntary contributions, to provide poor and shy people with the goods and services that you want them to have is that you think that the choice of whether to support these causes should be taken away from your neighbors. You believe that they should be forced to support these causes under threat of imprisonment.”

    I think we probably all agree that we don’t want people starving to death in the U.K. If that’s the case, then I don’t want anyone’s survival left up to the vagaries of his or her specific situation, whether he gets on with his neighbours or family, etc. It’s that simple. It’s similar to saying that if someone’s suspected of committing a crime, I want him tried in a court of law that derives its authority from the state, and I don’t want him lynched by his neighbours.

  • S. Weasel

    I think we probably all agree that we don’t want people starving to death in the U.K.

    Why would anyone starve to death in the UK?

    And why would someone too shy to approach her own family feel comfortable approaching an agent of the government?

  • Back now!

    “I think we probably all agree that we don’t want people starving to death in the U.K. If that’s the case, then I don’t want anyone’s survival left up to the vagaries of his or her specific situation, whether he gets on with his neighbours or family, etc.”

    Monolothic state bureaucracies are reliable, are they? I assume you have never tried getting something from a government department in a hurry. You speak as if state services provide some sort of safe, tranquil haven from ferocious winds of a voluntary society. In fact, it is the other way around. How many people die on trolleys in state hospital corridors? How many children are murdered in state care?

    The reason people in the UK are not starving has nothing to do with munificent bounty of the state and everything to do with the fact that we have a relatively free market in food production and distribution. Thank God they didn’t decide to set up a National Food Service in 1948 or we’d all be in a right mess now.

    “I want him tried in a court of law that derives its authority from the state, and I don’t want him lynched by his neighbours.”

    I take it you are not in favour of jury trials then?

  • Gil

    Susan writes:

    “I think we probably all agree that we don’t want people starving to death in the U.K. If that’s the case, then I don’t want anyone’s survival left up to the vagaries of his or her specific situation, whether he gets on with his neighbours or family, etc. It’s that simple. It’s similar to saying that if someone’s suspected of committing a crime, I want him tried in a court of law that derives its authority from the state, and I don’t want him lynched by his neighbours.”

    No, it’s not similar at all.

    One is using force to provide charity, while the other is using force to deal with people who have (or are suspected of having) aggressed against others.

    Is there any aspect of life that you think should not be decided at gunpoint? That should be beyond the reach of democratically imposed force? If so, what principles do you use to recognize these cases?

  • Innocent abroad

    I have to admire Susan ‘s persistence. But our heroes are not going to have their minds changed by argument any more than she is – it is real life experience that does that. And the problem is that our heroes cannot show us a society which is run the way they want, so they can fantasize about it all they like without fear of effective contradiction.

    By the way, I think “tax freedom day” is calculated from when the tax year starts, not January 1.

    Anyway, the argument about compulsion cannot be extended to taxes on consumption, like VAT or other sales taxes. Our heroes will be horrified to hear that some left-wing economists (I think Gunnar Myrdal is one but I’m relying on memory) have argued for income taxes to be replaced by consumption taxes. Come on you guys, tell me why taxes I can avoid by not buying taxable goods are such an assault on my freedom.

  • S. Weasel

    Come on you guys, tell me why taxes I can avoid by not buying taxable goods are such an assault on my freedom.

    How do you avoid them if you’re the seller of goods?

    Those goods are, to put it bluntly, none of government’s business. By what right does the government interfere with the man who makes a thing, the man who transports a thing, the man who sells a thing and the man who buys a thing? And all for the sake of…what? Our hypothetical shy, starving Briton?

  • Johan

    Wow, this is an excellent discussion.

    Samizdata + Other excellent commenters vs. Susan = (lost the counting) – 0

    Really…splendid discussion. I’ve heard all of Susan’s arguments from people here – now I know how to respond!

  • Innocent abroad: This a complete porky pie… the tax year starts April 5th. Tax Freedom Day is calculated from Jan 1st.

    And the problem is that our heroes cannot show us a society which is run the way they want, so they can fantasize about it all they like without fear of effective contradiction.

