Greedy Bloated Government

I was thinking last night of just going and burning down my local council. How much gasoline do you need to burn down the local council? I never used to think things like this. But these days I’m so sick of these arrogant and abusive cunts that it’s begun to creep up the agenda a bit.

Where have they all come from? I’ve been thinking about the growth of government in modern Western societies, and wondering whether it’s a logical consequence of the increasing efficiency that comes with economic growth.

11 percent idleIn ancient Greece, the Spartans were outnumbered 7 to 1 by their helots. And a survey of Attica showed that there were 30,000 free men and 400,000 slaves. Slaves worked, and their masters idled. The Spartan overlords spent their idle hours exercising and practising the art of war. The Athenian overlords spent their time writing philosophy and literature and building temples and stuff. About 10 busy, hard-working slaves were needed to support one idle overlord (see left). It seems that Greek society was about 10% idle. And in both Athens and Sparta the government was drawn from the idle elite. The government supervised society, and defended the realm, and administered justice The slaves had no say at all in any of it.

And although slaves outnumbered masters by about 10 to 1, they had little time in which to organise and practise and conduct revolts, while their masters had all the time in the world, and the arms, and the military expertise, to be able to suppress any revolt. So the numerical superiority of the slaves was cancelled out by the military strength and organisation of their indolent armed overlords.

Two thousand years on, thousands of technological innovations have changed the picture radically. Instead of 10 slaves supporting 1 person in idleness, one person can support 10 people in idleness (see left below). Modern industrial societies are about 90% idle (I don’t have an exact figure). The necessary work of producing and transporting food and other necessities of life is performed by relatively few people.

And as fewer and fewer people are needed to produce and distribute the necessities of life, what do the rest of them do? Simple. They form a vastly expanded government.

It’s not quite that simple, of course. Alongside the essential work of food production, there has grown up a parallel economy of luxury production. Of beer and cigarettes and newspapers and books and art and music. So there are a lot of people who are producing fun things to go with the essential things like food and water and clothing and shelter.

But then there are a lot of people who are unemployed for one reason or other. It may be that there’s simply little demand for labour. Or it may also be because they are disabled or sick. Whichever way, there have been more and more of these unemployed people in the past century or two. And the state – i.e. the government – has stepped in to ensure they remain fed and clothed and sheltered. It has increased taxes on the working population to do this.

85 percent idleAnd because the supervision of unemployment and social security requires numerous civil servants, the government has expanded. The appearance of mass unemployment has given government a new task over and above the defence of the realm and the administration of justice.

And if the government has expanded to cater for the unemployed, it has also expanded to provide housing and education and medical care for social groups like the unemployed and the handicapped and the elderly and the sick. More and more people survive courtesy of government hand-outs, extracted as taxes from the dwindling working population.

And so the result is that as the productive working sector of society has become more efficient and productive, the unproductive government sector has expanded to fill the vacuum. There are more and more layers of government. There’s local government, and regional government, and national government. And in Europe they’ve been busy recently adding a whole new layer of government in the form of a whole goddamn EU government. And a World government is rumoured to be under construction next. It’s a multi-tiered governmental wedding cake, supported at the base by an ever-shrinking (because ever-more-efficient) industrial base.

And what this really means is that government has been becoming less and less efficient as industry has been becoming more and more efficient. It takes more and more government to administer the fewer and fewer people. While private industry has to earn its keep by providing a competitive product, government just taxes people more and more. Want to fund an antismoking ban? Gouge the taxpayers some more. Want to set up a green, climate-change-preventing recycling scheme? Gouge the taxpayers again.

And since there are no disciplinary constraints upon government, one madcap scheme is just as good as any other.

And because governments make and administer laws, expanding government necessarily means more and more laws, and more and more rules and regulations.

And whereas in antiquity the governing elite was vastly outnumbered by its toiling slaves, modern governments and their dependants outnumber the toiling slaves. And they also have all the weapons as well. Revolt is all but impossible. Unlike in antiquity, modern governments have both the guns and the numbers.

And, very arguably, if the government cannot be removed by force, neither can it be removed by the democratic electoral process. They can’t be voted out either. And this is because the votes of government workers pretty much outnumber the votes in the productive working sector. In effect, the government can re-elect itself. And also, since all political parties these days are all but indistinguishable from each other, even if government workers voted against the government, the government would still be re-elected.

And, as a consequence of this apparent political power, the government increasingly sets the political agenda, deciding among itself what has to be done, without reference to those affected by their decisions.

