In general, people are better at making their own decisions than having government make them.
In general, competitive free markets are better at allocating resources than are governments.
However, there are important exceptions to these principles.
A. A market needs multiple buyers and multiple sellers to be competitive. Monopolies, monopsonies and cartels must be prevented to keep markets free. This may involve government intervention.
B. Collective action problems can mean individual decisions have undesirable consequences. For instance, an individual may be better off if he pollutes, but worse off if everyone pollutes. (See tragedy of the commons, or negative externalities).
C. Individuals can be irrationally optimistic about making long-term provisions for their well-being (e.g. health plans, retirement plans, insurance).
D. Money has more marginal utility to the poor than the rich. Therefore, some redistribution of wealth can increase overall happiness. However, too much redistribution of wealth can diminish the overall amount of wealth. (I.e. a tramp values a tenner more than a millionaire. But if you take all the millionaire's money and give it to tramps, he won't bother making any more).
Aims of the Sensible Snail Party
1. Maximize individual and market freedom.
2. ...except in the case of cartel-busting, collective action problems and social insurance.
3. Redistribute wealth enough to help the poor, but not so much it significantly harms wealth creation.
There is a degree of conflict between these aims. That's why politics is hard. However, there is also a degree of necessary compromise between them. An individual cannot be truly free to pursue his self-interest if an angry, starving mob keeps trying to break into his house. And you cannot redistribute wealth for social justice unless somebody's producing that wealth in the first place.
Strategy of the Sensible Snail Party
As far as possible, use only the tax and benefit system for aims 2 and 3. The size of government bureaucracy should be kept to a minimum.
The private sector should be used to deliver services wherever it is possible to do so in a competitive, multi-buyer/multi-seller way.
Ideally the government should avoid giving money directly to the private sector. Instead it should give money to its citizens, who can use their greater collective information to decide which companies are effective.
All drugs except heroin and derivatives are to be legalized. However, they will only be available to adults in licensed premises, with severe penalties for admitting minors.
Drugs will be heavily taxed. This, and savings to the criminal justice system, are expected to save significant revenue for other purposes.
Heroin will also be available, but under tighter restrictions due to its exceptionally addictive nature. Entrance to these shooting galleries will be permitted only to registered addicts, registration to be granted if a blood or hair sample shows previous use.
On the production side: cannabis production is to be legalized and unregulated in small quantities. For other drugs, production is to be tightly regulated in secure areas, and distributed only to licensed suppliers and distributors.
Will be legalized in licensed premises.
National Health Service
This is to be largely privatized to take advantage of market efficiencies. However, the current spending of £90 bn per year will continue, adjusted for inflation. This will be distributed as £1,500 per person in healthcare vouchers, which can only be redeemed at authorized healthcare providers and insurers. Cashback and kickbacks will be strictly forbidden under severe penalties.
Hospitals, surgeries, clinics, practices and consultants are to be privatized as providers of services.
The existing NHS demand side continue to exist as a state-run medical insurer, NHS2. It will operate in competition with new and existing private insurers. If healthcare vouchers are not redeemed elsewhere, they will default to NHS2. NHS2 will be internally structured into regional units also accountable to local government, who will have the power to fire poorly-performing managers.1
Under this system hospitals will now have an incentive to be clean and efficient, since this will allow them to gain business from private insurers. Poor hospitals will be allowed to go bankrupt or be taken over; private enterprise allowed to open new ones. Meanwhile, the voucher system will still ensure free, universal, healthcare for all. Yet individuals will be allowed to choose private alternatives instead, or top up their care with their own money.
Ambulance services, health visiting and similar services will continue to be state-run: they're hard to privatize, being aimed at people who didn't really want to use them and aren't likely to shop around. To reduce the problem of unnecessary calls, ambulances will be permitted to levy a discretionary charge, capped at approximately double the equivalent taxi fare.
These will be part of a new Social Health department, separate from NHS2. This will also incorporate the social workers from the much-reduced Department of Work and Pensions. This will also include treatment services for alcoholism and addiction.
To be abolished in public rooms where there is no permanent presence of a member of staff. That is, if a pub has a room with no bar, which is only occasionally visited by a glass-collector, smoking will be permitted in that room, if the proprietor wants.