    Actually ‘our heros’ (meaning us Samizdatistas) can indeed show ‘us’ (meaning you benighted statists) an example of a society run the way they (meaning us) want. Ever paid someone in cash for good or services so they neither party pays tax, like a builder? Even gone to a carboot sale? Ever bought software you can download from an overseas vendor to avoid tax? Ever altered your house and ‘forgotten’ to tell the local planning authorities? Ever bought an ounce of grass from ‘a friend of a friend’? Ever bartered goods or services? Ever set up an off-shore company? Ever used a hawala? Ever hired a foreign illegal immigrant to be a nanny or housekeeper? Ever loaned money off-the-books?

    You may not do those things yourself but millions of other people do. I already live in ‘that sort of society’, and so do you… you just don’t see it.

  • Obviously Mr.Abroad is getting a little worried if he is having to fabricate lies in order to prop up his increasingly discredited and reactionary worldview.

    But, far better than that is this:

    “And the problem is that our heroes cannot show us a society which is run the way they want, so they can fantasize about it all they like without fear of effective contradiction.”

    I doubt whether Mr.Abroad is even remotely aware of the compliment he has paid us. That is exactly the charge that was levelled at the socialists in the late 19th Century and, as we all know, socialist ideas went on to achieve a virtual hegemony in the 20th Century.

  • The complaint with taxes seems to be that something happens to the money you disagree with. (Both most or all of it being taken in the first place, and how much of the budget is then spent). You want your vision of what is right to happen instead: very low taxes and minimal government, and for some of you then a transition to no government.

    Right?

  • Gil

    Elliot,

    No. We don’t want “[our] vision of what’s right to happen instead.”

    We want what’s right to happen instead.

    I’m not urging armed insurrection. I want to change people’s minds. And I think it’s wrong of you to defend the status quo as if it were the best that’s possible.

    We can do better, and we should.

  • Arugula

    Susan wrote: “Democracy, in theory if not always in practice, suggests that people should have the society that the majority of them want.”

    This is why unrestrained democracy is a frightening thing, to be avoided at all costs.

    “What else are you suggesting?”

    I dunno, maybe that someone could write up some sort of document about the primacy of natural rights, then codify those rights in another document that restricts the power of government (i.e. of voters) to meddle with those rights. [sarcasm off]

    I honestly don’t mean to sound snide, since Susan is obviously a thoughtful, well-meaning and articulate correspondent, but to me this seems like pretty basic stuff, the sort of thing that Americans figured out 200 years ago and that I began to learn when I was 13 years old (in private school, natch).

  • I honestly don’t mean to sound snide, since Susan is obviously a thoughtful, well-meaning and articulate correspondent, but to me this seems like pretty basic stuff, the sort of thing that Americans figured out 200 years ago and that I began to learn when I was 13 years old (in private school, natch).

    People have no concept of rights these days. They are taught that majority rule is the most morally true way to make decisions, even if it means sacrificing individuals.

  • S. Weasel

    Jonathan: it’s even worse. They have a concept of rights, and the concept is seriously whack.

    Rights, in leftspeak, are all those things we would be entitled to if the universe were fair and just (particularly if we ourselves were the center of that universe). Rights, in this schema, are violated whenever others are taller, richer, stronger, smarter, or in some way other offend you with their good fortune. Rights have been violated if you are annoyed, argued with or get your feelings hurt. A right is anything you want and by-golly deserve to have.

    The Founding Fathers’ concept of rights seems to be, roughly, you have the right to go about your business and do anything you please as long as you don’t impinge on the next guy’s right to do the same.

    I’m a great fan of the FF’s. It’s a pity we began to drift from their vision before the ink was dry on the Declaration.

  • Susan says:
    T. Hartin, bless you, so what exactly are you placing above democratically elected representatives? The rule of law? But isn’t it the democratically elected representatives who ultimately decide what the law is that should rule us? Basic human rights? I though libertarians weren’t very keen on those. In any case, who or what decides what these rights are?