The smoking ban is an excellent example of this. It’s something that has been imposed on ordinary working people by the government. It wasn’t pubs and pub-goers who called for smoking to be banned. It was instead government employees – like doctors and the RCP, and government-funded campaign groups like ASH and BHF, and government-paid MPs – who decided among themselves that a smoking ban would improve public health. The pubs and the pub-goers had no say. They weren’t asked. And the new antismoking laws were also, of course, just yet more restrictive rules and regulations.

The result is an emerging new tyranny. Smoking has been banned. And very likely alcohol will be banned too. Any number of diktats are set to be imposed upon people without their consent or even their consultation. Everything is decided behind closed doors.

What is to be done? Can anything be done at all?

One fairly obvious question to ask is whether in a democratic society it should be possible for a government to re-elect itself. There would seem to be an argument that if you are an employee of the government, you ought not to have a vote. From Wikipedia:

In France, an 1872 law, rescinded only by a 1945 decree, prohibited all army personnel from voting.

In the United Kingdom, public servants have to resign before running for an election.

The 1876 Constitution of Texas (article VI, section 1) stated that “The following classes of persons shall not be allowed to vote in this State, to wit: (…) Fifth–All soldiers, marines and seamen, employed in the service of the army or navy of the United States.”

A political assembly of some sort is supposed to represent its electors. While these government assemblies were numerically small, it didn’t matter too much if the representatives were able to vote for themselves. But when assemblies begin to outnumber their electorates, such votes defeat the purpose of the assembly, which was to represent their electorate. So there would seem to be a powerful argument that the government should not be permitted to vote in elections. And that means that anyone who works in the public sector, or who is supported by government hand-outs, should not have a vote, because they are effectively part of the government.

This is one possible measure to curb the growing power of government. There are others. The Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher privatised many state-owned industries. There is probably plenty of scope for the re-privatisation of medicine and education and much else.

If something isn’t done, the state is set to just get bigger and bigger, and more and more tyrannical.

We might think about what’s likely to happen as the state becomes ever more tyrannical. Ordinary people will begin to become angry and obstructive. They’ll start thwarting and wrecking government programmes. And people will stop paying taxes. A black economy will grow up (a bit like the black market in tobacco).

And in many ways, the government thwarts and obstructs itself whenever it imposes new rules and regulations upon productive members of society. For such regulations serve to make them less productive, and thus less able to support the multiplying layers of government supervising and regulating them. In the end, government regulation is likely to strangle industry, and stop the flow of tax revenues that support all these useless pen-pushers.

Before that happens, however, there would probably be a general strike by the productive sector. Farmers would stop producing food, and hauliers would stop transporting it, and the necessities of life would rapidly become scarce. And, even though it was numerically superior, there would be little that the government could do about it, and would have to surrender before the real power of the productive sector.

Well, that’s a few thoughts about the way things might go. But it’s all a bit long term and pointy-headed. It’s idle theory. In the short term, the best thing to do would be to simply go and burn down the local council.

Because today I had a letter from my local county council demanding that I pay the rest of my council tax right now. I’ve been paying it by instalments, and I’ve already paid nearly half of it. Now the cunts want the rest, right now. But what do they do for me? Nothing. Absolutely fucking nothing. They don’t even collect my rubbish these days. And they’re probably assembling teams of Quit Advisors to come and force me to stop smoking. Fuck them.

About Frank Davis

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24 Responses to Greedy Bloated Government

  1. Anonymous says:

    Here’s a thought. In a democracy the politicians buy the votes of the majority of voters by effectively promising them more idle time. In this way, the idle majority grows, and with it, the government becomes larger and more corrupt.
    Ergo, any universal suffrage democracy is bound to lead to decline. The government will eventually collapse under its own weight much as you describe. It will be too tyrannical to operate properly, a black market will replace most of its proper functionality, it will collapse. Like in the USSR, where the government actually did implode for exactly this reason.
    One way to slow down the decline and the growth of tyranny might be to only allow property owners to vote. With a few ultra-rich exceptions, the property-owning people are productive rather than idle. They cannot be so easily bribed by the politicians. Therefore, they are ideal voters.
    – Vladimir

  2. Anonymous says:

    Here’s a thought. In a democracy the politicians buy the votes of the majority of voters by effectively promising them more idle time. In this way, the idle majority grows, and with it, the government becomes larger and more corrupt.
    Ergo, any universal suffrage democracy is bound to lead to decline. The government will eventually collapse under its own weight much as you describe. It will be too tyrannical to operate properly, a black market will replace most of its proper functionality, it will collapse. Like in the USSR, where the government actually did implode for exactly this reason.
    One way to slow down the decline and the growth of tyranny might be to only allow property owners to vote. With a few ultra-rich exceptions, the property-owning people are productive rather than idle. They cannot be so easily bribed by the politicians. Therefore, they are ideal voters.
    – Vladimir

