On a philosophy of government

Some ABC commentator or other- I think it may have been a Liberal senator- said the other day that philosophy no longer had a place in Australian politics.

It was a sad comment, but one that reflects the things I found so very frustrating about the campaign: there was very little talk about the philosophy underpinning any of the parties.  There were superficial policy differences, but neither major party seemed to have a clear, underpinning idea about what government is, how it should operate, who it is responsible to and for.  And so, in reality, little separated the parties in terms of actual policy difference, and we’re left to rely on some vague understanding of the character and personal philosophies of leaders to try to glean what they might actually do in power, which is inaccurate, and lends itself to poor accountability.

And so, during the campaign, I thought I’d write about my own understandings and beliefs about government and what I think it should do.  I posted a shorter version of this on my Tumblr during the campaign, but figured now was a good time to expand upon it.

  1. Monarchism has no place in a 21st Century democracy. A head of state should be an elected representative of the people, not someone who was born into a privileged family.
  2. The moral choices of individuals, providing they are not directly causing another physical harm without permission, have no place in public discourse. Policy should not be made that discriminates against people based on their moral choices. Individuals should be able to make distinctions based on their own morality, but the government should not make law based on individual morality.
  3. Where markets work, leave them alone.  Where they don’t (eg. health care), Governments should intervene.  Industries should be treated equally, in terms of taxation and obligations to employees (though obviously circumstances matter in terms of these obligations).
  4. Catastrophic risk should be socialized. People who are not able to work, who lose their jobs, who get sick, who have to look after a loved one should not be liable for that cost- society should share the cost in the understanding catastrophe could happen to anyone.  Some people are just born unlucky, and when genuine effort to improve their situation won’t work, the nation should help them out.
  5. Governments should provide education to its citizens, but adults undertaking education in government institutions should be accountable for their progress. That means that if university students aren’t making sufficient progress, they should be financially accountable. This isn’t to say that if someone fails, they should have to pay, but perhaps if someone fails a certain percent of their classes, they should be left with the option to either pay, or withdraw from the degree.
  6. Taxes should be progressive enough to not place an undue burden on the poor, but not so progressive that they discourage productivity.  A balance of progressive and regressive taxation is a smart model- progressive income tax plus a consumption tax.  Income taxes, regardless of bracket, should never exceed 50%.
  7. Wherever possible, the negative externalities of products should be priced into their cost via specific taxes.  Things like cigarettes, petrol, cars and junk food should cost what they cost society. The government should not make choices for people on whether they choose to make these lifestyle choices, but they also shouldn’t subsidize, however indirectly, the cost of those lifestyle choices.
  8. Tax incentives should not exist to supplement people’s lifestyle choices. If people want to live a certain way, they should pay for it. It is not the responsibility of other citizens to pay for the lifestyle choices of individuals.
  9. All Citizens should have a number of enumerated rights. No law should be able to restrict these rights. These right should include: Freedom of speech, freedom to assemble, freedom to worship, freedom from unlawful search and seizure, and equal protection under the law.  Fundamentally, these rights exist for the citizen to be able to participate in government without interference.
  10. Members should represent the people who elected them, and political systems should seek to maximise the extent to which they do this.  This means that each elected official should be responsible for one electoral group (whether that is an electorate, a state, or the country), and they should only be accountable to that group.

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