Numerous bloggers have taken up the challenge to answer my question, do you value the £10,000 of public spending which is your average share of the total? How would you like your share spent?
It is time to look a bit more at what we all get for our money. Some of you have been critical of the idea that some part of your £10,000 should go to the neighbours. In practise most of the tax paid by people in good jobs goes to other people. We have a very progressive system, which gives quite large sums to people out of work (income related benefits, social housing etc)by taking larger sums from those in well paid work.
Our system of public spending includes three types of spending. There is expenditure on current publilc services which we all enjoy – we all use the roads, have our rubbish collected, are under the umbrella of the common defence, live with the same police force and seek to comply with the same Revenue, Customs, and criminal justice system. We all pay according to our means for these items of current spending which are incurred every year on our behalf equally.
There is then public spending on public services which we may need at some times of our lives but tend not to need when we are in work and earning. The state makes provision for the young and the elderly. We pay for the young and the elderly, partly because we are decent, and partly because we have been young ourselves and hope one day to be elderly. Public spending insures us by time shifting our payments in and our receipts out of the system.
The third type of public spending is spending for the greater good, spending on others which we would never experience for ourselves. Most people contribute to social housing but will never themselves live in a subsidised house. We all contribute to overseas aid.
In each case the debate on public spending poses three questions.
1.Is too much of the given service being provided? Do we fight more wars than we need do? Do we need so many regulatory systems?
2. Is the service being supplied in an efficent and cost effective way?
3. Could we pay for it in a different way?
We have spent a lot of time on this site discussing 1 and 2 about various services. Today I want briefly to touch on 3.
Some of the servcies in Category one like rubbish collection, lesiure facilities, public entertainments and sports could be paid for more by user charges and less by direct local and national taxation. We pay for our daily bread and water by direct user charging based on what we consume. More current public services could be charged in this way. We would then pay for what we needed and not for what the public sector wanted to supply and charge.
Some of the services in Category Two could be based more firmly on the insurance or loan principle. Students now pay for their university courses from loan money which they repay only if and when they are successful in finding well paid employment. The state pension is based loosely on the insurance pricniple, where you pay in over your working life in order to gain entitlement to a pension on retirement. These are two current ways in which the state helps you time shift between spending money and paying money in. This Insurance principle could be extended, to reward the prudent and to help the state balance its books.
There will always be causes and people deserving of our financial support which will not be able to repay one day. Civil government is about making good judgements about which and how much. I woudl appreciate your thoughts on whether and how we should also strengthen the insurance principle and the pay for what you receive principle in more public service areas.