Debate Magazine

The State/private Divide

Posted on the 21 January 2020 by Markwadsworth @Mark_Wadsworth

Anecdote: I was with the Ukippers at Westminster several years ago, lobbying our MPs. When it was finished, we discussed what we were doing next and I told them I was off up to St Pauls to give the Occupy people a bit of support. Those who expressed an opinion said I was bonkers, either you're right wing or you're left wing.
I didn't see a contradiction. The elements of the EU I don't like is the corporatism and the general meddling in people's lives; I agree with the Occupy people that The One Per Cent are taking the piss. Many incorrectly assume they were 'anti-capitalist" and some were, but if you think about it, the Occupy movement was anti-corporatist (mainly anti-banks).
My view on all this is quite simple and coherent, there is:
a) "the state" or "society" (that which belongs to everybody and/or nobody), and
b) the private sector (private businesses and what people get up in their own homes or their own business premises).
All developed states/societies do fairly similar things and have similar values, we just have to accept that. Czechoslovakia split into two and each half continued doing pretty much what the predecessor country had been doing.
In a perfect world, states only do things where the benefit exceeds the cost/burden (provide public and merit goods, welfare/pensions, regulate or break up monopolies etc).
To the extent that the state does things, they should benefit (or burden) everybody as equally as possible. That is the only way to maximise the value that a state can add (which they clearly can, as the alternative is anarchy or warfare); and the only way to maximise people's personal or economic liberty. The freedom of people not to be slaves is more valuable than the freedom to own slaves.
As far as possible state should not do things which only benefit a particular group of people (like immigrants getting favourable treatment under New Labour) or things which only burden a particular group of people (like immigrants being treated like crap by the Tories). Or give favourable treatment to those hereditary welfare claimants, the Royal Family. You can't favour one group without there being an equal and opposite (though often invisible) burden on everybody outside the group.
The state should not do things that only benefit owners of a particular type of asset (like land or IP) or a particular type of business (mainly FIRE sector). To the extent it has to (which it does with land ownership), then it should claw back those benefits in tax payments (aka Land Value Tax or Bank Asset Tax or taxes on IP income).
Most businesses do not get any special treatment, so they should be paying a lot less tax. The tax system should not be biased against employees and productive businesses, who have extra taxes imposed on them (NIC and VAT respectively).
The basic logic applies to everything.
Democracy is good ("a terrible system, but much better than any of the alternatives"), but most people live in safe seats so their votes are nigh worthless. So I support some form of PR (such as multi-member constituencies), that way everybody's vote has s similar weight.
A welfare state is part of parcel of what states do. Some people take the piss (see endless stories about people on disability benefits posting photos of themselves in the gym on Facebook) and some are denied welfare (see endless stories about people being persecuted under Universal Credit rules). So I support Universal Basic Income for all.
In the private sector, parties are not of equal bargaining power and do not have access to the same information. So we need some level of statutory rights for employees to level the playing field between employee/employer and between good employers/bad employers.
But you have to be careful about going too far - that results in bad employees taking the piss; or act as barriers to entry - in relative terms, things like maternity leave are absolutely no problem for large employers but can be make or break for small employers. If you go too far, the playing field becomes less level again. Same goes for consumer protection.
I'm perfectly happy with same-sex marriage, but also I don't see the problem with that cake decorator in Northern Ireland refusing to do the cake for a gay wedding. Gay marriage is a state thing, and there's no reason for gays to be treated as second class citizens; a private business is a private business and they can turn down any customers they like, even for petty and small minded reasons. And the gay couple can shop elsewhere.
As to personal liberty, if something isn't actually or potentially harming a third party, it should be allowed. Taking drugs in your own home or business premises is fine - but not driving under the influence of drugs. Breast feeding in public is fine, as is wearing a burka. Some people (including me) find one or the other (or all of these things) objectionable or offensive. Tough, it's none of our business, we have to live and let live.
And so on and so forth.
Here endeth today's lesson.

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