Government’s true role: it has limits

Emile Woolf

November 2, 2023

President Ronald Reagan said the nine most terrifying words in the English language are: “I’m from the government and I’m here to help”. We wonder whether he appreciated their full truth.

The role of government includes protecting citizens’ lives, property, and civil freedoms from external threats. But does that extend to protecting people from the consequences of indulging in harmful practices of their own free will? As soon as the state exceeds this limitation – always for the noblest motives – you can bet that we have taken one more step on the road to tyranny. The government’s involvement in how we choose to live is always tainted by its political objectives, notably retaining power. Its view of what’s best for its citizens may not align with one’s own views, and the Government can bring limitless resources to bear in imposing its will. Even when we have been taxed into penury, the Government can create more money by conjuring it out of thin air.

An example of state encroachment was at the Conservatives’ annual conference last month. The Prime Minister announced: ”I want to build a better and brighter future for our children, so that’s why I want to stamp out smoking for good. These changes will mean our kids will never be able to buy a cigarette, preventing them from getting hooked and protecting their health both now and in the future.”

If that doesn’t frighten you, it should. We all want a better and brighter future for our children, but why must its provision depend on conflicted politicians? What happened to that diminishing resource called common sense? Or parental guidance?

The number of people who smoke has fallen by two-thirds since 1974, when smoking was at its peak. But much of that reduction is attributable to the dissemination of reputably-sourced information rather than an outright ban.  When a better-informed public is allowed to make its own choices, most members will act in their own best interests without coercion. This was demonstrated when Sweden refused to follow the herd and decided not to lock down the entire country.

We never know what‘s next on their intrusive agenda. We’ve seen it with alcohol, tobacco, and the obesity obsession. The state’s fervent drive to ensure its citizens conform knows no limits, and protecting the health service is the handy subtext. If everyone were so determined to protect the NHS, they would hardly dare use it.

Few will choose to contract lung cancer. If having been made aware of probable consequences, some still wish to smoke, so be it – but they should not expect the generality of taxpayers to pay for subsequent treatment. They should contribute to their own charity, like ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’, which is a self-supporting charity funded by members’ voluntary contributions and the sale of approved literature.

A culture in which individuals take responsibility for their actions is the antidote to spoon-fed ‘nannyism’. Britain has become a nation of net recipients: Over half the population now receives more from the state than they contribute in taxes. Many readers simply don’t believe this. However, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) has reported that 36 million adults live in households where cash benefits and benefits-in-kind (imputed value of government spending on health, schools, subsidised transport, food, legal aid, childcare, and energy assistance) exceeded the amount of taxes they paid. After the lockdown, the net recipient ratio fell by only 1.2pc. “Bounce back stronger” never happened – 53.8pc of the population receives more from the state than it contributes.

Politicians’ answer is to persist with plans to raise still more taxation, already at its highest level in 70 years. The preferable – and rational – response is surely to reduce government spending – a task that must begin by cutting the horrendous levels of waste.

We have recently read that Birmingham City Council is bankrupt: its financial commitments, including £760 million in unpaid ‘equal pay’ claims, exceed its actual and prospective income. Nor is it alone. Councils of Croydon, Hackney, Thurrock, Woking, Northamptonshire, Kent, Stoke-on-Trent, Woking, and Surrey Heath are on the brink, citing a variety of contributing causes: spiralling demands for social care, new funding formulas, and poor investments.   

Such outcomes in the private sector would be rewarded by deeply stigmatised sackings in high places and accusations of serious financial wrongdoing. But in the public sector, there are no comparable sanctions – councils carry on as if bankruptcy is a normal circumstance that merely triggers a demand for more bail-out cash from the Treasury in an inescapable process of debt creation.

You may have been told quantitative easing has stopped. Council bankruptcy is a different style of money-printing that has a similar result. These debts will never be repaid but will be elevated to form part of the National Debt. Which doesn’t mean it’s been written off and can be forgotten. No, there is a counter-party – you!

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