Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Two takes on the Tyranny of Democracy

This morning, on twitter, I saw this blog from Richard Murphy: The Tyranny of Democracy.

And right next to it, in another column, I saw this blog from Tim Worstall: The Tyranny of Democracy.

Of course I had to read both of them, didn't I?

Fascinating. Tim Worstall's blog was, of course, a rebuttal of Richard Murphy's arguments.  And I have to say that in general I agree with him on this one.

The Tyranny of Democracy is not purely concerned with taxation, as Richard Murphy suggests. As Tim Worstall says, it is to do with the tendency of majorities to impose upon, discriminate against and abuse minorities.  To the extent that in our parliamentary democracy, the government is elected by the majority (and I'm aware that there are issues around that), minorities will always be at risk.

Imposition of draconian taxes on minorities has happened at various times in the past in the UK. Worstall gives a recent example of such a tax. I prefer to mention the continual milking of the Jews to fund military campaigns by successive kings in mediaeval times. Such taxes are as much an abuse of human rights as denial of voting rights, jobs, education, healthcare, benefits and liberty to minorities.  Oh, and very often financial abuse goes along with systematic denial of other rights as well, particularly the right to argue and resist.

Now, I'm not arguing that wealthy people paying more tax is necessarily a denial of their human rights. But what if the top tax rate rose to 98% - as it did in the 1970s? At what point does tax policy stop being reasonable and become abusive? Wealthy people are unquestionably a minority, after all. If they weren't, we wouldn't be having this discussion, would we? Wealthy people need representation too. Otherwise it is all too easy for them to become a target for the envious poor.

I really don't think Murphy's argument - that libertarians fighting their corner amounts to an attack on democracy - stands up. They have a right to express their opinions and attempt to influence policy through debate and persuasion. We all have that right.  Denying that right to someone because you don't like their politics, or their religion, or their gender, or their colour, or the amount of money they have - now THAT's an attack on democracy.

Oh, and I have no axe to grind here. I am not, and never have been, wealthy.

5 comments:

  1. Yes but his example was of the tyranny of democracy and yours of the tyranny of kings... So his is better, no?

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  2. osesrblog: True, but kings imposed those taxes on minorities because they were an easy target. High taxes imposed on the majority can cause civil unrest, which is dangerous to kings. If there is a handy minority that is both believed to be rich and very unpopular, it's much easier to strip them of everything they own instead. So I would still regard this as an example of democratic tyranny, even though it looks despotic.

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  3. Tyranny of advertising managers (whose utility determines the all important 'demand' for goods/services) and commercial artists ... for who knows what reason, but this is how post-war commerce 'evolved'.

    Politicians aren't kings or knaves anymore, but stage actors reading from slightly different scripts than economists.

    Standing on an island or standing on a whale? What has mattered for the lives of most as far as can be remembered is what kind of new car they might buy. Now, it's how to hive off the most 'useless eaters' so that the finance overlords may preserve what's left of their prerogatives. A sea-change: what is the result of all the various kinds of depletion.

    We are all standing on a shrinking ice floe, not such a pleasant place to be ...

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