28 juni 2005

Libertarian government (The Flemish Beerdrinker)

My problem as a libertarian with the welfare state and with big government is not that is exists. I have no problem with that. If the majority of the population wants a large welfare state and expanded public services, which I believe they do (even in then U.S. opinion polls suggest that the majority of the Americans wants to increase public spending on items such as health care and pensions), then if have no problem with the fact that the government provides them that. I think that’s called democracy. And I’m all for democracy.

The problem I have with the welfare state is that I have no choice but to participate. Opting-out, even in part, is not allowed. It’s worse than that. Even if I never in my life receive some kind of benefits (for instance unemployment insurance), or use some public service (public transport), I still have to pay. I also have to pay for programs destined for other groups, say, for farmers. As I never in my life will become a farmer, I’ll never will receive any of those subsidies. But still I have to pay for them. I can’t refuse. I can only hope that one day a majority can be found to abolish farm subsidies.

Democracy in this sense works different then markets. Simply put, generally, if I want a service or good, I pay for it. If I don’t want it, I just don’t pay and that’s that. Companies can not force me to buy something at their price, although of course they certainly will try, and try hard. Concerning this we can debate the question if laws are needed to empower consumers, for protecting them against companies pushing too hard, but this only reinforces my point: you can say no. Opting-out is allowed. The irony here of course is that governments generally will do anything to give consumers the right to say no against sellers, but will refuse that right to it’s own citizens.

I think that a real democratic government has to give citizens that right. If I don’t want unemployment benefits when I’m out of work, or when I don’t want social security than there is no reason why I should pay for it. Neither can the government oblige me to be with the poor. I think that subsidies for farmers are a disgrace. So I want to have the right to refuse to pay taxes for them.

But then the government will run out of money? Not necessarily. The government will have to put itself on the market and try to convince me to give it some part of my money. If it really wants to I think it has some pretty good arguments: for instance according to many economists government is pretty good at providing collective goods like roads, or public transport. Well then maybe I can be persuaded to pay for it. Or if government can convince me that it is cheaper to pool some money in a government fund to redistribute it to the poor, I even may be persuaded to put part of my money in that fund also, provided that the money really goes to the poor.

On the other hand government will have a hard time convincing me giving money the European Common Agricultural Policy, because I think this is a wastefull program, bad for consumers and third world farmers. If other people like me think the same way then government has two choices: reform the program so that it can better defended and enough taxes can be raised, or cut the program down (or abandon it altogether).

The thing is : opinion polls show that in general people are for the welfare state. If so I see no reason for forcing people to pay for it. They will do that out of their own will, because they see it is in their own interest or they want a more just society. But like companies, government will have to use arguments, not force. In the end I think this will mean a better and more efficient government (to say it in economic parlance, governments will face a hard budget constraint, be efficient and effective or go out of business) and more choice for the people.

A government where you can say no against. What a revolution would that be.

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