Yes, readers might well say, ‘Duh, Churchmouse. Everyone knows that.’

Or do they?

I’ll explain in a moment, but first a word from W D Fyfe. I borrowed his  reflections on the Diamond Jubilee the other day. He also wrote a three-part series on taxation recently, written in a witty and intelligent way.  Excerpts from his posts follow.

From Part 1:

In essence, taxation means, as a society, we are going to gather our money together to buy things we can’t afford individually.  Sometimes these things are tangible items like roads and boats and buildings, and sometimes they’re conceptual — like education, security and health care.  Regardless, we use taxation to pay for the common good.  The complication comes, not from what is the common good (I think we all agree on that) but how we get there from here …  My point is, for most of history, it was the local Pooh-bah who decided what constituted the common good, and taxation without representation was a universally accepted concept.

He went on to discuss the American colonists’ notion of no taxation without representation (emphases in the original):

Actually, the Americans weren’t opposed to taxes as such (no more than usual, anyway.)  They were much more concerned with who got their mitts on the money.  As freeborn Englishmen, they wanted some colonial representation in Parliament to oversee the coin they were shipping across the Atlantic.  They had the radical idea that if they had to pony up the cash, they should at least have a say in how it was spent.  It was a new Golden Rule (If I provide the gold, I make the rules) brought on by reading too much Voltaire and Rousseau by candlelight.  Lord North’s government in London called this outrageous school of thought treason.  The Americans, not known for prolonged discussion even then, reached for their muskets.  As we all know, insurrection is only wrong if it fails.  The Americans didn’t fail, the thirteen British colonies became the United States of America and for the first time since Pericles was a pup, taxation with representation was more than just a philosopher’s fantasy.

The odd thing was this New World idea caught on.  Pretty soon, French peasants wanted a say in how their government was run and how their money was being spent.  Then it was Haiti and the nations of South America; then Greece, and pretty soon, people all over the world were demanding this new taxation with representation.  It was a worldwide phenomenon and the first and only fundamental change to the tax system — until now.

I’ll explore Part 3 before going into his second post (emphases mine):

Jane is an ordinary person.  She works for an ordinary company and earns pretty good money.  …  Jane pays her taxes.  Actually, aside from income tax once a year and big item sales tax, Jane isn’t even aware she’s paying taxes; she just does it.  It’s part of Jane’s ordinary life.

The reason Jane gives the government her money is to provide for the common good.  However, should Jane desire a few things from her government — like more buses in the rain or perhaps a streetlight or two, so she doesn’t break her neck walking in the dark — chances are good she won’t get them.  Why?  Nobody’s on her side.  If she was an endangered goat, she’d have at least twelve different environmental lobby groups working for her.  If she was a rubbish disposal technician (or whatever garbage men are calling themselves these days) she’d have a powerful Public Service Union to rely on.  If she were a cultural event, she could get public funding, etc. etc.  Unfortunately, since Jane is none of the above, she’s on her own.  Jane has been abandoned by the people who are supposed to serve her.

The bottom line is Jane can’t hurt her government and powerful activist groups can.  Social and political activists are no longer a bunch of like-minded citizens who have temporarily banded together to get their message out.  They are now permanent.  They have bricks and mortar office buildings, high octane lawyers and tons of money to throw around.  They don`t necessarily buy politicians; they don`t have to.  They can produce opinion polls, social and scientific research papers, press releases and enough media time to browbeat the politicos into line.  Meanwhile, all Jane has at her disposal is a nasty email or telephone call.  Furthermore, many activist groups are nonprofit and not only pay little or no actual tax but are also in line to receive government funding (which, by the way, is Jane’s money.)

Our democracy faces a unique situation.  Ordinary people are becoming disconnected from the government that is supposed to serve them because their voices are a mere whisper compared to the noise that 24/7 special interest groups can generate ..

In a nutshell, representation without taxation is no different from its colonial counterpoint, taxation without representation.  It just doesn’t have a revolution – yet.

Now onto Part 2:

non-profit organizations … are increasingly using the money they raise not just to fund their organization and the work they do but also to directly influence lawmakers for legislation favourable to their cause … The problem is these one trick ponies aren’t interested in the common good; they simply want to protect their particular interestsThat’s why they’re called special interest groups, and their influence is growing.  Lobbyists in America now outnumber lawmakers!

This is happening all over the western world … Also across Europe, public service unions, whose wages and benefits are paid for by tax revenues, are increasingly waging war against austerity measures meant to stave off national bankruptcy.  Again, one-issue politics are trumping the common good.

As this new idea of representation without taxation gains credibility in our society, the results will be disastrous.  With no financial stake in the game, who will care how much money is spent or on what?  Waste means nothing when somebody else is picking up the check.

This is a new tyranny, built on the ubiquitous special interest group.  Like the splendid kings of old, they don’t care where the money comes from.  They want their monuments built.  They see it as their right to have what they want, when they want it.  And, like those splendid kings, they will bankrupt our society with their excesses.

Too right! And our beloved democratic processes go down the drain!

However, there are still people out there — old enough to know better — who say that the government finances these groups.  Yet, who finances government? It isn’t the Vatican or the Royal Family with a centuries-old inheritance.

The other day I was watching a political show. One of the panellists, a middle-aged lady, said of something, ‘The government will pay’.  Another person on the panel murmured, ‘The taxpayer will pay’. The woman repeated, ‘The government will pay’.

The taxpayer finances the government. It took me some years to move away from my ignorant notion that governments somehow had inherited wealth. Yet, a couple of years ago I had to explain to a fifty-something of my acquaintance that taxpayers finance the government from year to year. ‘You sound just like my parents,’ she replied. We went through a simple question-and-answer, which I’d hoped would end up with her associating taxes with government funding. Unfortunately, I do not think she got it.

We would do well to ensure that others understand that the phrase ‘the government will pay’ actually means ‘the taxpayer will pay’. It’s important that our young people also understand this concept.

On that note, I am quite disappointed with our Coalition government who have done nothing to curb the excesses of advocacy groups and unions. In fact, it seems as if the Conservative half of this government has only encouraged them.

Conclusion? If advocacy and single-issue groups cannot fund themselves without government help, then they should wither on the vine.

It is wrong for the taxpayer to have to involuntarily pay for advocacy groups which, in many cases, adversely target sections of society with their environmental and lifestyle demands for change. They are biting the hand that feeds them. Oh, for some say in the matter!

More on this next week.