11 March 2018

Subsidising the rich

Writing some years ago about the United States Government's perceived need to 'reframe pretexts not only for [military] intervention but also for militarized state capitalism at home', Noam Chomsky writes:
It is sometimes argued that concealing the development of high tech industry under the cover of "defense" has been a valuable contribution to society. Those who do not share that contempt for democracy might ask what decisions the population would have made if they had been informed of the real options and allowed to choose among them. Perhaps they might have prefered more social spending for health, education, decent housing, a sustainable environment for future generations...as polls regularly show. Failed States (page 127)
Quite. If people want to subsidise at vast expense high technology, non-stick saucepans, or the replacement of wildlife by oil-burning heavy machinery let us at least make those decisions for ourselves. Given the sums involved and the destruction and conflict such subsidies can create, they are hardly trivial. Any half-sensible outcome-based policymaking system would give a high priority to the polls to which Professor Chomsky refers, rather than the short-term interests of corporate or 'defence' lobbyists. And of course, it's not only the weapons manufacturers who benefit from this sort of effective voter disenfranchisement.

One of the benefits of an outcome-based regime would be transparency. People should have a rough idea of what their tax payments are supposed to achieve. Expressing policy goals in terms of outcomes would be a good start. Instead, policy is almost always a convoluted, arcane, protracted and therefore opaque process, followed closely only by those who can best manipulate it, their paid agents or those who are paid to formulate or comment on it. It's a corrupt process - not necessarily legally, but certainly ethically. The losers are ordinary people.

A Social Policy Bond regime would aim to achieve specified, agreed goals, and would inextricably link taxpayer funds to the achievement of those goals. Under a bond regime UK citizens for instance could still vote to subsidise wealthy landowners including the richest people in the country, but they would know exactly what they were doing and making a conscious choice to do so. The current policymaking system is so removed from the concerns of ordinary people that it is not fit for purpose. The gap between people's goals, and those of government and its big business pals is becoming ominously large.

No comments: