Suffering suffrage

Perry de Havilland is back on his prickliest form over at Samizdata and has taken aim at public sector workers:

Tax costs a great deal of money to collect, so surely just making all state sector workers tax-free would save huge amounts of pointless circular administration which is in affect just giving them other people’s confiscated money with one hand and taking some back with the other. It is a pointless exercise and essentially a category error to treat public sector wages like private sector wages.

But of course, Perry is working at multiple levels:

I am being somewhat disingenuous… I know full well why the state wants the theatre of state sector employees receiving tax with one hand and paying it back with another…it is indeed to maintain the notion that “they are just like us”.

I am just hoping to get people to focus on the underpinning absurdity and to realise it really is a “them and us” relationship rather than a “we are all in this together” relationship.

His intent is to cause a secondary reaction, which is that tax-parasites in the public sector are exposed for what they are – net beneficiaries of excessive taxation who can – and do – vote for their own jobs to be paid for by private sector workers. In fact, they are 100% the beneficiaries since all of their income taxed or otherwise comes from the private sector. This is genius, of course, and exactly the kind of multi-stage thinking the good-guys aren’t very good at. As hrothgar says over at Bella Gerens “we need to present the ideas in a way that saps legitimacy from the statist arguments” and Perry is doing exactly this over at Samizdata. But commentators Mart and Lee More see a problem: freed from the burden of taxation, the application of tax to the private sector is a pure win for greedy public sector workers:

one doesn’t really want to make public sector workers even more enthusiastic about voting for big government than they are now. Perhaps the solution is to combine tax exemption for public sector pay (and associated pay cut) with removal of the vote for public sector workers.

So, provide a disincentive (disenfranchisement) to match the incentive to raise taxes, and cut off their ability to vote for the rises. Thoroughly neat, but probably very unpopular. Universal suffrage is one of those accepted ideas that nobody questions even if they recognise that we keep voting in rotters.

So, I would like to suggest a slight tweak. This is a one-time-opportuntiy thing, I think, because it relies on the undemocratic house of Lords remaining undemocratic. Killing this bird with the same stone is part of it’s attraction. Here it is: Rather than disenfranchising public sector workers entirely, remove their taxes, and limit their suffrage to local elections and to the Commons. Ballot papers for elections to the reformed House of Lords would be distributed with your tax receipt.You have to be in the morally clean categoy of chipping in for the policies you vote for to influence the composition of the scritinising House. As such, a limited veto power would exist in the Lords where fiscal common-sense would enjoy a slight advantage relative to the Commons.

It might be possible to weight your vote in accordance with the amount of tax you pay but I suggest that option isn’t taken up. The idea isn’t to adopt a plutocratic Lords, but rather to ensure that people that contribute nothing to the the pie, being 100% dependant on tax revenue cannot continue to vote themselves pay rises and make their jobs mandatory under laws as they do now. If the system were weighted according revenue paid over then the vote of a shop keeper would be worthless next to that of a property tycoon, but his opinion is probably not that much less valuable. Also, under the present altruist culture success is seen as a sign of evil-selfishness and it will not be healthy for this policy if it is seen as putting wealth into absolute power. It must restrain itself to filtering out the votes of those that don’t chip in.

Another tactical move would be to make the removal of tax a straight pay rise. We should not deduct tax paid from the headline wage, but rather pay the headline wage. This is a straightforward bribe to allow the policy through, but will also illustrate how much tax money was being moved around and may raise awareness of the burden carried by the private sector.

Most of the time, this policy will make little difference to the passing of legislation as there will be plenty of people, such as low paid workers, who will still advocate for hand-outs in the Lords. The idea is to make it much more likely that financially realistic policies succeed, and force the disenfranchised to persuade, rather than force, the wealth-creators that subsidies and benefits are in the genuine interests of all.


  1. I think this issue certainly needs to be raised. However there is another problem which is our growing pseudo-capitalist and pseudo-charity sectors.

