One of the oft-discussed questions of politics is the degree to which people who do not pay tax themselves should be able to vote for others to pay tax. Part of the deal between monarch and aristocracy was that Parliament would vote taxes on themselves. The monarch could not impose taxes without the consent of Parliament. This worked to some degree when taxation was related to property, but the extension of the franchise to those without property, plus the degree to which wealth derives from income rather than property has changed the equation.
Is it acceptable that a majority should vote for the minority to pay the bulk of taxation, using legislative authority backed by state power? It reminds one of two wolves and a sheep voting democratically about what to eat for dinner. This may have had some relevance in the local government elections because of the student vote. It is claimed that students voted heavily for Labour and swung several seats. They certainly have no personal interest in voting for parties that keep council taxes lower – usually Conservative ones – because students do not pay Council Tax. They can vote for high spending candidates and parties because there is no comeback on themselves. There is evidence to suggest that this is what they did.
Opinion polls that suggest that people are prepared to pay higher taxes in return for increased public services should be treated with some caution. Many follow-up polls show that people think that those other than themselves will be paying those increased taxes. When asked how much they personally would be prepared to pay in extra taxes, they name trivial amounts.
The words of Frédéric Bastiat spring to mind:
“The State is the great fiction through which everyone endeavours to live at the expense of everyone else.”