    In some sense, yes. I consider the Founding Fathers to be essentially libertarian in nature and in the construction of the US constitution much of this was addressed. At that time, “Natural Rights” was a much stronger concept…by the very fact that you were human, you were endowed by the “Creator” certain rights. It is important to note that according to this philosophy, the State did *not* confer these rights, rather one of the duties of the State was to see that these rights were guarenteed. In the context of that oh-so sticky “right to bear arms” ammendment (and I *don’t* want to start a debate about gun control!), the right to bear arms is a *natural* right. A person’s right to arms and self-defense is not lost with the absence of government. So back to my original point, the rule of natural rights and the consequent laws thereof does pre-empt democracy.

    Who decides what these basic rights are? Good question. The Natural Rights people would probably have said that no one decides what these are, that they are “self evident” or that the Creator decides them. These rights are the axioms of a culture. If one is a moral-relativist, then the we end the sentence with a period and we are done. Otherwise, one makes the judgement that one culture is morally right and another morally wrong.

    As to libertarians being against basic human rights, nothing could be farther from the truth! I think the confusion lies in what some gov’ts consider “basic human rights” often necessitates the subjugation of the individual to the state. ie. Universal healthcare, if you like it or not, is *not* what we consider a basic human *right*. The reason that this is not a *right* is that in order for it be universal *someone’s* right to self-determination must be sacrificed to supply services to one in need of healthcare.

    At the core, libertarians are for liberty. How liberty is best maintained is a secondary to the ends.

  • T. Hartin

    “T. Hartin, bless you, so what exactly are you placing above democratically elected representatives?”

    When it comes to living my life in a way that does not harm my neighbors, I am placing my own desires above those of democratically elected representatives.

    A democratically elected government is not God, after all. It is just a state, that is all, and really should not be permitted to do anything that a Great Leader strongman should not be permitted to do. If it is wrong for Kim Jong Il to prohibit me from seeing the doctor of my choice for health care, it is equally wrong for the Department of Socialized Medicine to do so.

    Democracy doesn’t sanitize or justify anything that a state does (killing all the Jews is not OK just because Hitler was democratically elected); it exists rather as a (fallible) means of preventing the state from spinning completely out of control.

    Democracy, in and of itself, has been pretty conclusively shown in recent decades to be a cure for practically none of the ills that afflict society. Plenty of sinkholes have democratically elected leaders, and plenty of atrocities have been committed by the same.

    In short, the problem with government isn’t so much who chooses the government as what the government is allowed to do.

  • Susan,

    I admire your tenacity, but there is a great span of difference between democracy and liberty – one that you don’t seem to grasp:
    Liberty vs. Democracy

  • Jacob

    About the high cost per capita spending for health care in the US (departing from the general tone of the conversation) I would like to offer two reasons:
    (these are guesses, not based on research).

    1. Americans are rich. They can afford to spend much. They preffer buying the most modern and expensive treatements and medical tests. They insist on buying experimental treatements which might not be effective at all. There is no straight correlation between the amount you spend and the amount of health you get.

    2. Many rich foreigners come to the US for medical treatement, and pay for it in full. So health care is an export industry in the US. I don’t know if the income from foreign patients is substracted from the national health expenditure statistics.

    Those who seek to install a socialized medicine system in the US do so from ideological motives, and use statistics not to get at the truth, but to promote an agenda.

    2.

  • Innocent Abroad

    I am prepared to stand corrected about “tax freedom day”.

    And of course there is an “informal economy”, and no shortage of small-scale leftie projects for promoting it through “alternative” and therefore tax-exempt currencies either.

    I do think that S. Weasel gets into the spirit of things properly – the short answer is that no one can be compelled to sell taxable goods, any more than they can be compelled to join a volunteer army.

    I think a consumption tax ought to appeal to you, or at least those of you who don’t wish to abolish society althogether. Basic necessities such as common foodstuffs and a certain level of housing would be tax-free and the rest would be taxed.

    Individual consumption decisions would determine government income, and the ballot bos would determine the pattern of expenditure of that income and the limits of deficit/surplus government finance.

    The system would encourage saving (deferred consumption) so driving down the cost of money and eliciting investment.

    A clue: there are flaws in this argument, let’s see if you can find them!

