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.