(OPE-L) Re: taxation and public finance

From: OPE-L Administrator (ope-admin@ricardo.ecn.wfu.edu)
Date: Sun May 23 2004 - 11:25:15 EDT

Jurriaan has left the list again but sent a reply to my earlier post
from today./ In solidarity, Jerry

----- Original Message -----
From: "Jurriaan Bendien" <andromeda246@hetnet.nl>
Sent: Sunday, May 23, 2004 10:57 AM

Thanks. There is no "one perfect method" for ensuring that public funds
spent in accordance with a mandate given by taxpayers who retain control
over tax collection and spending schemes. In raising this question, I am
merely suggesting that this is one of the core problems of democratic
theory, i.e. what forms of accountability work best from the point of
view of the goals and values of a society.

The true moral significance of "accounting", apart from its economic
necessity as a reporting and evaluation method, is precisely
"accountability", i.e. the obligation to report on responsibility taken
for what one did with somebody else's money, delegated by others to
spend for collective purposes. In California, some budget issues are
resolved through referenda's, and these referenda's provide the mandate
to spend funds. But whether or not this provides a satisfactory method
for responding to the real wishes of the population is open to debate.
It is possible however to specify a series of criteria for ensuring both
efficiency and effectiveness and moral integrity.

This significance of the taxation issue for socialists, apart from
income distribution issues, is of course primarily one of how public
finance can best be organised, such that it is responsive to
popular-democratic controls and mandates, without becoming totally
inefficient or ineffectual because people constantly change their mind
about social priorities or seek to decide the allocation of resources at
the wrong level (it would obviously be stupid to get parliamentarians to
decide on the details of a bus timetable).

That is to say, this question is really inseparable from the formation
of a
new morality for the development of human society, such that there can
be some sort of rational relationship between short-term and long-term
goals as regards societal development, but this new morality itself
cannot really be implemented, until a social contract exists which
guarantees every citizen survival at a basic level, and thus guarantees
social security at least at a minimum level. If one group constantly
denies the right or ability of another group to exist, you cannot think
about long-term priorities for the survival and prosperity of all.

To my knowledge, the first person to explicitly advocate social
assistance to the level of a basic minimum income was Juan Luis Vives, a
Spanish-Jewish humanist (1492-1540) living at approximately the same
time as when Columbus discovered America. His ethical argument really
implies, that once the surplus-product of society  is, through increased
productivity, large enough to sustain the whole population securely,
then the social morality of a society should no longer be based on the
imperative of short-term survival (this has been technically achieved),
but be based on the long-term survival of the human race, and for the
rest, on the opportunities for human development, and a competition
about the most desirable alternatives for human development rather than
a competition for survival.

The conservative reply to this is essentially that a guaranteed minimum
income destroys the stimulus of the survival instinct, which creates the
consciousness of an obligation and a duty to "provide for one-self". I
can reply to this argument in great detail, but lack the time to do it
just this minute. But anyway point is this distorts the whole argument
since the wealthy themselves have a guaranteed income from asset
ownership, a security which in many if not most cases they did not earn
by their own labour, and really this ideology about "survival of the
fittest" and so on is an ideological reflex of competing capitalists and
groups of capitalists caused by a system of generalised private property

What really destroys the survival instinct is the inability to take
charge of one's life, because immoral social relations permit others to
intervene without consent in adults' lives - in ways which are immoral
in the precise sense that they do not honour the positive intentions a
person has for shaping his own destiny, and erode or destroy his
confidence or will in being able to live it. If you would actually look
at research you would find that the way people perceive things when they
have a guaranteed minimum income, is that they have a problem of how to
get ahead, i.e. the struggle is to validate their own idea of how they
want to develop their life within the framework of what is socially

That is, just because you can survive, doesn't really mean much,
because it
creates the challenge of how life could be something more than
surviving. Very few people are "lazy" about their lives as a whole, they
all have an urge to create, produce something, experience new things and
so on. They are "lazy" only in some parts of their lives, i.e. in
respect of tasks they don't really like to do, or have little interest
in doing, but which must be done. That is what social sanctions are for,
to enforce that these tasks are done anyhow. But to say that forcing
people to survive from day to day is, as a general rule, the best form
of social sanction, is a very dubious argument, because it may only
reinforce a social outlook that, given its great wealth, human society
is irrational in its organisation and this just adds to the incidence of
criminality (the most basic index of immoral behaviour that we have).


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