  • S. Weasel

    A clue: there are flaws in this argument, let’s see if you can find them!

    Let’s see if you can find anything else!

  • For the kind of document you seek, Arugla, I suggest you have a glance at Magna Carta, AD 1215.

    Well worth a look, and all on one largeish page.

  • MLD

    Jacob

    You make several good points. I am a practicing physician in the United States, so I am very aware of the flaws in our system. France does have a very good health care system and produces many excellent physicians and cutting edge research.

    However, blanket statements such as Susan’s really don’t do the whole health care debate justice. What does it mean to have the best health care? We are comparing apples and oranges here.

    For example, according to pharmaceutical company statistics from 2000, about 60, 000 patients received Avonex for the treatment of multiple sclerosis in the US, compared to 20, 000 in Europe. Avonex is a very expensive drug (about a thousand US dollars a month if you don’t have insurance). I know patients who had to forgo treatment because they couldn’t afford it, and yet it is still widely available here in the US and many patients do receive it. France has a pretty good rate of treatment, about 50 % of patients receive avonex or equivalents. Statistics for the UK are not as good (fewer people get the drug). NICE (National Institute for Clinical Excellence) is the body governing recommendations for Avonex use in the UK and you can get more information through NHS websites about this.

    Basically, US healthcare is skewed towards expensive ‘cutting edge’ medicine, whereas many of the socialized programs in Europe are skewed towards ‘public health’ measures. Alcoholics get liver transplants in the US. Not the UK. I really don’t want to see a socialized model here – things are a mess in the US due to malpractice premiums and the fact that the whole HMO thing is fraught with red-tape, poor decision making and a ‘let me get what I can out of the system’ attitude toward health care. But socialized medicine will not solve our problems (witness the VA).

    The real question to ask is: what do we want from health care? What are our goals and what to we want covered? This is culturally dependent – Americans are deeply wedded to the ‘latest’ treatments. Although there are many specialists who receive patients from all over the world in the UK and France, entire institutions basically exist in the US to cater to foreigners and wealthy Americans who want to pay for the best care (the Saudi royal family is regularly treated at the Mayo clinic).

    Also, American pharmaceutical companies and the NIH (yes, goverment funded, I know) produce huge amounts of basic science research and ‘bench to bedside’ treatments that are utilized by the entire world. That is form of ‘subsidy’ (and yes, it works the other way from cross the pond and Americans benefit from that as well. Science is wonderful.) for socialized medicine in other countries.

    Sorry for the long post, but the WHO really rankles. Define best and then tell me who has the best care.

    I work in a hospital where many patients come from all over the world to get cutting edge treatments they can’t get anywhere else. Excellent care certainly exists in other countries, but the US ain’t bad either.

  • There are flaws in everything. As I am a Minarchist, not an anarchist, the idea of all taxes being on consumption is indeed a better way but of course the devil is in the details. Certainly by zero-rating ‘basic necessities’ that does take care of many problems, if the things can be clearly defined.

    …or at least those of you who don’t wish to abolish society althogether.

    Who has suggested that? Even anarchists do not what to abolish society, they want to abolish government, which is a completely different thing! Tom Paine must be spinning in his grave.

  • cj

    I think Susan is getting the bum’s rush in these comments. I think that what she is saying is there are some instances where shared taxation provide a greater good. I’d agree, although I think transportation (i.e., highways), utilities (think US rural electrification) and national defense, more than health care and education (although I am willing to admit to education, if the taxes and control remain localized, which they no longer are).

    And the post that says that the manufacture of refrigerators, etc., controlled by the state is a proven failure is correct, but what a lot of the comments espousing “free enterprise” fail to take into account is the history of the “robber barons” and, more recently Enron and similar corporate greed.

    I think many of the arguments in these comments harken back to best-case scenarios of the competing ideologies, without taking into account the complexities of how these ideologies currently play out.

    In other words, reality intrudes.

