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The political elite’s Trojan Horse

By Tom Papworth
June 15th, 2012 at 9:50 am | Comments Off on The political elite’s Trojan Horse | Posted in Uncategorized

Charity begins at home, or so we are told.

In fact, charities survive off endowments, investment income and grants as much as they do off standing orders and coins dropped in a box. But if there is one thing that surely defines a charity – and distinguishes it both from the for-profit and the state sectors – it is voluntary giving. No matter where the money immediately comes from, ultimately it can be traced back to an act of free (and altruistic) will. Right?

Not, apparently, for vast swathes of the UK charity sector. By 2010, over half of all charity income was derived from state and state-run bodies, and 27,000 charities relied on the state for more than three quarters of their income. No matter what ones view of taxation, one can hardly call it voluntary: it is a compulsory levy, and as such cannot, in any way, be considered “charitable”.

This might not be a problem if it just described charities receiving money from government to deliver services. Non-profit making private sector bodies, like their profit-making brethren, are often more efficient and more responsive to local circumstances than state and regional monopolies. Charities should be as free as any organisation to bid for government contracts, as long as this meets their charitable aims.

But what about the use of these funds to lobby government? Is it right that charities should use taxpayer money to campaign, even – perhaps – to campaign for more taxpayer funds? And what about charities that exist purely off taxpayer money, and exist primarily to lobby government?

A new report by Chris Snowdon, a Research Fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs, examines this recent and murky practice. Sock Puppets: How the government lobbies itself and why argues that this represents a capture of Civil Society by politicians and bureaucrats. These latter groups are too-often assumed to pursue “the public interest”, whereas a large body of research demonstrates that in reality politicians and bureaucrats – like everybody else – pursue their self-interests.  This should not always be assumed to be selfish (one point where I would fault Snowdon is his failure to acknowledge that “self-interest” can also include pursuing ones own values) but does nonetheless put them at odds with any general interest – and, indeed, democracy.

The capture of the charity sector by government is dangerous for a number of reasons. It provides small interest groups with disproportionate amounts of power and resources at the expense of taxpayers; it compels taxpayers to fund charities they do not support; it encourages the charities to focus upon the pursuit of state funding as a priority; and it mutes opposition (a concern raised by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations in 2001 and which I have witnessed in practice). A further danger, that Snowdon overlooks, is that government-funded lobbying organisations crowd-out real civil society groups; he certainly acknowledges that it is only the “politically correct” views (often those with little public support) that are funded.

Why does government do this? Feathering its own nest is one reason: government often funds bodies that argue for more bureaucracy, state intervention and taxation. But it also enables government to create “astro-turf” bodies that allow politicians to present unpopular, elitist issues as “grass-roots movements”. This subverts civil society, compromises the charity sector and undermines democracy.

The report makes four recommendations. Firstly, the government should stop giving unrestricted grants to charities; second, stop political advertising by government; third, require organisations that rely mainly on statutory funds to register as a new form of non-profit body, rather than appropriating the “charity” label that implies that they rely on voluntary funding; and fourth, restore the pre-Blair position of the Charity Commission that charitable status cannot apply to a body that is primarily concerned with lobbying.

Only then we will have a charity sector dominated by strong, independent voices speaking up for the people.