    I used to work for one who’s whole business was based on the existence of pointless and complicated financial regulations.

    Sadly these organisations reliance on the State is hidden from public view and scrutiny. And they will continue to demand an ever increasing State.



  2. I have had the stance of state income=no vote for a very long time – one of the “extreme” stances in that original Roger’s Manifesto.

    A state income for voters is tantamount to vote-buying. Regardless, it is a massive vested interest.

    We already have a form of precedent – MPs cannot resign, but are disqualified if they take income from
    The Crown, meaning their voting is subject to vested interest., Hence the use of the appointment to a Warden of The Chiltern Hundreds, the post of which takes pay from the Crown.

    We should remember, also, that in a Libertarian administration, most health and education workers would no longer be state employees…



  3. It’s an interesting idea, but worth bearing in mind that the distinction between public and private is beyond blurred so it’s difficult to see where this would start and end.

    On the suggestion that public sector workers should lose the right to vote: I assume anybody who advocates this would be consistent and remove votes for private sector contractors to the public sector, benefits claimants, prisoners… and of course weighted voting based on an appraisal of how much state support is given: 0.5 votes for the heavily subsidised, bankers etc (but of course!), limited liability companies, anyone who received government bailouts, people working in an industry which benefits from anti-competitive legislation. Oil companies operating out of Iraq or anywhere the military has fought for business opportunities… And then of course we’d have to use tax contributions to weight things back the other way for some people…?

    I mean to say I think removal of voting rights is a pretty sloppy idea.



    1. I’m not saying the idea is perfect, it’s just an idea drawn from comments that I think is interesting enough to blog about. But if it was to be done then I think it’s key to find a clean line in the muck, and see what is possible if you adopt that line.

      The line I suggested is that you paid 1p in tax in a year then you can vote *in the Lords* that year, no one else can vote in the Lords but they will have three or more other chambers to vote in. I did not suggest any chang to voting for the Commons, Councils, Parishes, Mayoral or EU elections. I’m not even advocating a change to the Parliament Act so the Lords (i.e. the tax-payers) could still be overruled. The result is a tiny change in the composition of one house, relative to universal suffrage, and a great increase in the democratic character of the Lords relative to the status quo.

      Finally, as I said there can be no weightings, I do not advocate a plutocracy in which the very rich weild an absolute veto power, rather electing people to represent those with a clear conscience according to a simple heuristic. You will never be able to unpick every influence on a voter, why try?

      The rest is a matter of incentives. Public sector workers would, over time, be paid less as they would not need to pay tax before affording food and basics, and they would be vilified by an envious private sector. That would incentivise, by about 30-50% in-sourcing functions into the Departments, and the line would become less blurred. Over time, the incentives would begin to clarify the picture and deligitimate the big-state.

      Immediate perfection would be insanely difficult, and we should not let perfection become the enemy of good.

      Is that more interesting now I’ve clarified it Mises?



      1. I really think that any change to voting rights is a non-starter, there are many things libertarians would like which seem impossible it’s true but some things are more impossible than others. If your concern is spending I would say devolution is the most likely route to getting spending under control (despite the likely counter-examples of Scotland and Wales).

        On taxing taxpayers’ money. How about any money received from government is non-taxable? I think you’re barking up the wrong tree if you want to see a clear separation between public and private and I don’t think this proposal would make any major difference apart from in admin savings to be honest.


  4. Mises raises the key issue; the blurred line.

    The only thing I think possible would be to stop taxing civil servants who work directly for a ministry. It could be justified by the argument that it was pointless to pay them with taxes and then tax them and may have the benefit of causing resentment. Removing rights to vote would be politically impossible.



  5. Just to make a point- I myself am a public sector worker and Libertarian, so is not an automatic given that they automatically vote for more spending (and I do know a few tory types that are receptive to a different opinion.

    Back to the main issue- is a no-starter politically, one of those ideas’s that is interesting in theroy and worth looking at if have ablank canvas. But in 21st century Britain is a dead end.



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