  • Reality does indeed intrude: Enron operated within a highly regulated market which completely failed to either positively motivate or threaten compliance. Credit Lyonaisse, the mother of all corporate frauds, operated within an even more regulated market than Enron. In fact, accounting and risk management standards imposed by the state throughout much of the ‘capitalist’ world are so far divorced from the reality to which they allegedly pertain that it is a marvel that there are not more massive frauds.

  • Andy Duncan

    Susan writes:

    Public provision of certain (not all) services ends up being cheaper and more efficient than private sector provision.

    Hi Susan,

    I think our thanks must go out to Mr Carr for the considerable time he must have spent on his replies to you, but I have to add my 2 cents to the above remark.

    My son, who is the shining light in my life, has a handwriting problem, quite a bad one. After months of waiting to see an NHS consultant to check this out, this kind doctor decided he needed Occupational Therapy to help him learn how to hold a pencil properly. We waited another month, and then got the appointment slip through.

    Go on Susan, guess how long? Remember, this is a small boy going through perhaps the most important one or two years of his educational life, a period which will set his life up, in terms of educational development, and determine everything important that happens to him in terms of qualifications. I’ll leave you pondering there, for a moment, before we get to the appointment date. In the meantime, I’d like to ask you a bigger question.

    If you could suspend disbelief for a moment, imagine we could somehow introduce Milton Friedman’s system of negative income taxes, where every single person in the UK is guaranteed a minimum income, a personal pot of their own money, to do with as they will. (You may like to see my patent-pending Cure for Socialism for more details.) We could have a situation where everybody would be guaranteed enough income to buy the health insurance they require. Now, assuming you’re still with me, let me ask you this tickler? Given a free market, in which the NHS could compete for this income, would anybody actually buy anything from the NHS, with their own money? Would you forego your Kaiser health care insurance scheme, with single rooms, reasonable food, and top quality health care, for the disgusting, time-rationed, MRSA-infected, cockroach-infested, blood-covered, union-dominated, chippily nursed, tired doctored, bureaucratic rats’ nest, and backward unresponsive money-pit, that is the modern NHS?

    If you would, well then good luck to you. And remember to avoid those MRSA mixed-sex wards. I’ll take Kaiser health care. Same price, a hundred times better.

    Now getting back to the real world, let’s talk about my son again. How long does he have to wait for this crucial help with his handwriting skills, in this joined-up state-is-best world of Education, Education, Education? Three days? Now, that’s just me being silly, and thinking I’m in the hateful US. Guess again. A month? Not even warm. Three months then, so at least he starts the next school year with some kind of chance? Oh no, Susan. We’re only on 43% of the GDP being taken by Gordon Brown. It’ll take 85% levels before we get there (if ever). Six months then, a nice Christmas present for the greatest person in my life? Well, err…no. Not quite. Let me put you out of your misery. It’s a nice round seven months. We’re expecting an appointment in early January next year. It’ll be miles from where we live, I’m sure, I’ll have to take the whole day of my self-employed work to attend it with him, as they’ll be no timed appointment, and it’ll only be an assessment, with another period of waiting to follow, nicely keeping our initial wait under the 12 month “target”. But hey, let’s not quibble.

    This is because, although I hate to admit it, you’re right. This is actually extremely efficient of the NHS. Let me explain why. Because in seven months, thirteen months after we spotted the original problem, my son will have overcome his problem naturally, and we’ll cancel the appointment; or I will have acted in a morally evil way by queue-jumping to a private referral, so we’ll cancel the NHS appointment; or my son will be crippled for life with a permanent hand-writing disability. So once again we’ll cancel the appointment. Whichever way it goes, it will be extremely efficient.

    The thing is though, Susan, is that eloquent though you’ve been, and charming though Mr Carr has been in his extensive replies to you, and although I try never to be so gross, I must borrow the words of a Samizdata friend of ours, Becky I believe she’s called, and let you know how I feel emotionally and personally about the NHS. And do please forgive me, in advance, because we’re talking about the person I love most in the world, my first born son, to whom I would give up everything in a feckless, rash and emotional manner, and even risk being banned from Samizdata. Susan, you can take the NHS and you can fuck yourself up the arse with it.

