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The Death Rattle Of The Private Sector

There are all sorts of issues in libertarianism and small governmentism, and some are more important than others, and we all have our particular things we focus on. My own normal focus is “social” liberty, the puritan stuff about sex’n'drugsn’craplikethat, and other than polluting the comment sections of other blogs (sorry Tim!) in particular I have a tendency to leave economics to other people who are brainier about it than I am. Talking of which, our own Paul Marks nudged me earlier this week with the following quote from our most glorious Chancellor Of The Piggy Bank, mister George Osborne-

I will not hesitate to move swiftly, without notice and retrospectively if inappropriate ways around these new rules are found. People have been warned.

-which is scary stuff and which Paul has addressed in an earlier post. But even this astonishing declaration, which is basically “we will decide post hoc whether you broke rules that had not yet been made”, pales into insignificance beside THIS from The Void (via The Libertarian Alliance blog).

It is astonishingly scary stuff. It appears that, largely under the radar (or, at least, under my radar), old bumhole mouth himself Iain Duncan Smith is constructing (or at least attempting to construct) a Mother-Of-All-Databases that will make Broon’s Identity Card scheme look like small potatoes. Which if nothing else pretty much kills off the last of those trying to justify voting for Cameron’s “Heir To Blair” party at the last election by saying, “well, at least they got rid of the ID cards”. Ho hum.

The article is obviously written in scary tone, but the meat (and potatoes of it) appears to be corroborated by this somewhat calmer article in the Telegraph. It certainly seems to be scary stuff; if scarred by the usual hubris of government systems with unrealistic expectations (e.g. of working at all) and timescales and budgets. The creation of what is tantamount to an ID card system- a hugely comprehensive tracking database- is bad enough. But for me, the real issue is the apparently lesser of the two. From the Telegraph report we have-

Universal credit is dependent on a new IT system at HMRC called the Real Time Initiative, which will force all businesses to update changes in their employees’ pay every month instead of every year.

and the Void’s version-

Under Real Time Reporting, the Government will require self-employed tax-payers and PAYE employers to submit monthly figures on earnings. The Government will know where you are on a month to month basis, unlike the current system which only relies on annual returns.

Let that sink in for a moment. Every business, every self employed person, will have to tell the State every month how much they have earned, or paid to others. Every month.

There are two issues here. The lesser- but nonetheless ginormous- one is the issue of bureaucracy. I have a small (tiny) business. Currently, I basically interact with my accountant once a year so he can do the annual accounts, having sorted out the mess of internet payments into a coherent form. Now, apparently, we will have to dutifully report all this every month, no doubt with harsh penalties for lateness or incorrect reporting, the latter of which is not entirely unlikely with a small, sort of ad hoc business like mine. The same is true for the sole trader electrician, the corner shop, the little hairdressers, the part time company the wife runs selling nick nacks. This is massive. Of course it will little affect very large companies with payroll and personnel departments, paying their staff en masse monthly. But hey, Dave, remember those small businesses you keep pretending to care about? What about us?

I’ll get back to this.

The big issue though is that, it seems to me anyway, that this is a fundamental watershed in the relationship between what remains of the “private” sector, and the State. There could not be a clearer declaration that your money is not your own- whether you are a business or a private individual. It means that government systems will be directly monitoring all the economic minutiae of our individual lives. It is as “Big Brother” as could possibly be imagined; every payment dutifully reported to the State, and stored as data. The State’s greasy fingers officially in every pie. It says utterly clearly that any money you have is purely there by the State’s permission. And it is designed as pure economic terrorism; rather than the annual “oh, better get the accounts done then”, it is “I’ve got to get my earnings reported by the 31st or I’ll be in big trouble”.

The reason for this? One reason is that The State is panicking. They’re effectively bankrupt and trying to grasp more tax money than the economy can support. They’ve been in this state since the 2008 crash. There is no money left. So, they’re dropping any pretence of taxes being some kind of voluntary “social contract” and becoming overtly rapacious. They are utterly desperate for our money, which they believe is, by right, their money. They lard taxes on this and that, but it’s still not enough. They hire more tax inspectors, they make announcements about how “we’re going after builders” and “we’re going after people paying nannies cash in hand” and it’s not enough. They’ve lost the faith of the taxpaying public entirely, so the only way forward now is to take control at source; if they can watch every payment, every wage, maybe they can squeeze even more squeaks out of us pips.