  3. Frank Davis says:

    In a democracy the politicians buy the votes of the majority of voters by effectively promising them more idle time. In this way, the idle majority grows, and with it, the government becomes larger and more corrupt.
    Promises, promises! Just promising something will happen doesn’t make it actually happen. So the idle majority won’t actually grow at all.
    Ergo, any universal suffrage democracy is bound to lead to decline.
    Well, since I’ve just been arguing for a restriction on voting, I can scarcely disagree. And I believe that the Soviet Union imploded for exactly the reasons you describe.
    One way to slow down the decline and the growth of tyranny might be to only allow property owners to vote. With a few ultra-rich exceptions, the property-owning people are productive rather than idle. They cannot be so easily bribed by the politicians. Therefore, they are ideal voters.
    This is how it used to be in England a century or two ago. You could only vote if you were a land-owner. But the productive people (productive of idle time, that is.) aren’t necessarily the land-owners. The Industrial Revolution in Britain wasn’t driven by land-owners. Was Isambard Kingdom Brunel a big land-owner? I don’t think so.
    Anyway, I’m not convinced. Not like I’m (half) convinced that government employees should not be allowed to vote to re-elect themselves.
    Frank

  4. Frank Davis says:

    In a democracy the politicians buy the votes of the majority of voters by effectively promising them more idle time. In this way, the idle majority grows, and with it, the government becomes larger and more corrupt.
    Promises, promises! Just promising something will happen doesn’t make it actually happen. So the idle majority won’t actually grow at all.
    Ergo, any universal suffrage democracy is bound to lead to decline.
    Well, since I’ve just been arguing for a restriction on voting, I can scarcely disagree. And I believe that the Soviet Union imploded for exactly the reasons you describe.
    One way to slow down the decline and the growth of tyranny might be to only allow property owners to vote. With a few ultra-rich exceptions, the property-owning people are productive rather than idle. They cannot be so easily bribed by the politicians. Therefore, they are ideal voters.
    This is how it used to be in England a century or two ago. You could only vote if you were a land-owner. But the productive people (productive of idle time, that is.) aren’t necessarily the land-owners. The Industrial Revolution in Britain wasn’t driven by land-owners. Was Isambard Kingdom Brunel a big land-owner? I don’t think so.
    Anyway, I’m not convinced. Not like I’m (half) convinced that government employees should not be allowed to vote to re-elect themselves.
    Frank

  5. Anonymous says:

    I do like your Idle Theory, even if there are a few elements of it that I’m having trouble getting my head around. So, a couple of questions:
    Firstly, if I understand it right, the only time which can truly be described as “non-idle” time is that which is devoted to the production of goods or services which are essential to life, such as food, heating, clothing, clean water etc. So, where does that leave people who, for example, work in an indirect role within those industries? The pay clerk in a mining company, for instance; or the admin assistant on a farm? Neither of these people are, literally, producing the goods which could be deemed as “essentials,” but without them those industries which do produce “essentials” couldn’t function at all. So is the work they do “non-idle” work, or is it “idle” work?
    And, along the same lines, what about industries which in and of themselves aren’t producing essentials, but are producing goods which are essential for the essentials-producers to do their job (sorry, bit of a tongue-twister there, but you get my drift!) Vehicle fuel, for example, is far from an “essential” for life, but without it the produce of farmers or coalminers or clothes manufacturers couldn’t reach the population. So are they idle producers of a non-essential product, or are they engaged in “non-idle” work by default?
    And of course, there’s money. Although it’s an artificial construct it is one which has been promoted to become, now, an essential for living. Without any access to any money the majority of people today would starve on the street – so doesn’t this mean that, essentially, the producers of luxury unnecessaries who might otherwise be regarded as “idle” in fact are not idle at all, even if their products, ultimately, cannot be regarded as “essentials?”