  • Liberty Belle

    Susan is a statist who writes with the turgid, self-righteous intensity of the Sixth Form Common room. She advances arguments that were discredited decades ago. That her causes still exist, in the corpus, say, of the NHS, is to no government’s credit. She speaks of a “society she wishes to see”, as though her wishing it bathes it in the glowing light of honour and righteousness, instead of drab, outdated memes. Her arguments are toe-curlingly predictable. In fact, they provoke a nervous twitch of the scroll-down finger.

    Andy Duncan, no one with such a thoughtful, articulate dad will have allow himself to have difficulty expressing himself in writing. It’s in the genes.

  • A

    From an economic perspective :

    NHS, state pension system, state education and every crackpot socialist scheme – they all more or less suck big time (ie. inefficient) and are going the way of dino anyway.

    The sheer historical trend of decreasing demographics, low savings rate, ever increasing tax burden and higher debt levels will take care of all these “benefits”…

  • I don’t approve of Andy Duncan’s style of argument, despite sharing his sentiments and also having a young son with handwriting problems. Despite disliking verbal argument, I have once or twice got into quite passionate debates in which I argued against banning pistols in Britain. I really dreaded the inevitable person who would angrily and sincerely cite some relative or friend of theirs who had suffered gun violence. They honestly thought that their genuine suffering made them right. I think that Mr Duncan is right about the NHS, and his personal experience is legitimate and striking evidence. But the ‘stuff it up your arse’ bit will do nothing to persuade someone who thinks differently, and who might have an equally heartfelt personal story which which concludes “so you can take your private healthcare and…” There is no substitute for adding all the stories up and seeing the general rather than the particular tendencies.

  • Off topic, sorry. About handwriting problems in kids:
    (1) They really do usually cure themselves within a year. Personal experience plus extensive reading says so.
    (2)Try these triangular pencil grips. Also useful for left-handers generally.
    (3) Get him drawing. Maps are good, if he doesn’t like pictures as some boys don’t. My son went from totally embarrassing clumsy squiggles – worst in his primary class – made him look an idiot – to a perfectly acceptable (if messy) standard via a craze for drawing maps of imagined military bases.
    (4) Actually, despite all my rants about state education, very few teachers are so clueless as to judge a child solely by his handwriting. I don’t know if he has any other educational problems than poor pen control, but assuming he is talking and thinking OK then their response will be based on that. Most people’s response to most people is based on how they converse.

    OK, so you probably knew all that. But in case you didn’t, there it is.

  • Drat. That link to pencil grips is for the USA and you are British. I was confused. Never mind, you can probably use Google as well or better than I.

  • Andy Duncan

    Hi Natalie,

    Can I apologise for my outburst yesterday. You’re absolutely right, and all I’ve probably done is give some idiot socialist a tick on their “Have I sufficiently provoked a libertarian, Today?” daily checkbox. As Petrocelli used to say, in his inimitable courtroom scenes all those years ago, I’d like to delete that last line from the record, and replace it with the following (though perhaps his replacements were never quite so long :)

    Susan, this is only a personal gnat’s eye perspective, and is almost certainly not indicative of the entire health care system in this country, but the reason the Soviet Union failed was because although it would seem at first rationally more sensible to organise things collectively (eg: the building of tanks), in practice this always fails.

    In the free market, an individual holds the cash, and if the individual doesn’t get what they want, the cash goes elsewhere towards a more satisfactory solution (eg: The Pentagon buys a better tank, from a more responsive and better-value supplier – it isn’t just limited to Tankograd, come what may).

    And this evolutionary pressure works constantly, and effectively, without any expensive superstructure to check it is working. This makes the economic system evolve into something which tries to satisfy the individual purchaser of services and products, and make them happy.

    Yes, sometimes it fails to work perfectly, the lesson of the Austrian economists, just as the evolution of the dinosaurs failed (or at best, became side-tracked into birds), but it is always trying to evolve in the right direction of satisfying the constantly-changing values of every individual.

    This is just as evolution is always producing the best life-forms for any given constantly-changing environment (hence birds, dinosaurs able to evade rapidly evolving sharp-toothed mammalian tree shrews). In the free market, scientific experiments are being continuously carried out as to which, of many varying solutions, are the best theorem to cover a particular problem of product supply.