Similarly, in office buildings smoking break rooms will be permitted, but smoking will remain prohibited in non-smokers' rooms.2
London-style mayors and assemblies will be extended across the UK to metropolitan areas, pending local referenda.
Local councils will be permitted to amalgamate into larger institutions if desired.
Funding will be partly allocated by central government based on population. Rate/council tax capping will be removed, and a wider array of tax-raising powers be allowed if desired.
With the exception of environmental (including noise and green belt) restrictions, planning laws are to be relaxed. A greater mix of commercial and residential property is to be permitted.
A referendum in Scotland will be held on independence. However, since breaking up a 300-year union should not be done lightly, a threshold of 50% of the electorate must approve it.
Existing taxation will generally continue at the current levels.
In addition, inheritance tax will be increased significantly and the thresholds lowered. High inheritance tax rather than high income/capital gains tax is to be used to redistribute wealth from the very rich (top 1%): the previous have proven easy to evade. To some degree gifts can be used to evade the process, but gifts will also be taxed, and the personal incentive to evade will be lower, given human greed.3
Other measures are also expected to increase revenue: in particular drugs and additional carbon taxes.
Income tax will be modified as described below. National Insurance will be folded into the new income tax / CBI system.
Exemptions for "Non-Doms" will be abolished.
Every citizen gets this income, whether in work or out of work.
If out of work, this is to substitute for state old-age pension, jobseekers allowance, incapacity benefit, housing benefit and all existing forms of benefit. This will considerably reduce the administrative burden. It is to be set high enough to ensure a basic standard of living, providing adequate food, shelter, heat and light.
If you are in work, you will pay a single, flat, high level of tax, but you will also still receive the CBI. This redistributes wealth to low earners. A single, higher rate of tax will be applied to maintain existing budgets
An advantage of the CBI is that it eliminates all "benefit traps" that make it more lucrative not to work. Any kind of part-time or full time work immediately adds to your income.
To smooth the transition, this will initially be applied as part of the tax system only. Existing benefits will first be applied as an additional payment to it. These benefits will be abolished one by one in order for their administrators to be gradually absorbed into the wider economy.
Children will have their CBI delivered to their parents or registered guardians. However, part of this will consist of education vouchers as below.
To be abolished, irrelevant after Citizens Basic Income.
As with health, education vouchers will be distributed at the level of current state education spending, linked to inflation.
These can be used at state, grammar or private schools which cover a sufficient syllabus. This syllabus will include mathematics, English, and science which will include evolutionary biology.
State schools are to be free to privatize if they decide to, but this will not be done by default.
The International Baccalaureate will replace A-levels. GCSE standards will be revised to insure consistent quality between years. The compulsory testing regimen will be scaled down, though schools will of course be free to test as much as they like.
In tertiary education, The Citizens Basic Income will render student living grants obsolete. Education vouchers will continue as an optional element for up to three years of tertiary or vocational education.
In order to maximize freedom, the civil liberties reductions of the Blair/Brown era will be abolished.
The national ID card scheme will be cancelled. The police DNA database will no longer retain the data of people who have not been charged with an offence. 42 day detention without trial will be abolished. The right to silence will be restored. The RIP act monitoring the internet will be abolished. The anti-demonstrations provision of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act will be abolished.
Despite the abolition of drug and other laws, existing spending on courts will be retained. This will allow the system to run much more quickly. Youth crime is to be prioritized, and meaningful punishments to begin on at least the second offence. (The long delays of the current system mean a teenager can acquire years of criminal habits before experiencing any correction.)
Example punishments will be 24 to 72 hours in solitary confinement, in a containerized padded cell without any form of entertainment. This prevents them learning from other criminals, and retains the threat of prison itself.
ASBOs will be reformed, ensuring that the punishment is not disproportionate to the original offence, that the original offence was harmful to the public, and that a criminal punishment requires criminal court levels of proof.
Community Support Officers are to be given powers of arrest when in the presence of a police officer. Existing laws against drunk and disorderly conduct will be more strongly enforced, with CSOs backing up police officers at night. Public brawling, verbal abuse and vandalism will more often result in a night in the cells and a fine.
Police numbers and funding are to be remain at current levels, but the abolition of drug offences should free more resources for other crimes.
Targets and checkboxes are to be reduced in favour of more local accountability. There will be a greater emphasis on allowing officers to use their judgment, rather than boost arrest numbers.