  6. Anonymous says:

    I do like your Idle Theory, even if there are a few elements of it that I’m having trouble getting my head around. So, a couple of questions:
    Firstly, if I understand it right, the only time which can truly be described as “non-idle” time is that which is devoted to the production of goods or services which are essential to life, such as food, heating, clothing, clean water etc. So, where does that leave people who, for example, work in an indirect role within those industries? The pay clerk in a mining company, for instance; or the admin assistant on a farm? Neither of these people are, literally, producing the goods which could be deemed as “essentials,” but without them those industries which do produce “essentials” couldn’t function at all. So is the work they do “non-idle” work, or is it “idle” work?
    And, along the same lines, what about industries which in and of themselves aren’t producing essentials, but are producing goods which are essential for the essentials-producers to do their job (sorry, bit of a tongue-twister there, but you get my drift!) Vehicle fuel, for example, is far from an “essential” for life, but without it the produce of farmers or coalminers or clothes manufacturers couldn’t reach the population. So are they idle producers of a non-essential product, or are they engaged in “non-idle” work by default?
    And of course, there’s money. Although it’s an artificial construct it is one which has been promoted to become, now, an essential for living. Without any access to any money the majority of people today would starve on the street – so doesn’t this mean that, essentially, the producers of luxury unnecessaries who might otherwise be regarded as “idle” in fact are not idle at all, even if their products, ultimately, cannot be regarded as “essentials?”

  7. Frank Davis says:

    Firstly, if I understand it right, the only time which can truly be described as “non-idle” time is that which is devoted to the production of goods or services which are essential to life, such as food, heating, clothing, clean water etc. So, where does that leave people who, for example, work in an indirect role within those industries?
    I think that if they’re essential to the operation of that company, then they’re ‘busy’ doing essential work. I’d say that a pay clerk or an admin assistant are almost certainly performing tasks which are essential for the operation of that company. Other roles within a company might be regarded as non-essential. The gardener who mows the lawn at the front probably isn’t essential to the operation of the company.
    And, along the same lines, what about industries which in and of themselves aren’t producing essentials, but are producing goods which are essential for the essentials-producers to do their job (sorry, bit of a tongue-twister there, but you get my drift!) Vehicle fuel, for example, is far from an “essential” for life, but without it the produce of farmers or coalminers or clothes manufacturers couldn’t reach the population. So are they idle producers of a non-essential product, or are they engaged in “non-idle” work by default?
    Well, since it’s essential to get food to people, transport is essential, and so fuel to power the transport is also essential, so fuel producers are ‘busy’ performing essential work.
    But the same fuel being used to power cars taking people on holiday is not being used for an essential purpose. Nor is the car. So I’d divide the fuel produced by the fuel manufacturers between ‘essential’ and ‘non-essential’ end uses. So it might be that Exxon or some company is producing something that is 60% essential. And so Exxon employees would only count as 60% ‘busy’.
    And of course, there’s money. Although it’s an artificial construct it is one which has been promoted to become, now, an essential for living. Without any access to any money the majority of people today would starve on the street – so doesn’t this mean that, essentially, the producers of luxury unnecessaries who might otherwise be regarded as “idle” in fact are not idle at all, even if their products, ultimately, cannot be regarded as “essentials?”
    I don’t quite follow you here. Certainly money is an artificial construct, but so are all the other useful idleness-increasing tools that we use. I see money as being another useful tool. And a very, very interesting one. And, as you say, without it most people would starve and die. But I don’t follow your last sentence. Are you suggesting that money is an unnecessary luxury? Or that someone who makes eau de cologne is performing an essential service?
    Or maybe what you mean is that someone who earns their living by making and selling eau de cologne is performing work that is essential to their own survival, and as such are performing essential work? If so, you’re raising a deeper question which is about people who sell inessential luxuries in order to buy necessary essentials. That’s a trickier issue which I won’t go into here.
    Anyway, in Idle Theory’s approach, any society will always need some amount of essential work to be done to maintain it, and this will define the “idleness” of that society, which can range from 0% to 100% (but can never actually attain 100%). My essay above supposes that human idleness in the industrialised countries has risen substantially over the past few centuries and millennia, and attempts to see what the political consequences of that might be. That’s a work-in-progress for me.
    Frank

