Motivation, Agency, and Public Policy: Of Knights and Knaves, Pawns and Queens

By Julian Le Grand | Go to book overview
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11 Hypothecation

Moderator: What comes into your mind when someone says 'tax' to you? Man: Nicking my money Woman: Sadness at the end of each month

(Fabian Society focus group)

'You've stolen my **** budget!'

(Chancellor Gordon Brown to Prime Minister Tony Blair on hearing that the latter had committed the British government to spending the European average on health services in a television interview; Andrew Rawnsley, Servants of the People)

One of the most obvious ways in which a country's citizens are treated as pawns is with respect to taxation. In large part this arises because of the nature of taxation itself. In the language of the libertarian right, taxation is coercive; and coercion is by definition inconsistent with individual freedom of action. Put less pejoratively, paying taxes is a legal obligation, and fulfilling that obligation necessarily restricts the autonomy of individuals to act as they wish.

The general question of the morality of taxation—more specifically, the moral legitimacy of the legal obligation to pay taxes—is beyond the scope of this book. 1 Instead, I want to focus on another important way in which governments' taxation and expenditure systems treat their citizens as pawns: as lacking the capacity for agency. This concerns the use of tax revenues.


TAX REVENUES AND AGENCY

Outside of election periods, individuals are given little choice in how the income raised in taxation is used. The revenue disappears into the black box of

-147-

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