3 policies I support in principle, but not in practice

by Stephen Tall on April 29, 2016

There are some policies I really like the sound of. They are, you could say, almost too good to be true… Which is sadly what I expect we might find if we tried to implement them.

Here are three I’ve supported in the past, but when pressed on how they’d work in practice, have been forced to conclude they probably couldn’t (at least, not within a democracy by a party wanting to win elections):

Unlimited (im)migration

I like the European ideal of free movement of people, so much I’d like to extend it. We’re citizens of the world, so why shouldn’t any of us be able to move around wherever we like? That doesn’t mean our host country would be obliged to support us, of course. But if we’re willing to stand on our own two feet, why shouldn’t that be in whichever corner of the world we choose?

In drab reality, of course, I realise that, border controls and net migration restrictions are pretty fundamental to states’ abilities to manage public services and maintain their current citizens’ well-being.

100% inheritance tax

I’m with Adam Smith on the desirability of estate taxes: “There is no point more difficult to account for than the right we conceive men to have to dispose of their goods after death.” Or, as Philip Collins has put it: “As a parent I have earned the money. As a child I have not.” If you want true equality of opportunity, and I do, ensure each successive generation earns its own way.

In dour reality, of course, I realise that this will create all sorts of perverse incentives to dodge taxes, both legally and illegally, as well as the moral hazard of disincentivising household savings.

A Citizen’s income

It would, of course, be terrific to be able to guarantee an above-poverty level of income to people who have no earnings from work at all, instantly stripping away the bureaucracy of the welfare state and the associated risks of dependency, assuring dignity to all. Little wonder it’s an idea that unites the think-tankers of both right and left.

In everyday reality, though, there is the small matter of funding it at a level which is genuinely liveable on, enough for all the basics of modern life, without levying eye-wateringly high taxation on everyone else. Perhaps someone, somewhere has done the maths which squares this circle. But, until then…

Principles and slogans are the easy bit in politics, as ideologues across the spectrum continually prove. Implementation, the boring bit, is much, much harder. Mario Cuomo was right: “You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.” Dull. But right.

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One comment

Stephen, regarding a citizen’s income, firstly, the idea is becoming increasingly more prominent across the world. Ontario for instance is planning to test a UBI, and Finland is considering it as well. Before you know it, a citizen’s income may very well become reality.

Secondly, a negative income-tax may be a more feasible and realistic solution as opposed to the UBI. Whilst there would be higher costs in terms of the bureaucracy involved, these costs will probably be outweighed by reduced expenditure on welfare handouts.

by Ciaran on April 29, 2016 at 4:43 pm. Reply #

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