Do not feed the Sock Puppets


Winston Churchill on Earned and Unearned Wealth

By Tom Papworth
May 23rd, 2012 at 8:21 am | 1 Comment | Posted in Uncategorized

Formerly the only question of the tax-gatherer was, “How much have you got?” We ask that question still, and there is a general feeling, recognised as just by all parties, that the rate of taxation should be greater for large incomes than for small. As to how much greater, parties are no doubt in dispute. But now a new question has arisen. We do not only ask to-day, “How much have you got?” we also ask, “How did you get it? Did you earn it by yourself, or has it just been left you by others? Was it gained by processes which are in themselves beneficial to the community in general, or was it gained by processes which have done no good to any one, but only harm? Was it gained by the enterprise and capacity necessary to found a business, or merely by squeezing and bleeding the owner and founder of the business? Was it gained by supplying the capital which industry needs, or by denying, except at an extortionate price, the land which industry requires? Was it derived from active reproductive processes, or merely by squatting on some piece of necessary land till enterprise and labour, and national interests and municipal interests, had to buy you out at fifty times the agricultural value? Was it gained from opening new minerals to the service of man, or by drawing a mining royalty from the toil and adventure of others? Was it gained by the curious process of using political influence to convert an annual licence into a practical freehold and thereby pocketing a monopoly value which properly belongs to the State—how did you get it?” That is the new question which has been postulated and which is vibrating in penetrating repetition through the land.

It is a tremendous question, never previously in this country asked so plainly, a new idea, pregnant, formidable, full of life, that taxation should not only have regard to the volume of wealth, but, so far as possible, to the character of the processes of its origin. I do not wonder it has raised a great stir. I do not wonder that there are heart-searchings and angry words because that simple question, that modest proposal, which we see embodied in the new income-tax provisions, in the land taxes, in the licence duties, and in the tax on mining royalties—that modest proposal means, and can only mean, the refusal of the modern State to bow down unquestioningly before the authority of wealth. This refusal to treat all forms of wealth with equal deference, no matter what may have been the process by which it was acquired, is a strenuous assertion in a practical form, that there ought to be a constant relation between acquired wealth and useful service previously rendered, and that where no service, but rather disservice, is proved, then, whenever possible, the State should make a sensible difference in the taxes it is bound to impose.

Liberalism and the Social Problem – Winston Spencer Churchill (1909)

(Hat-tip to Jock Coats)

What does it mean, to be governed

By Tom Papworth
May 17th, 2012 at 9:07 am | Comments Off on What does it mean, to be governed | Posted in Uncategorized

To be GOVERNED is to be watched, inspected, spied upon, directed, law-driven, numbered, regulated, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, checked, estimated, valued, censured, commanded, by creatures who have neither the right nor the wisdom nor the virtue to do so.

To be GOVERNED is to be at every operation, at every transaction noted, registered, counted, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, prevented, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished. It is, under pretext of public utility, and in the name of the general interest, to be place under contribution, drilled, fleeced, exploited, monopolized, extorted from, squeezed, hoaxed, robbed; then, at the slightest resistance, the first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, vilified, harassed, hunted down, abused, clubbed, disarmed, bound, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed; and to crown all, mocked, ridiculed, derided, outraged, dishonored.

That is government; that is its justice; that is its morality.

― Pierre-Joseph Proudhon: General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century, translated by John Beverly Robinson (London: Freedom Press, 1923), pp. 293-294.

(Hat-tip: Jock Coats)

A letter to a constituent regarding equal marriage

By Tom Papworth
May 15th, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Comments Off on A letter to a constituent regarding equal marriage | Posted in Uncategorized

Lib Dem Voice have published the text of an email that I sent to a constituent earlier today.

He wrote to me to ask about my views of the government’s proposals “to re-define marriage”, which he believes “will have far-reaching consequences…[that] will have an adverse effect on the stability and flourishing of our local community.”

I beg to differ.

Médecins sans frontières

By Tom Papworth
April 17th, 2012 at 9:00 am | Comments Off on Médecins sans frontières | Posted in health, Nannying, Tax, Uncategorized

Doctors just can’t help trying to save people, it seems.

The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, which brings together the presidents of the Medical Royal Colleges and Faculties and so purports to represent nearly every doctor in the UK, is to lead a campaign to tackle rising levels of obesity.

One’s initial reaction might be to welcome a medical intervention aimed at combating something that kills as many as 30,000 people each year. But unfortunately, it is not a medical intervention that these doctors have planned.

My latest article on the IEA blog explains that the medical elite, having identified what it considers to be the end that society should pursue, is turning to the coercive power of the state to achieve that end.

Comments on the IEA blog, please.

And they say WE need saving!


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