  8. Frank Davis says:

    Firstly, if I understand it right, the only time which can truly be described as “non-idle” time is that which is devoted to the production of goods or services which are essential to life, such as food, heating, clothing, clean water etc. So, where does that leave people who, for example, work in an indirect role within those industries?
    I think that if they’re essential to the operation of that company, then they’re ‘busy’ doing essential work. I’d say that a pay clerk or an admin assistant are almost certainly performing tasks which are essential for the operation of that company. Other roles within a company might be regarded as non-essential. The gardener who mows the lawn at the front probably isn’t essential to the operation of the company.
    And, along the same lines, what about industries which in and of themselves aren’t producing essentials, but are producing goods which are essential for the essentials-producers to do their job (sorry, bit of a tongue-twister there, but you get my drift!) Vehicle fuel, for example, is far from an “essential” for life, but without it the produce of farmers or coalminers or clothes manufacturers couldn’t reach the population. So are they idle producers of a non-essential product, or are they engaged in “non-idle” work by default?
    Well, since it’s essential to get food to people, transport is essential, and so fuel to power the transport is also essential, so fuel producers are ‘busy’ performing essential work.
    But the same fuel being used to power cars taking people on holiday is not being used for an essential purpose. Nor is the car. So I’d divide the fuel produced by the fuel manufacturers between ‘essential’ and ‘non-essential’ end uses. So it might be that Exxon or some company is producing something that is 60% essential. And so Exxon employees would only count as 60% ‘busy’.
    And of course, there’s money. Although it’s an artificial construct it is one which has been promoted to become, now, an essential for living. Without any access to any money the majority of people today would starve on the street – so doesn’t this mean that, essentially, the producers of luxury unnecessaries who might otherwise be regarded as “idle” in fact are not idle at all, even if their products, ultimately, cannot be regarded as “essentials?”
    I don’t quite follow you here. Certainly money is an artificial construct, but so are all the other useful idleness-increasing tools that we use. I see money as being another useful tool. And a very, very interesting one. And, as you say, without it most people would starve and die. But I don’t follow your last sentence. Are you suggesting that money is an unnecessary luxury? Or that someone who makes eau de cologne is performing an essential service?
    Or maybe what you mean is that someone who earns their living by making and selling eau de cologne is performing work that is essential to their own survival, and as such are performing essential work? If so, you’re raising a deeper question which is about people who sell inessential luxuries in order to buy necessary essentials. That’s a trickier issue which I won’t go into here.
    Anyway, in Idle Theory’s approach, any society will always need some amount of essential work to be done to maintain it, and this will define the “idleness” of that society, which can range from 0% to 100% (but can never actually attain 100%). My essay above supposes that human idleness in the industrialised countries has risen substantially over the past few centuries and millennia, and attempts to see what the political consequences of that might be. That’s a work-in-progress for me.
    Frank

  9. meme_me says:

    Love the way you think!
    Just my opinion – it often seems to me that a lot of people who are unemployed (for various reasons) have the breathing space to really think about things and make the best protesters. I worry that if everyone works till they are too tired to fight back, then we will never be able to over throw the government.
    I am aware of some stuff going on in the civil service, seems to me that the lower minions who do the work are having their jobs taken away and sold to the private sector. Its robbing Peter to pay Paul with I bet back handers a plenty and figures manipulated to show savings. A large part of procurement and logistics (sending nuts and bolts for say our fighter planes) has been given to (if I remember right) a french company. The upshot is we had better not upset these other countries as we will be in trouble :-) Nothing against business within Europe, but things that might be one day critical to our countries security does make me raise an eye brow.

  10. meme_me says:

    Love the way you think!
    Just my opinion – it often seems to me that a lot of people who are unemployed (for various reasons) have the breathing space to really think about things and make the best protesters. I worry that if everyone works till they are too tired to fight back, then we will never be able to over throw the government.
    I am aware of some stuff going on in the civil service, seems to me that the lower minions who do the work are having their jobs taken away and sold to the private sector. Its robbing Peter to pay Paul with I bet back handers a plenty and figures manipulated to show savings. A large part of procurement and logistics (sending nuts and bolts for say our fighter planes) has been given to (if I remember right) a french company. The upshot is we had better not upset these other countries as we will be in trouble :-) Nothing against business within Europe, but things that might be one day critical to our countries security does make me raise an eye brow.

  11. Frank Davis says:

    To continue, I tend to think rather abstractly about economics, constructing simple imaginary economies. Some day I really ought to take a closer look at real economies, because I’d like to know how idle a modern industrial economy is. But as I see economies they have a primary idleness-generating economy (selling ‘essentials’) and a secondary idleness-consuming luxury economy (selling fun ‘inessentials’), and in modern economies these two economies are closely entwined together.
    For instance a baker who sells bread is selling an essential foodstuff. But the same baker may also be selling chocolate cream cakes which aren’t essential (they just taste nice), and yet which are nutritious. Equally clothing is essential for survival, but designer clothes are not.
    Similar problems arise with entire professions. Is advertising essential? Probably not. But an ad man might persuade me otherwise. Equally, a country’s military establishment doesn’t contribute to its economy. But in time of war, it’s essential for survival. So is it essential or not?
    And of course economists don’t see through the eyes of Idle Theory, and instead divide goods into ‘producer goods’ and ‘consumer goods’. But when I buy a screwdriver I’m buying a useful tool, not an ornament to hang on the wall. And when I buy a music CD, I know I’m buying something that I’ll spend hours listening to. But to economists, they’re all consumer goods, because I bought them in a shop.
    Frank

