THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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That EU summit

Informed Democracy?

Nobody Important: Democrasy. Is it working?.

Our regular commenter Moggsy is a blogger herself, posting at our mutual friend JMB's site, Nobody Important. Today she considers the problems of democracy. She proposes, controversially, that the votes of different categories of voters should carry different weights. Even more controversially, she suggests that voters be licensed like motorists.

One man, one vote is such an established principle that to challenge it is almost unthinkable. Yet this model of democracy seems to tend to economic collapse. Majorities or decisive minorities of financially illiterate or irresponsible voters demand ever more from the state. Governments (or more precisely politicians who want to remain in government) are forced to tax or borrow from the prudent in order to deliver. Holding down interest rates while inflating the currency with Quantitative Easing is merely one current example of the state impoverishing the prudent to bail out the feckless. If interest rates returned to their historical average (so that the prudent earned from their capital) millions of over-borrowed voters would be bankrupt and house prices would collapse to sensible levels.

So democracy requires that economic justice be denied.

Harvard Professor of Economics, Martin Feldstein, recently wrote in the FT that a mere 3% cut in Italy's public spending would solve its financial problems. I am sure he's right but will Italy's state 'payroll vote' permit it? After all our public sector workers are out on the streets in 'righteous' indignation when our feeble government is not (contrary to their claims) making any cuts at all. Government expenditure in Britain continues to rise. The hated 'cuts' are merely a reduction in the rate of increase. It's as if the massively-indebted British nation was on its way to buy a Bugatti, but 'prudently' decided to buy a mere Ferrari instead. The National Debt continues to rise apace (see the debt clock now in my sidebar). Yet such is their sense of entitlement that our cocky 'servants' demand even more.

It has been said that;

A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury. After that, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits with the result the democracy collapses because of the loose fiscal policy ensuing.

Could a reform of our democracy prevent that collapse? My own preference would be rather to scale down the state and prevent its re-expansion by an entrenched constitution permanently limiting its scope. We could then safely continue with 'one man, one vote' as, while it's a terrible way to choose a master, it's a perfectly adequate way to choose a servant. But whether you favour my approach, Moggsy's suggested electoral handicapping or some pipe dream of your own, how can any reform ever be achieved when the state payroll vote is now decisive?

Unless a truly charismatic leader emerges to explain patiently, relentlessly and - most of all - convincingly that we can't keep spending more than we earn, our model seems doomed to collapse. Every state's credit has a limit and its cheques will eventually bounce so that its dependents starve. Yes, a small state might then be built on the impoverished ruins of the old, but at what terrible human cost?


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Andrew Duffin

"Bevan is the evil author of this financial horror movie"

That would be the same Bevan who famously said "the secret of the National Insurance Fund is that there ain't no fund".

In other words, he knew fine well what he was about.

Madoff was an amateur, I tell you.


Exactly. Previous pension schemes were modest and funded. Bevan is the evil author of this financial horror movie and is sadly beyond the righteous noose. Sequels are still being written however, not least by the current government which is NOT putting state employee pensions onto a fully-funded basis, but only reducing the future taxpayer subsidy.

Nigel Sedgwick

Hi Suboptimal, thank you for coming back on my points.

I fully agree with you that it is impractical to apportion votes on the net balance of tax paid with income received from the taxpayer. Your point on the difficulty of those paid indirectly (ie contracted to government) makes the point well.

There is also the issue of whether it is reasonable, whether or not the pay is direct (eg civil servants) or indirect (eg contractors). After all, why should those citizens who build our roads and dispose of our refuse have less right to votes than those citizens who build our beds or sell our groceries.

However, I don't know why you think I am proposing that.

My proposal is that House of Taxpayer votes should be allocated according to being a citizen and on the amount of tax paid (on income for practicality). I make no distinction as to whether one is or is not, directly or indirectly, in part or in whole, paid from taxpayers' funds.

This strikes me as much more realistic, being measurable, than some judgement on personal intelligence or other merit: I just don't see how that can be done at all reliably or fairly.

Best regards


Jobrag, We have been talking around how to do that for most of the post already.

Dave, I do agree vets should have a bigger say (even ones who are retired Jobrag)

Tom, You said "the politicians concerned are as much criminals as Robert Maxwell was.", they are just as dead now.

I checked and the UK had an Old Age Pensions Act 1908, that was means tested for those aged 70 and above.

But probably the "Ponzies" who either didn't get ecomics, or were just dishonest, would have been Clement Attlee and Aneurin Bevan's 1945–1951 socialist Government. They created the National Insurance Act 1946 and the National Assistance Act 1948.

Ponzie was big news in the 1920s so they both must have known how the con worked.


In his 1958 masterpiece "Starship Troopers",Robert Heinlein's plot centred on a future breakdown in civilisation, one where law and order was restored by ex-military veterans. From then on, only those who had served their time in the armed forces could vote, and the right to vote was worth risking one's life for.
This is an excellent book, not to be confused with Hollywood's shoot em up travesty.
Heinlein was a true libertarian, a bit too patriotic and pro-American for most tastes, but a great storyteller with some startlingly original thinking.
It's just a shame that much that he warned us about is coming to pass.


How about removing from the electoral roll anyone who's primary source of income is the state?

Suboptimal Planet

Hi Nigel,

I like the idea of representation for taxpayers, but as others have noted, I think the idea is impractical under our current system. It's too hard to identify who the net tax consumers are.

Consider a small private company that takes on a large government contract, such that the majority of its revenue comes from the state. Should all employees of this company be disenfranchised because of a decision by their executive management. And what about other companies that do work for this company? Where does it end?

