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Douglas Carswell's Blog

09 NOV 2012

Don't blame democracy for Big Government

"Pure democracy is dangerous" warns Ron Paul. It means the "majority dictating to the minority", and leads to the inexorable growth of Big Government.

For once I disagree with the sage of Texas. I fear the great man is repeating the mistake many small state conservatives make when he sees democracy as a danger, rather than an ally against the overbearing state.

Firstly, the history doesn't fit the democracy-made-government-grow theory. The United States had mass - albeit imperfect - democracy from the 1830s. Not only did the masses not vote for redistributive government, they specifically rejected it.

If, as everybody seems to think, democracy made government grow, how come the most anti-democratic state in Europe - Prussia - pioneered Big Government interventionism? Why, as England grew more democratic in the nineteenth century, did the state become less redistributive?

It was not the extension of the franchise that made government grow, but the invention of unequal taxation, and the elite concealing the cost of more government from the rest of us.

Between 1908 and 1913, successive Western states adopted so-called progressive income tax. Government has grown in every decade since.

Once not everyone thinks they have to pay the bill, they feel free to start ordering up more expensive government.

To be sure, governments have also grown by spending without taxing, living beyond the tax base by borrowing and manipulating the money.

The growth of Big Government is less a story of people voting for a redistributive state, and more one of officialdom siphoning off more resources to officialdom through cost concealment.

Come to think of it, wasn't it precisely to prevent monarchs and ministers doing that that we invented Parliament and Congress in the first place?

The answer to Big Government lies not in rejecting democracy, but modernising it to rein it elites who have learnt how to subvert it.

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