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March 13, 2012

No Representation without Taxation: Theodore Dalrymple finds much merit in a proposal from Ken Livingstone

Posted by Theodore Dalrymple

Theodore Dalrymple is surprised to find himself agreeing with Ken Livingstone - so long as we also have a new law banning hate speech against the rich.

The resentful define the rich as those who have more money than themselves; while the politicians who play to this resentment never consider themselves as members of the rich.

No one better illustrates this last principle than Kenneth Livingstone, erstwhile mayor of London, and perhaps soon again to be mayor. Mr Livingstone's company - presumably a sole-trader company - made 238,000 last year and 284,000 the year before. This puts him firmly in the upper one per cent of the population as far as income is concerned; he is, I think it fair to say, one of the rich.

He uses a company in order to avoid tax - not to evade it, nota bene. He can hardly be blamed for that: which of us wants to pay the maximum tax to which he might be liable if he takes no avoiding action? For every thousand people who in theory like the idea of increased taxation, there is probably less than one who likes it in practice, at least where that practice affects himself. Therefore I do not want to cast stones at Mr Livingstone on this account, because I too seek to reduce my tax bill, though I do not make the most strenuous efforts possible to do so: one does not, after all, want to be defined by one's enemies.

The former mayor is reported to have said:

I am in exactly the same position as everybody else who has a small business. I mean, I get loads of money, all from different sources, and I give it to an accountant and they manage it.
He is not alone in that.

Where, however, he is to blame is in his dangerously inflammatory language about "these rich bastards". Obviously, getting loads of money and being a rich bastard are not at all the same thing for him; and thus we see confirmed the theory of cognitive dissonance, the capacity of the human mind to hold within itself two contradictory facts or propositions and to reconcile them by means of not entirely honest mental legerdemain.

Again Mr Livingstone is reported as having said recently that

These rich bastards just don't get it. No one should be allowed to vote in a British election, let alone sit in Parliament, unless they pay their full share of tax. Cameron's problem is too many of his team have become super rich by exploiting every tax fiddle. Everybody should pay tax at the same rate on earnings and other earnings.
If we strip out the obvious resentment and hypocrisy of this statement, we see that Mr Livingstone is arguing for something that is well worth considering: a Reform Act in reverse, that is to say the establishment of a restricted franchise.

Let us disregard the question of what a "fair rate of tax" actually means. It is a purely metaphysical concept, after all. What is quite clear is that Mr Livingstone is arguing that at least 50 per cent of the British population should be deprived of the vote, for it is equally clear that some such percentage of it pays no tax at all, but on the contrary merely consumes it.

I do not mean only those whose principal means of support are benefits paid out of taxation; or prisoners (contrary to the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights that so sickened Mr Cameron that he has done nothing about it since). No, I mean all those who are on the public payroll. In effect, they pay no tax, for such tax as they do pay is derived entirely from the tax paid by others who work for themselves or in the private sector, or from company taxation.

If you add the people in receipt of benefits to those who work in the public sector, you probably reach 50 per cent. Of course, there are ambiguous cases, and ever more of them as our economy becomes ever more that of a corporatist state in which many companies are as reliant on the state as any recipient of welfare; but hard cases make bad law and we have to draw the line somewhere. I would suggest that workers in companies that derive more than half their turnover from public funds be excluded from the vote also. I am sure Mr Livingstone would agree.

He is quite clear about the principle of his new constitution: no representation without taxation. He correctly points out the corrupting effect of paying no tax in a society such as ours, where so many are dependent upon taxation for their income; such that to give the vote to those who derive their income from taxation is to encourage them in effect to increase their efforts to parasitise the productive members of society who have actually to generate the taxes in the first place. Under the present constitutional arrangements, the turkeys have only the choice as to which butcher is to slaughter them.

Let me here make a confession: under Mr Livingstone's proposed constitution, I should not have had the vote for most of my adult life, since I too derived most of my income from the public purse. I do not want to be accused of hypocrisy or covering up my own past.

But, however sensible Mr Livingstone's proposals, one must regret his language, which is purest Hate Speech. (It is also inaccurate when construed literally: bastards are statistically more likely to be poor than rich.)

Now on his theory, the rich are a distinct, cohesive and identifiable group, albeit not one to which for some unexplained and mysterious reason he does not consider that he belongs. And to call a distinct group a lot of bastards is to bring them into hate. This is no laughing matter, for if the history of the Twentieth Century teaches anything, it is that hatred of the rich had led to millions of deaths, to untold misery, and is, from the point of murderousness, the equal of racial hatred.

It is quite clear, then, that in addition to a franchise restricted to those who derive their income from sources other than taxation, we need a new law outlawing derogatory remarks, such as Mr Livingstone's, about the rich. Only then shall we live in a truly civilised polity.

Theodore Dalrymple is a writer and worked for many years as an inner city and prison doctor. Most recently, he is the author of Mr Clarke's Modest Proposal: Supportive Evidence from Yeovil, also available as a Kindle download from amazon.co.uk and from amazon.com.


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