Big tax, Big Government, Big Brother

David Goodhart, Editor of Prospect magazine, has an interesting if mistaken article just out in their April edition on the subject of civil liberties, individual freedom and the database state. I'm not a habitual Prospect reader, but this one came to my attention as he makes an analogy between personal data and taxes - an interesting comparison, though one that in my view he draws the wrong conclusion from.


Goodhart's essential thesis is that people who are utterly opposed to the way the state has increasingly gathered information about individuals, from the NHS database, the DNA database and CCTV to proposed ID cards, are overegging the pudding with alarmist warnings about a slide towards a police state. Instead, we should be happy to share a reasonable amount of data because we owe it to the State, otherwise they wouldn't be able to provide decent public services.


It is here that the comparison with taxes comes in:


It might be useful if we started to see our data as similar to tax, something we willingly surrender to the authorities in return for various benefits, but over which there is also a political negotiation about how much to surrender. The liberty lobby, in this analogy, becomes the Thatcherite Taxpayers’ Alliance of the database state—wanting individuals to hoard their data and leaving the state powerless to serve citizens as it could.


Goodhart is effectively arguing for what you might call "progressive invasion of privacy", to continue the analogy with the rhetoric of those who support high taxes. This is based on the idea that it's somehow simply short-sighted and selfish to think that what you choose to do in your private life, or even what your DNA code or retina look like, belong to you and you alone, and the state has no right to force you to surrender them.

I suppose that if you hold the view that the State should have an unlimited right to dip into people's pockets and take their money on the basis that it's all for your own good, he's right. If you believe that the State can always take better care of your money then you can, then there's nothing wrong with the idea of the state invading your privacy and restricting your freedom, because Big Brother knows best. It's no coincidence that this high taxing government are also introducing so many new powers of snooping, gagging and internment.


Where he is mistaken is in what this correlation between high taxes and Big Brother actually proves. Instead of appealing to fellow leftists to abandon their pro-freedom views by making them feel dirty with the suggestion they are to the civil liberties debate what the TPA is to the tax debate, I suspect he is actually pushing people the other way.


The vast majority of the public do not "willingly surrender" their money to the state in the form of taxes. In fact, the overwhelming majority are in favour of lower taxes, and the state leaving them as much of their own money as possible, particularly because they know the Government will waste and squander large amounts of it. The reason there has been a growing swing away from support for ID cards, DNA databases and internment without trial is that people are swiftly realising that their freedom is an asset like their money - if you give it to the Government, they will squander it through a mixture of stupidity and wickedness and you will be left with nothing.

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