But it also betrays to us the mindset of these people; people who inhabit an entirely removed class from the rest of us; and this is really a general point about the Progressivist Mind. Proggies perceive not a world of people as individuals, but a world of Institutions; government departments, corporations, charidees and the like. They see social and economic interactions not as between individuals, but between these corporate blocs. This is why they believe in fallacious economics of the Keynesian variety, in which you can do arithmetic with aggregate variables, and why they indeed believe the nonsense that there is something called “macro” economics. Institutions are big things, though. They have to be big to be institutional. They’re big government departments, big banks, big companies, big charities. Big enough to be noticed, too big to fail, with big people in charge who come into the minister’s office for tea and which spend millions and billions and even trillions of pounds, dollars and groats. Indeed, this disaster is being trialled by (Telegraph quote again)-

…one million taxpayers (no, they haven’t been told that they are taking part) but only 320 companies. So the companies that have volunteered are nearly all large outfits with sizeable payroll and IT departments.

-so to an institutionalised mind, it all looks so simple. The big corporation interfaces its big servers to the big servers in the big government department, and glorious rivers of data flow back and forth (they do love their data, the Proggies) and all is hunky dory. And what of that little sole trader, that little shopkeeper or that little hairdresser struggling to get the right figures submitted online? These tossers, they can’t even see them. They are beneath not so much contempt as visibility. This is the blindess of the Big Institutional State in all its terrible glory. You can almost visualise them, perhaps momentarily considering this question, saying “well, if they can’t afford to comply, they probably aren’t worth being in business anyway”. Then they all laugh and have another brandy. Kind of thing.

But, sigh.The practicalities are awesome and terrible. But they are not as terrible as the attitude that the State has to us so clearly revealed by this. There is no private life left. No private citizen left. There is just a creature who labours in the master’s field and is allowed to keep some of his produce to sustain himself. We are no longer on the road to serfdom.

We have arrived.

17 Comments

  1. This is absolutely insane! Every month? It’s stressful and bad enough once a year.

  2. john in cheshire says:

    I wonder can the Anonymous organisation infect this system with something that makes it unusable? If the Iran nuclear operating systems can be destroyed, this should be easy for those who know what they are doing.

  3. RAB says:

    The most scary part of this is the intent behind it, and it’s sneaky implementation.

    But given Govt’s track record on IT, this will be SNAFU from the off.

    Other than that, yes as JIC says, some clever Libertarian minded hackers could take down the whole system.

    Failing that, well all us small fry should just refuse to comply. What could they do? The only way to turn this land into one huge prison is for us to knuckle under and obey. If we refuse there just arn’t enough real prisons to contain us all.

  4. Zaph Camden says:

    Fuck. This is scary stuff indeed.

    Why can’t these people JUST. LEAVE. US. ALONE?!?

  5. Steve says:

    And so the ‘black’ economy booms, taking more tax income away from the State. Barter is becoming more and more wide-spread, especially in more rural areas. Across a very broad swathe of Southern England there has grown up a value system which is remarkably consistent. Four hours of work repairing a tractor in Devon brings an offer of a certain fairly large amount of produce, the same job in East Sussex attracts an offer of a similarly valued amount of produce.
    The produce offered is very exchangeable for other services and goods as well as greatly reducing domestic expenditure on foodstuffs.

  6. Bill Sticker says:

    When I was self employed, it was bad enough after a long working day and trips to client site to be faced with an hours paperwork for the taxman before I could relax. That was 1998-2004. Now they want to increase the admin burden on small businesses by a quantum leap? Holy smoke. No wonder the UK is in such a mess.

  7. NickM says:

    Fuck that!
    Remember cash payments are tax-free! Anyone who regards iDave’s mob as in any sense of the word conservative needs to seek urgent help from a trick-cyclist. Or priest, imam, rabbi or whatever. I mean for fuck’s sake!

  8. Bill says:

    Big gov IT project = goosed from the day it is conceived.

    As for non-compliance it’s the future…

  9. Edward Lud says:

    Ian, “we will decide post hoc whether you broke rules that had not yet been made…”

    This has been going on for years. The example that springs most readily to mind is the FSA enforcement regime. Fire safety regs, too, work on the same basis.

    I’m not disputing the enormity of it, just the novelty.

    And today, I appeared in front of a very pleasant judge who told me that the reason the Crown has a case against my client is because the judiciary no longer favours technical defences (such as the one I had raised) and therefore the applicable case law, decided 25 years ago, was irrelevant. So law is an attitude, a pose, a feeling.

  10. Ian B says:

    I must admit, I’m hoping that this has been misreported.

  11. Jim says:

    The good news is that it can’t work. Thats not to say it can’t/won’t cause massive problems and miscarriages of justice before it collapses under the weight of its own contradictions, but it will never function properly, and will destroy itself.

    Too many people live such disfunctional lives that any attempt to rule them by demanding such constant updates of information (with sanctions for failure) will result in anarchy. Remember how the Poll Tax was fine in theory but collapsed because a relatively small minority refused to pay it, and the system couldn’t cope and catch up with them? This is the Poll Tax in spades.