  12. Frank Davis says:

    To continue, I tend to think rather abstractly about economics, constructing simple imaginary economies. Some day I really ought to take a closer look at real economies, because I’d like to know how idle a modern industrial economy is. But as I see economies they have a primary idleness-generating economy (selling ‘essentials’) and a secondary idleness-consuming luxury economy (selling fun ‘inessentials’), and in modern economies these two economies are closely entwined together.
    For instance a baker who sells bread is selling an essential foodstuff. But the same baker may also be selling chocolate cream cakes which aren’t essential (they just taste nice), and yet which are nutritious. Equally clothing is essential for survival, but designer clothes are not.
    Similar problems arise with entire professions. Is advertising essential? Probably not. But an ad man might persuade me otherwise. Equally, a country’s military establishment doesn’t contribute to its economy. But in time of war, it’s essential for survival. So is it essential or not?
    And of course economists don’t see through the eyes of Idle Theory, and instead divide goods into ‘producer goods’ and ‘consumer goods’. But when I buy a screwdriver I’m buying a useful tool, not an ornament to hang on the wall. And when I buy a music CD, I know I’m buying something that I’ll spend hours listening to. But to economists, they’re all consumer goods, because I bought them in a shop.
    Frank

  13. Frank Davis says:

    Yes. Busy people don’t have time to think. Unemployed people do. And they can often be very creative. I once knew a bunch of unemployed people who put together a theatre company. It produced wonderful plays, all on a shoe-string. Some of them went on to subsequently use the skills they picked up to get good jobs.
    Myself, I’m self-employed. But nobody much is hiring me these days. So I have plenty of time to think.
    Frank

  14. Frank Davis says:

    Yes. Busy people don’t have time to think. Unemployed people do. And they can often be very creative. I once knew a bunch of unemployed people who put together a theatre company. It produced wonderful plays, all on a shoe-string. Some of them went on to subsequently use the skills they picked up to get good jobs.
    Myself, I’m self-employed. But nobody much is hiring me these days. So I have plenty of time to think.
    Frank

  15. Anonymous says:

    Ah, maybe it’s not such a convincing argument. But maybe if I elaborate a little, it may be a bit more convincing.
    The process of vote buying is a slow one. It is not a matter of promising something in 2005 and then delivering by 2010. It is more like the growth of the welfare state from 1910 to 2010, which was mostly slow. But it had a key property of vote buying: there was never a retrograde step. The welfare state never shrank. A reduction would be unpopular – a democratic politician could not do it.
    Based on my understanding of your idle theory, which I think is a pretty useful model for this sort of thing, I’d say that the politicians were effectively using idle time as a vote-buying currency. The big parties competed on generosity, offering more idleness to their client base. They were doing the popular thing, not the right thing.
    I agree that it is rubbish that the establishment can vote for itself. But even if it couldn’t technically do this, it would still do it by proxy: via the client voters, dependent on a particular part of the government, and via the major media, which has effectively complete power to control who is elected.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Ah, maybe it’s not such a convincing argument. But maybe if I elaborate a little, it may be a bit more convincing.
    The process of vote buying is a slow one. It is not a matter of promising something in 2005 and then delivering by 2010. It is more like the growth of the welfare state from 1910 to 2010, which was mostly slow. But it had a key property of vote buying: there was never a retrograde step. The welfare state never shrank. A reduction would be unpopular – a democratic politician could not do it.
    Based on my understanding of your idle theory, which I think is a pretty useful model for this sort of thing, I’d say that the politicians were effectively using idle time as a vote-buying currency. The big parties competed on generosity, offering more idleness to their client base. They were doing the popular thing, not the right thing.
    I agree that it is rubbish that the establishment can vote for itself. But even if it couldn’t technically do this, it would still do it by proxy: via the client voters, dependent on a particular part of the government, and via the major media, which has effectively complete power to control who is elected.

  17. Anonymous says:

    “Or maybe what you mean is that someone who earns their living by making and selling eau de cologne is performing work that is essential to their own survival, and as such are performing essential work? If so, you’re raising a deeper question which is about people who sell inessential luxuries in order to buy necessary essentials. That’s a trickier issue which I won’t go into here.”
    Yes, that’s what I was getting at. I’ll look forward to hearing about this side of the Theory in future musings on here. I know you touched on money a few days ago, but I sometimes think that money has been, to an extent, been “made” essential (or at least pushed further along that path than it might otherwise have gone by itself) by those in authority precisely in order to counteract the effect of what you would call (although they don’t) increased idleness – a bit like Meme, below, says – because busy, harrassed people are far less likely to have the time, energy or inclination to stop and realise what’s really going on than those who aren’t rushing about like blue a*sed flies trying to earn a sufficient crust to pay their imaginary-money mortgages …… In fact, I think that the powers-that-be are aware of the principles of Idle Theory already – although I doubt that they have yet realised that someone like yourself has actually put a name to it and kind of “formulated” it, and I think it scares the pants off them!