    We are constantly working towards the least-worst system, just as Einstein’s theories are less worse than Newton’s, and the next genius will produce a less worse system than Einstein’s, which will integrate quantum mechanics and relativity (probably).

    In the controlled state system, the only pressure to deliver the individual what they would like comes from above, and is only monitorable by targets. The only mechanism for this system to change, is, if you’re lucky, one vote every four years, which also has to cover every other product delivered by the system.

    And because it is in the interests of the people you’re voting for, to show how successful they’ve been, to maintain their power and privileges, no scientific experimentation is possible to deliver constantly evolving and more effective solutions. This is because the results of such experiments are always declared in advance, ie: “We will introduce Program X, and within Y years, we will have hit Target Z.”

    It is no surprise to keep finding that Target Z is always hit in Y years, no matter how bad the actual real-world service gets. This is because the controlling executive planner only wants to hear good-news results. He will remove anyone in his bureaucracy who reports anything otherwise (eg: the whistle-blowing examiner who revealed the rot at the heart of the British schools’ examination system last year).

    The expensive structure of bureaucrats, just like any other freely evolving system, will also evolve towards a culture of always satisfying these demands for monolithic hit targets. That is:

    They are producer led, not consumer led.

    They will not meet demands to hit real service quality levels, as measured by a myriad of individuals with their own cash (or even cash vouchers given to them by the state, which I could live with transitionally), just spurious targets supplied from high above.

    This is because anyone decent, honest and brave enough to say something isn’t working, as with the senior accountants within the EU, will also be removed forthwith.

    And if hitting these spurious targets involves the fudging of various meaningless figures, on various meaningless bits of paper, then that is what the bureaucracy will do. And this will be regardless of what the actual individuals, to whom the service is theoretically providing products, themselves think (eg: me).

    The hugely expensive bureaucracy, to ensure its own survival, will also try to ensure that no individual complaints ever reach any ears which can hurt the executive in any way, and/or will rubbish the complainants by branding them with some heinous crime (eg: being a racist, Tory, etc, or even have them killed, as in Stalin’s Russia). And instead of the free market, where pleasure and the feeling of individual customer satisfaction drive the process, in the collective system it is only threats and the feeling of bureaucratic dread at being exposed, which can motivate the system.

    Hence, when T-34 tank producers report that 100% of tank barrels meet the standard (as per target), to get their Dachas, yet 50% of tank barrels blow up on the battlefield, the bureaucrats responsible get the bullet in the back of the neck. In the free-market, the tank salesmen simply lose their commission, and their jobs.

    It is therefore the noose which motivates the statist, and the bank balance which motivates the non-statist. I know which I prefer, and which is more civilised.

    But it is the fundamental lack of responsiveness, and failure to follow Popper’s scientific methods of falsifiability which underlies the rot at the heart of the NHS. After 58 years, it just hasn’t fundamentally changed (and it won’t until the whole thing explodes).

    We keep being told it is marvellous, and that it is constantly improving, and that anyone who disagrees with this is morally evil (and probably a racist, Tory, etc). This is despite the quite stark evidence to the contrary, as is repeated ad nauseam by many of the people who come into contact with the failing NHS, such as myself. This continuing love of the NHS is based on tribal emotion, and not evidence.

    None of us will ever be able to prove to the statists that the NHS is a failure, and should be abolished immediately, because it is an unfalsifiable theorem. No matter how bad it gets, the statists will continue to believe, against all the evidence available, except their own which they make up, that it is still perfect. If something cannot be shown to have failed, then it will never change. How can it? Why should it? That is, until one day it all goes bang.

    And this is why the Soviet Union, with its “obviously more efficient” systems, and its culture of expensive bureaucratically managed targets, failed, and this is why the NHS has failed for 58 years, is failing, and will continue to fail no matter how much you beat your chest and wail.

    I have also had enough of being forced to pay for this useless monolith.