    To some extent I welcome it. Because while projects like this are the stuff of nightmares, it is going to take something horrendous to make the broad mass of the public wake up to the fact that the State is not its friend. Something like this is the biggest recruiting agent the Small State concept could ever have.

  12. NickM says:

    Jim,
    I wouldn’t say the poll tax collapsed because “a small minority” didn’t pay it. I didn’t pay it. I didn’t pay it not because I’m an an anarchist or similar but simply because I knew I’d get away with it. I was a student at the time and it was like GBP37 and I thought, “fuck that for a game of soldiers!” I mean that’s was a couple of movies and a few drinkies and a taco (bavk in ’92). That’s why I am a libertarian. I’m not a political soul. I just want the likes of Gordon and Gideon to retreat to their sheds and wank themselves raw over “Debbie does Dallas”. I write on a poli-blog because I hate politics. It is cunts who know what you want and want to give it to you hard and often I object to.

    Except no it isn’t. They are just making their way in the World we create for them to fuck with. We are the people who… Well there is an Oscar Wilde short story (I forget which one) that starts with the forest critters (a fox, a badger, a squiggle etc.) complaining about the weather and saying, “The government ought to do something about it”. Now that was written back in the days when the government did a lot less than it does now. But fucking hellskis it resonated.

    PS. Anyone can tell me what Wilde story that is from gets a CCinZ virtual cigar.

  13. RAB says:

    I’ll re-fill my virtual Zippo in anticipation, shall I ?

    http://www.readbookonline.net/readOnLine/3244/

  14. John Galt says:

    It was exactly this sort of bullshit (albeit in the form of the original ID cards scheme) that caused me to up sticks and leave the UK in the first place.

    George Orwell’s 1984 may have been a precient warning about the power of the state, but there are various aspects of it that have always been desired with greedy eyes by the agents of the state, particularly the ability to monitor and at the push of a button investigate every aspect of the life of an individual, where they go, who they talk to, where they spend their money and what they spend it on.

    The only thing that has hampered this was the lack of the technical infrastructure to undertake this excercise in eternal state vigilance. However, we have now reached the point where computers and telephone are so tightly coupled that time has come for the state to build the foundations of this intrusive machine.

    The Matrix is being built before our very eyes.

    My only suggestion is to utilise as little electronic technology as possible and where you are able to buy things in cash in an unrecorded manner do so. It is still possible to purchase a mobile phone without registering it under your name – I doubt that this will be possible much longer.

    Get rid of your loyalty cards, from your Tesco clubcard to your Costa Coffee card (although the paper stamp versions are still probably okay).

    When you get paid, remove what you need from your bank account and make all purchases in cash. This makes it harder for you to be tracked in situations where you are the commodity (far too often nowadays).

    This may sound like the rantings of some paranoid conspiracy nut, but we are all subject to far more monitoring nowaday and our private transactions (e.g. Tesco clubcard record) and private movements (e.g. London Underground Oystercard) are all available to the state.

    The Matrix will not be built in a day, even 10-years from now you may be able to undertake transactions and movements by cash, but it will be harder and harder, because the state needs your tax revenue, needs as much of it as possible and the only way it can achieve this is to monitor the transactions moving through society and ban cash as much as is possible.

    Real Time Information is not about ‘ensuring taxpayers pay the right amount of tax’ it is a mechanism of state control and anyone who fails to recognize this and take avoiding action is more likely to become a victim when they accidentally (or naïvely) break one of the multidudinous new ‘victimless crime’ laws that the state has created to keep you in fear.

    Do not be afraid, but act and act now.

  15. john b says:

    This has been misreported, particularly by the Void piece – RTI will not cover the self-employed (see the final page of HMRC’s consultation document). It’ll only be paid by companies that already have to remit monthly PAYE to HMRC.

    I’m a sole trader rather than an employer, but for a small company that already has to calculate and remit monthly PAYE, I can’t see how ‘telling them how you worked the amount out’ is going to make life any more painful.

    On the wider point about surveillance society, Ian is of course right.

  16. Dr Dan H. says:

    I think I know what all of this shite actually is: this is internal party politics at play. Group A decides that Group B need taking down a peg or two, so Group A sells a batshit-insane plan to Group B which is reliant on a Government IT system working vaguely as designed.

    Group A punt the idea out, then let Group B take all the credit, in the full and certain knowledge that they’ve given Group B more than enough rope to hang themselves with.

  17. Andrew Duffin says:

    As I’ve said over at Void’s place, I refuse to worry about this.

    It is too fantastically complicated and ambitious ever to work.

    After huge expenditures of money we don’t have (remember that the similar “universal” NHS system cost £12Bn before it was finally canned), it will be cancelled, leaving only a few huge empty buildings, a mighty contract or two with Crapita or Oracle or IBM, and a staff of hundreds/thousands who for some reason will still be needed even though there’s no system to manage.

    Other than the cost, it’s going nowhere.

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