  18. Anonymous says:

    “Or maybe what you mean is that someone who earns their living by making and selling eau de cologne is performing work that is essential to their own survival, and as such are performing essential work? If so, you’re raising a deeper question which is about people who sell inessential luxuries in order to buy necessary essentials. That’s a trickier issue which I won’t go into here.”
    Yes, that’s what I was getting at. I’ll look forward to hearing about this side of the Theory in future musings on here. I know you touched on money a few days ago, but I sometimes think that money has been, to an extent, been “made” essential (or at least pushed further along that path than it might otherwise have gone by itself) by those in authority precisely in order to counteract the effect of what you would call (although they don’t) increased idleness – a bit like Meme, below, says – because busy, harrassed people are far less likely to have the time, energy or inclination to stop and realise what’s really going on than those who aren’t rushing about like blue a*sed flies trying to earn a sufficient crust to pay their imaginary-money mortgages …… In fact, I think that the powers-that-be are aware of the principles of Idle Theory already – although I doubt that they have yet realised that someone like yourself has actually put a name to it and kind of “formulated” it, and I think it scares the pants off them!

  19. Frank Davis says:

    I think that the problem I’m having with what you’re suggesting is that the idleness of any society isn’t something the government can set. It’s something that’s determined by the technological development of the society, and the price of raw materials, etc.
    However, leaving that aside, and supposing a 70% idle society, and supposing also (for simplicity) that this 70% consists of the government and people on social security benefits, since it’s the government that taxes the productive 30% in order to support the 70%, it can distribute those taxes however it chooses. It can, for example, offer more to old age pensioners in order to secure (i.e. buy) their votes.
    A variant of this might be to encourage immigration, and create a whole new group of dependants, securing their votes also. I’m not sure how long it takes for newly-arrived immigrants to get voting rights.
    These groups – pensioners, immigrants – then become ‘client voters’ who re-elect the party that has been so generous to them.
    This will probably work fine while the economy is growing (i.e. idleness is rising). But should economic growth go into reverse (as it can do), then someone is going to lose out. Fewer idle people can be supported.
    Furthermore, if productive industries are saddled with bureaucratic rules and regulations, they become less productive, and this will also lead to falling idleness.
    And arguably this is what has been happening in Britain. For years, riding on an economic boom, the Labour government handed out taxes to all sorts of client voting groups (pensioners, immigrants, etc), and also generated (with assistance of the EU) more and more petty rules and regulations. Now that the boom has ended, the tax revenues from productive industries have slowed up, and these client groups are starting to suffer.
    I’m thinking off the top of my head here, but I think this is what you’re suggesting. And I’m thinking off the top of my head because it’s only fairly recently that I started thinking about politics in these terms.

  20. Frank Davis says:

    I think that the problem I’m having with what you’re suggesting is that the idleness of any society isn’t something the government can set. It’s something that’s determined by the technological development of the society, and the price of raw materials, etc.
    However, leaving that aside, and supposing a 70% idle society, and supposing also (for simplicity) that this 70% consists of the government and people on social security benefits, since it’s the government that taxes the productive 30% in order to support the 70%, it can distribute those taxes however it chooses. It can, for example, offer more to old age pensioners in order to secure (i.e. buy) their votes.
    A variant of this might be to encourage immigration, and create a whole new group of dependants, securing their votes also. I’m not sure how long it takes for newly-arrived immigrants to get voting rights.
    These groups – pensioners, immigrants – then become ‘client voters’ who re-elect the party that has been so generous to them.
    This will probably work fine while the economy is growing (i.e. idleness is rising). But should economic growth go into reverse (as it can do), then someone is going to lose out. Fewer idle people can be supported.
    Furthermore, if productive industries are saddled with bureaucratic rules and regulations, they become less productive, and this will also lead to falling idleness.
    And arguably this is what has been happening in Britain. For years, riding on an economic boom, the Labour government handed out taxes to all sorts of client voting groups (pensioners, immigrants, etc), and also generated (with assistance of the EU) more and more petty rules and regulations. Now that the boom has ended, the tax revenues from productive industries have slowed up, and these client groups are starting to suffer.
    I’m thinking off the top of my head here, but I think this is what you’re suggesting. And I’m thinking off the top of my head because it’s only fairly recently that I started thinking about politics in these terms.

