On Tuesday, the Prime Minister announced that it would be necessary to make some cuts in public spending. Today, Alistair Darling will hold a series of one-on-one meetings with Cabinet colleagues to discuss which areas should receive the cuts, and which areas should be spared.
But has it ever occurred to the Chancellor that there is a simple, far more democratic, way of adjusting government spending than asking a cabal of Cabinet colleagues what they think we should do? Namely, asking the citizens – the ones who pay the taxes – what it is they want their money to be spent on.
Imagine, if you will, a once-a-year form from the treasury, sent to every tax-paying individual in the country, whereby each citizen can designate the specific areas in which they want their taxes to be spent. The results of these polls are then tallied and processed, and the total taxed income of everyone is divided according to a national average. (i.e. if 62% of the population wish for an average of 58% of their yearly taxes to be spent on the NHS and associated services, then that is what will happen.)
How hard could that be?
Instead of the relatively unaccountable Chancellor dividing the budget into what he believes to be the best interests of the nation, we let the nation do it themselves.
On my own personal form, I would ask that the majority of my money went into healthcare, education, and other important areas of the underfunded welfare state, and I would prohibit any of my money being spent on “defence” and the ongoing illegal wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. To some, that simply highlights the major flaws in such a plan – if everyone were like me, the military would have no money; conversely, if everyone thought the opposite, defence spending could skyrocket whilst schools and hospitals suffered. But the fact is, the genius of such a system is that by averaging the total national results, extreme views such as my own will be tempered down by more sober-minded and utilitarian citizens. In reality, the likely outcome would simply be an accurate reflection of what the nation really wants: institutions the public need and care about would receive the most money, and those they think are bloated or over-budgeted would get cuts (the wisdom of crowds and all that).
Under such a radical change of system, government would be forced to listen to the true demands of its people; the public would hold the purse-strings, and thus the key to policy.
With this new distribution strategy being an annual, or even six-monthly, occurrence, as national priorities change, so too would our individual designations, making it a much more flexible and responsive system than our current budgetary procedure, beholden each year to outdated historical precedents and Whitehall in-fighting.
Underfunded schools failing our children? Give ‘em a little more cash.
Overfunded schools still failing our children? Take the money away until they produce results.
An inflated military budget allowing never-ending and unjustified overseas wars that kill thousands of innocents each year? Put the money somewhere else and bring “our boys” back home until they learn to behave.
Mass unemployment because of an ongoing financial crisis for which the majority of people are not responsible? Refuse to give more hand-outs to the banks and corporations that caused this mess, and help ensure nobody gets kicked off their Jobseeker’s Allowance because of lack of funding.
It’s simple Mr. Darling…at least, it would be if we actually lived in any kind of democracy. As it is, I expect the result of the Chancellor’s meetings will be pretty predictable: cuts in benefits, welfare, education and healthcare; no major changes in defence spending (there’s an illegal war to win in Afghanistan you know!); and a further extension of insidious public/private partnerships (such as the Private Finance Initiative) that claim to cut public expenditure by selling our souls – and institutions – out to big business.
In other words: same shit different day in the corridors of power.