Speaking of his beloved American democracy, Tocqueville wrote back in the 1830s that “the American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.”
Actually, the prophesy hasn’t come true: the American Republic has long since mastered the trick and she’s still kicking.
Moreover, the same trick has been used and refined by all Western democracies, republican or otherwise, which also survive – even though on purely moral grounds they don’t deserve to.
The refinement comes from creating a broad two-way street of corruption, with the government and the public feeding off each other.
Politicians use bribery (going by the misnomer of welfare) to create vast blocs of voters beholden to the state either partially or, increasingly, wholly.
The public repays the favour by corrupting politicians in return. Since the appetite for bribes grows pari passu with their availability, the public lets politicians know in no uncertain terms that their elective careers are contingent on the amount of bribes on offer.
Since all governments regardless of their political affiliation have done their best to increase the size of the spongers’ bloc, it has now gone beyond a critical mass. Two-way corruption is a gift that keeps on giving, and there’s no way to ask for it back.
Whoever plunders the Exchequer with nary a thought for the future, or credibly promises to do so, will get the votes. Whoever doesn’t, won’t – it’s as simple as that.
That is clearly immoral, not to mention financially ruinous. Because successive governments have used either borrowing or the printing press to get the bribery money, we have a public debt edging towards two trillion.
We are already paying more in interest than for defence, and one can confidently predict that in the next generation servicing the debt will become the greatest rubric in the budget, right next to ‘the social’ and the saintly NHS.
You understand it, I understand it – most important, our politicians understand it. But even assuming against all available evidence that some of them would really like to do something about it, they wouldn’t be able to – the corruption has gone too far.
So have the attendant lies. Few people are prepared to come out and say “Yes, I’m corrupt and proud of it.” It comes more naturally to suggest that what appears to be corrupt is virtuous underneath it all.
Hence the universal effort to hide the inherently wicked welfare state behind the smokescreen of self-righteous, sanctimonious, moralising verbiage.
All major parties have entered into a tacit agreement: if one wants to talk about some mechanical glitches in the operation of the welfare state, fine, provided care is taken not to offend.
But woe betide anyone who dares to utter a variation on Tocqueville’s theme by suggesting, however timidly, that using the public purse to bribe the public is – and I apologise for using this passé word – wrong. Morally. In principle. Fundamentally.
Tory MP Mark Garnier transgressed against this unwritten agreement and now he is paying the price.
He dared to suggest that high earners should be reassured that the government won’t introduce higher marginal tax rates to extort more of their money and use it for bribing ‘the poor’ (meaning those largely subsisting on state handouts).
“We need to be giving a much clearer message to them [high earners],” said Mr Garnier, “that they don’t have to worry about politicians mucking around with tax rates in order to attract a few, sort of dog-end voters in sort of outlying regions of the country.”
Personally, I would have chosen more polite and – especially – more precise words to convey the same message. But the message would have been the same: robbing an industrious Peter to pay an indolent Paul is wrong.
But, rude or polite, such pronouncements will always activate the four words I regard as the most destructive in the English language: YOU CAN’T SAY THAT.
You can’t say, for example, that progressive taxation violates one of the most sacrosanct principles of our constitution: equality before the law.
It goes without saying that those who earn more should pay more tax – in absolute terms. But to make them pay a higher proportion of their income isn’t only unjust and immoral: it’s counterproductive.
Serious economists unaffected by egalitarian afflatus have shown, figures in hand, that a flat tax rate of close to 20 per cent (I don’t remember which side) would generate higher tax revenues than the present system – while offering the additional benefit of redirecting into productive areas the vast army of chaps who busily help others avoid tax.
But taxation is no longer just a means for the government to get enough cash to cover its expenses. It has become a punitive measure, a poisoned arrow in the quiver of class war.
Punishing ‘the rich’ used to be a strictly secondary objective of taxation. Now it has become primary.
The same serious economists, for example, have shown that Labour’s darling, the mansion tax, would produce trivial revenues, if any at all. But those scholarly chaps are missing the point: the purpose of taxation is no longer just economic. It’s mainly punitive.
In committing his rhetorical faux pas Mark Garnier stepped on the toes of modernity, and modernity screamed. Labour spokesmen predictably described his call for fiscal justice as another unveiling of “the true, nasty face of David Cameron’s Conservatives”.
I’d like to come to my friend Dave’s defence: nasty he is, but not in the way Labour mean it. He’s as prepared as they are to bribe his way into 10 Downing Street. Unlike them, however, he has to pretend to be different not to alienate the core support of his party.
Consequently, Mr Garnier has been made to grovel and apologise profusely. He didn’t mean it the way it sounded, he said, and all voters are equally important.
They aren’t: there are infinitely more voters utterly corrupted by socialist bribery than there are high earners. And in our democracy of one vote for every man, woman and increasingly child, more also means more important.
Our government isn’t about justice any longer. It’s about numbers.
Mark knows it, Dave knows it, Ed knows it. But they won’t tell.
My new book, Democracy as a Neocon Trick, is available from Amazon and the more discerning bookshops. However, my publisher would rather you ordered it from http://www.roperpenberthy.co.uk/index.php/browse-books/political/democracy-as-a-neocon-trick.htmlor, in the USA, http://www.newwinebookshop.com/Books/0002752