  21. Frank Davis says:

    If you don’t have money, then you’ll have barter instead. To buy a gallon of petrol, I’d have to pay with two dozen eggs, or whatever the price is. And this is laborious and time-consuming. And the eggs tend to break.
    Using money expedites the transaction. And because transactions have to be made, speeding up the transactions increases social idleness. So money is a useful idleness-increasing tool. When, as seems likely, ordinary money is replaced by a swipe-card or a mobile phone, the transaction will be even faster (no need to count coins out).
    The trouble (for me at least) with modern money is that it is fiduciary money, used on trust, and it has no inherent value. Eggs have real value. Gold coins or metal bars also have real value. Pieces of paper don’t. Our paper money was backed by gold until around 1930 or so, but no longer. It’s abstract money.
    But that’s another matter…
    Frank

  22. Frank Davis says:

    If you don’t have money, then you’ll have barter instead. To buy a gallon of petrol, I’d have to pay with two dozen eggs, or whatever the price is. And this is laborious and time-consuming. And the eggs tend to break.
    Using money expedites the transaction. And because transactions have to be made, speeding up the transactions increases social idleness. So money is a useful idleness-increasing tool. When, as seems likely, ordinary money is replaced by a swipe-card or a mobile phone, the transaction will be even faster (no need to count coins out).
    The trouble (for me at least) with modern money is that it is fiduciary money, used on trust, and it has no inherent value. Eggs have real value. Gold coins or metal bars also have real value. Pieces of paper don’t. Our paper money was backed by gold until around 1930 or so, but no longer. It’s abstract money.
    But that’s another matter…
    Frank

  23. Frank Davis says:

    … in order to counteract the effect of what you would call (although they don’t) increased idleness – a bit like Meme, below, says – because busy, harrassed people are far less likely to have the time, energy or inclination to stop and realise what’s really going on…
    This is another interesting matter. As I see the economy, it is tending to make everyone unemployed, with no work having to be done. The only things that would be made and traded would be luxuries. And nobody would have to make them if they didn’t want them.
    But this prospect scares a lot of people. Their idea of a ‘proper’ society is that of a traditional working society, in which everyone has a job, and works from 9 to 5. Anything else is inconceivable. So, as increasing social idleness removes jobs, they go and create new jobs (usually in government somewhere). The new jobs aren’t productive of anything much. In fact, to the extent that they’re concerned with regulating people’s behaviour (health and safety regulations), they are frequently obstructive, and so cancel out idleness gains made elsewhere.
    And yes, in large part, that’s because (as Meme-me said below) busy, hard-working people don’t have the time to work things out for themselves, and so take a lot on trust.
    I have no idea whether the powers-that-be see through the eyes of Idle Theory. I rather suspect that they don’t. There’s precious little sign that they do anyway. I think they look at the economy the way most economists look at it. If they were to begin to use Idle Theory’s conceptual framework, they might start to get very, very scared indeed – because they know so little about it.
    But then, I don’t know that much more about it, even if I’ve been exploring it for 35 years!
    Frank

  24. Frank Davis says:

    … in order to counteract the effect of what you would call (although they don’t) increased idleness – a bit like Meme, below, says – because busy, harrassed people are far less likely to have the time, energy or inclination to stop and realise what’s really going on…
    This is another interesting matter. As I see the economy, it is tending to make everyone unemployed, with no work having to be done. The only things that would be made and traded would be luxuries. And nobody would have to make them if they didn’t want them.
    But this prospect scares a lot of people. Their idea of a ‘proper’ society is that of a traditional working society, in which everyone has a job, and works from 9 to 5. Anything else is inconceivable. So, as increasing social idleness removes jobs, they go and create new jobs (usually in government somewhere). The new jobs aren’t productive of anything much. In fact, to the extent that they’re concerned with regulating people’s behaviour (health and safety regulations), they are frequently obstructive, and so cancel out idleness gains made elsewhere.
    And yes, in large part, that’s because (as Meme-me said below) busy, hard-working people don’t have the time to work things out for themselves, and so take a lot on trust.
    I have no idea whether the powers-that-be see through the eyes of Idle Theory. I rather suspect that they don’t. There’s precious little sign that they do anyway. I think they look at the economy the way most economists look at it. If they were to begin to use Idle Theory’s conceptual framework, they might start to get very, very scared indeed – because they know so little about it.
    But then, I don’t know that much more about it, even if I’ve been exploring it for 35 years!
    Frank

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