    I don’t want to pay for it anymore, not because I am inherently evil (though I fear I always will be in your eyes, until you wake up one glorious day), but because I do not think it works. Why should I pay for something I don’t want, and which I don’t believe works, but which forces me to use it because of the penury it causes me? Because you want me to? Or because 51% of the voters in this country want me to? That, Susan, is tyranny.

    Think of it another way. Pick something you disagree with, I don’t know what that is. Let’s imagine, for a moment, that it is every man being given a free holiday of their choice, out of your taxes. Let’s imagine that 51% of the population vote for that, because they think it will make men nicer, and make them live longer. Does that make it right? Is it Okay for me to visit the island of Crete, all expenses paid, and then send you the bill, which you have to pay on pain of prison, because 51% of the population demand it? Even though you think it is a very bad idea, and won’t work, and you can’t really afford it and will have to give something else up to pay for it? If you think so, you have my sympathy. If you don’t, I predict there is hope for you yet.

    And can I apologise to you yesterday for that outburst. That really was unworthy of me, and Samizdata. I also shouldn’t have mentioned my son’s predicament, as that is his to reveal, when he reaches maturity. And if it makes you feel any better, and if you don’t believe my apology to you, you may believe me when I say that that particular guilt will live with me for quite some time to come.

    Once again, Natalie, my apologies.

  • Andy Duncan

    Hi (again) Natalie,

    Thanks for the advice on the triangular grips. We’re “on the mother”, as you Americans say in your Quentin Tarantino films! :-)

    We have some nice green, yellow and orange ones (he may be left-handed, which may be the root cause of the problem, but it’s hard to tell as he’s quite ambidexterous, can kick a ball with both feet, picks up pencils with either hand, etc.)

    Good idea on the maps. He’s currently drawing lots of rockets at the moment, from “Wallace and Gromit”, and Meccano diagrams of helicopters.

    He may fly with the US Army Air Corps, yet! :)

    Rgds,
    AndyD

  • cydonia

    An outstanding, and at times moving, debate.

    Thanks to all concerned (especially Susan and Andy Duncan).

    Cydonia

  • Oops. I’m a bit late to this.

    I’d just like to add that Enron, cited a few times as an example of how free markets can go wrong, was not purely a private sector problem. The US tax code treats interest payments as tax-deductible, while share dividend payments are taxed twice. This makes it far cheaper for companies to raise money by borrowing than by selling shares. Since the introduction of that part of the tax code, corporate debt in the US has soared. And that was the problem with Enron: huge debts.

    In other words, if it weren’t for the interference of the state, Enron probably wouldn’t have collapsed. It was a victim not of the free market, but of state interference in the market. I’m not excusing any criminal behaviour that took place, merely pointing out that that criminal behaviour was actively (and unintentionally) encouraged by the state.

    This isn’t necessarilly an argument against tax, but it is an argument against complex tax codes.

  • Susan

    Andy, I’m sorry to hear about your son and don’t worry, I’m a big girl and can take occasional abuse. Apology accepted. I don’t think there’s anything in my posts here to suggest I think the NHS is an efficient provider of healthcare. I think I’ve only mentioned French healthcare here. I think the NHS is a complete disaster, but my views on why would differ radically to yours. Basically I think it’s extremely poorly managed and underfunded.

    I don’t think anyone here has really tackled my main question, which is from where do you derive your rights if not through general consensus and consent? Ethics is not a science and therefore I find it self-evident that ethical truths cannot be held to be self-evident. And if it’s about public consent, then how do you achieve such consent except through some type of democratic channel, however circumscribed by meta-rules on what decisions can be arrived at? (and such meta-rules will require some kind of public consent anyway). Majorities can be wrong, majorities can be unfair – but that problem can also (theoretically) be handled in a general constitution which lays out basic principles (the German constitution even allows for people to break German law if they find it to be against the basic principles of the constitution). But such a constitution will, inevitably, require public scrutiny.

  • Exe_

    rights are what we can create, not given.
    there is no dirivation.
    Individual=rights.
    Sorry, no colloquy about a democracy will ever even remotely point to indiviuality.
    I am me. You need food.
    I died thinking about giving you my rabbit.