PACE will remain in effect.
The provision of heroin to registered addicts is expected to reduce the level of property crime.
Due to the link between poverty and crime, the CBI is expected to have a slight effect to reduce it: even though overall spending is the same, less will be spent on administration, so more money will reach people.
The current dependence on fossil fuels is considered to be a collective action problem. It's cheaper for every individual to use fossil fuels, but collectively this renders us vulnerable to oil-supplying nations, liable to supply shocks when the oil runs out, and subject to climate change. Therefore, market intervention is justified in this case.
Planning restrictions will be relaxed, and a new series of nuclear power stations built to modern standards. Wind, wave and tidal power will supplement this where possible.
Again, oil dependence is considered to be a collective action problem, justifying market intervention.
Improvement of the rail network is considered to be hampered by another collective action problem: this time the tragedy of the anticommons.
Compulsory purchase orders will be used to retain space for motorway widening and a new series of high-speed rail links. The Eurostar Manchester terminal will be reintroduced. This link will be extended to Scotland, unless they vote for independence.
A commission will be set up to standardize a battery-replacement system for electric vehicles. Some petrol stations will be required to include a battery-replacement "pump", particularly along the motorway network. This will permit electric cars to make long as well as short journeys.
When this network is in place and the zero-carbon power stations start to come online, the fuel tax escalator will resume. This will steadily increase the cost of petrol-powered motoring, encouraging the use of electric alternatives.
The North-South divide
The new transport links should improve the economy of the North, helping to cement its place in the so-called blue banana of European prosperity. While it will take time and investment, I believe that eventually there will come a day when a Londoner can get to Manchester as easily as he gets to Brussels or Paris.
The Citizens Basic Income will also help to address the population shift from emptying estates in the North to the overcrowded South. At present, housing benefit pays for expensive Southern housing just as easily as cheap Northern housing: this creates an incentive to move South. Being a flat rate, the CBI will give an incentive to move North, where larger and better housing can be afforded.
By default, new regulations will be given a recurring 15-year expiry period Unless Parliament officially renews them, they will then go out of force.
Health and Safety regulations will be simplified.
EU regulations will be enforced at a minimum-compliance level, rather than gold-plated.
We will continue to promote free trade.
Aid will be encouraged to be in the form of money for food rather than food itself: food aid tends to undermine local production by lowering prices.
The UK will remain part of the European Union. We will not join the single currency unless there is strong evidence that this would be beneficial over a complete business cycle.
Overall then, the effects of these Sensible Snail Party polices are as follows.
- Maintain universal health coverage
- Provide an adequate standard of living for all citizens
- Redistribute some wealth from the rich to the poorest
- Modestly increase tax revenues (from drugs, inheritance, non-doms, carbon)
- Shrink the state sector by distributing money directly to citizens
- Increase individual liberty
- Increase economic freedom (slight tax rise is offset by privatization and the ability to change health/education providers)
- Improve transport infrastructure
- Reduce dependence on fossil fuels
1. Originally, I had NHS2 being broken up into smaller completely private companies. However, I have concerns about fully privatizing the demand side because of the need for young payers to cross-subsidize the old. With this system, I believe those who bother to switch to a private provider will generally be fairly prudent; the thoughtless or lazy will just stick with the default. With a fully-private system, the young and lazy could be preyed upon by companies who absorb their voucher money in profit, but don't give it back when they're old.
The disadvantage is that we're back to a bit of a monopsony with NHS2 giving money directly to the private sector; but we have more competition now with private insurers, and more local oversight.
2. There's no actual need for this since passive smoking is a myth, but I decided to make a concession to popular opinion.
3. In addition, human rights are generally considered to end at death. Confiscating someone's property after death does not therefore infringe their property rights.
It is socially useful for people to be able to make money by earning it, or investing it wisely; since that incentivises them to do these useful things. Inherited wealth does not serve any such purpose.
Inherited wealth also reduces social mobility, by giving the childen of the wealthy additional advantages.
However, while the Sensible Snail Party is opposed to inherited wealth, it's not possible in practice to be utterly confiscatory as some of the wealthy would then be incentivised to leave the country. There is an an irrational but powerful desire for people to prefer benefiting carriers of their DNA.
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