I think there might be more mileage in the idea of national referenda for overall levels of taxation: each year the public can be asked whether the government gets the same amount in real terms, 5% more, or 5% less. For this to work effectively, government borrowing and money printing would have to be outlawed, or at least themselves subject to referenda.

I don't know how it would work out, but I think it would be worth a try.

Suboptimal Planet

No worries :-)


Even more controversially, she suggests that voters be licensed like motorists.

I agree - been putting meritocracy for years.


Very interesting discussion. I had a meeting with a senior German banker last week, and we discussed this very question. He mentioned that until relatively recently there were different levels of votes given to German citizens (this could have been a regional thing - we didn't discuss the details). In essence, he said the landowners had a certain 'weight' of votes, the taxpayers a second level, and the citizenry the rest.

I think the idea has merit, but my own view of seeking simple laws makes it very difficult to come up with the necessary mechanics.


Because I hijacked a good blogging idea! Sorry.

"It would likely be called crooked if it was anyone but the government doing it."

There is no "likely" about it. It *would* be called crooked, because it *is*. Millions of innocent "National Insurance" payers honestly believe their "stamps" paid not only for their pensions but every other benefit to which they are entitled. The fact is, it was never an insurance scheme, but a Ponzi scheme. It was an outright fraud from the get go and the politicians concerned are as much criminals as Robert Maxwell was.


Peter. I absolutely agree that no civi servants should have the vote. However don't forget thet the arm,ed forces and emergency services are paid from the same pot. I do feel quite strongly they should have a greater than average vote.

Also as I undertand it everyone is entitled to a state pension in the UK, They may have a private one also. So you would advocate disenfranchising everyone of pensionable age?

People who have state pensions many of them paid contributions.

The fact that the government didn't honestly invest the contributionsin a fund , but used them to pay previous 'investors', should not disenfranchise a pesioner.

It would likely be called crooked if it was anyone but the government doing it.

The state ought to create pensions pots for each pensioner to fix that while you are changing the house of Lords.

How come I am having this argument on this blog and not ours? ^_^

Peter MacFarlane

Only net taxpayers should be given the vote.

So, no students, no unemployed, no unproductive immigrants, no state pensioners, and most importantly no public sector employees (since they are net takers, whatever their wage slips may say).

Problem solved.

Here is another contribution (IMHO principled), cut and pasted from my more extensive comment in 2009:

I have suggested an important step for the UK, through the democratisation of its House of Lords. This is to have a fully elected house, re-authorised to be of equal power and authority to the House of Commons. I have named this house, the House of Taxpayers. The arrangement for democratic elections would be different. For the House of Taxpayers, each pound of currency paid in tax would be allocated one vote. For practicality, this would be limited to payroll taxes: in the UK that is Income Tax and National Insurance Contributions, and averaged over say the last 5 years for each taxpayer. Thus these votes are available to persons, roughly in accordance with their economic footprint. Universal franchise would continue for the House of Commons, one person one vote: thus those votes would continue to be available in accordance with existential footprint. [And let us here forgo discussion of the necessarily appropriate 'economic' vote transfers within families.]

Thus we would arrive at a parliament with a balance of powers and, very likely, some serious but cordial conflict of interests: the taxpayers versus the tax spenders, economic versus existential footprint, though of course the majority of the population of electors would actually be both and have both, but in different proportions. Taxes and the government expenditure they fund would only be approved by parliament where both the givers and the takers were agreed that the purposes of taxation were all (or at least substantially) for the common benefit, and in the right proportion compared to non-government economic and social activity.

Best regards
Nigel Sedgwick


I was just looking at my "Contoversial" typos, bound to get SP's goat.. sorry SP ^_^


I am sure it would be immensely controversial. Not least because politicians would set the pass/fail criteria and they would therefore certainly be wrong!

Your suggested weightings are logical, but politicians would put weight on public service (giving themselves and their party apparatchiks more votes), union membership (remember the Labour Party gets a crack at this from time to time) and all sorts of other nonsense. One man, one vote (but with no vote for public servants for so long as they are in post) is much simpler.

As for your final question, no you don't. Neither do I, sadly. The state *will* shrink but by collapsing, bankrupt and will then have to be rebuilt. If we survive the resultant anarchy (given that we don't have arms to defend ourselves) the struggle will be to contain its regrowth.


Tom, I really don't think the licence idea is so contovetial. Is it really so different from existing voter registration? Maybe a test to get it is controvertial though ^_^.

I was just trying to think of a way to make sure voters had some knowledge to be able to make sensible decisions with.

The weighting would be something anyone could increase, just by getting older and hopefully more experienced and mature. They could increase it by putting tax money in the communal pot, or laying their life on the line for their country, all things open to most of us at one time or another.

I do absolutely agree that the State needs to be shrunk, big time, like Alice. I also agree it should never be allowed to get bigger again.

Do I think it will happen?

Suboptimal Planet

Sins? That's one way of viewing things.

Proper punctuation might help forestall the collapse of civilisation.


"financially illiterate or irresponsible"

Is not the preserve of the voter and weeding them out will not serve any purpose. Our leaders are just as "financially illiterate or irresponsible" with the added fault of being power hungry. When a country becomes as self centred, greedy and selfish as the UK and most of the Western nations have become now then that is the time that they are going to be punished for their sins. Collapse is the inevitable consequence there is no avoiding it it is only a matter of the time of it's occurrence which appears will be very soon.

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