Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Death and Taxes (2)

The “flat tax” is a trendy topic these days. It seems most popular with right-wingers and wealthy people. No doubt they like the idea as it means them paying less.

These are the same people who talk about the benefits of “small government”. In all the discussion about the ideal size of government, people tend to forget what the point of government is in the first place. Why do we have law and order rather than chaos? Why have government rather than anarchy? The reason is simple. Government exists to protect the weak from the powerful.

Government works when it does this. If a nation’s farmers can grow crops without the fear of men with big sticks taking away the fruits of their labour, then the country will grow more food. If you can develop a brilliant piece of software without the risk of being outcompeted by an inferior product backed by a huge corporation with masses lawyers and marketing people, then everyone gets better software. Those with money and power can buy this kind of protection and have little need for government. The “little people” cannot. They have just as much to offer the world as anyone else, and it follows that the world is a richer place if they are allowed to contribute. But they can only do that if they are protected from those who would see them as consumers and workers rather than competition.

What is true at a national level is also true at an international level. This week sees discussions about the future role of the UN. I believe exactly the same principles apply. The world needs a government capable of protecting the weak against the abuses of the powerful. That can mean preventing citizens against genocide. It should equally mean protecting weaker nations against stronger. And in particular, against the most powerful nation of them all.

Originally posted 2005-09-14


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