Faith in the privet economy

Privatise the State and there’ll be no taxes. But with a free market, how are we to be made safe from Americanisation? Raise the privet hedges and despatch bridge parties

As one who has scoffed at the nerds whose lives revolve around the Internet and the World Wide Web, may I offer a humble apology. I had no idea that these imaginative, devoted and highly intelligent people could be the agents of my deliverance from taxation.

I have never disguised my dislike of being taxed. Unlike some others – notably Melvyn Bragg and Stephen Fry – who crave the purgative of higher taxes, I cannot hide my resentment when government, faced with the requirement to compensate a pregnant Wren or set up a new quango, comes banging on my door with its hand outstretched.

So when I read the following snippet from Ian Angell, Professor of Information Systems at the London School of Economics, I could barely suppress one of those exultant cries the Americans call a rebel yell. “All taxation is theft,” says the professor. “It is the State obtaining money with menaces.”

Well, I’ll drink to that, even though the pint I raise in salute is taxed at 40 per cent. But what is a professor of information systems doing straying into fiscal studies? Though his views are exemplary and cannot be bettered either for pithiness or accuracy, is he not off his patch? It seems not. He and his kind, so lightly and foolishly dismissed as nerds, have looked beyond the Internet’s present uses as a kind of dating agency and computer ham club and seen its potential for a globalisation of markets completely independent of political interference.

“The very nature of the nation State itself is mutating,” says Professor Angell. “Increasingly, it will have to behave as merely another form of commercial enterprise.”

The notion of Kenneth Clarke and Eddie George presiding over nothing more important nor significant than just another chip shop is so heart-warming, so life-enhancing that it should be saved as a comforter for long, cold winter nights. But the professor means what he says, and at the heart of his gleaming prognostication is the concept of a private digital cash system.

The creation of a global, inter-networked society makes the creation of alternative money on an international scale possible for the first time in history. If that were to happen, the implications for the nation State would be calamitous, but not for the rest of us.

Professor Friedrich Hayek, that great champion of individual values, which he saw increasingly threatened by economic controls, said: “Money does not have to be created legal tender by governments. Like law, language and morals it can emerge spontaneously. Such private money has often been preferred to government money, but government has usually soon suppressed it.”

It is not difficult to see why. It is the State’s role as a single issuer of currency that is the fountain of its power. Remove it, and you take away not just the cornerstone but the very pillars upon which the entire elaborate edifice of government rests. Without a monopoly of legal tender the State cannot control the economy, and the market reigns supreme.

Many long-standing champions of the free market economy reckoned without the Internet. It will come as a surprise to them that the ultimate goal, the hegemony of the market, will so quickly result in the withering of the State. I am a little alarmed myself.

For although it will be a joy to be spared such nannying nonsense as the Health of the Nation agenda and a great relief to see politicians shorn of their power to take and spend our money – for our new money is private – I cannot say I am entirely prepared for the dictatorship of the market.

The great dilemma for those of us who preach freedom is that we shall inherit licence. The beautiful concept of thousands of freely made individual decisions forming through the pure prism of the market not just patterns of production and consumption but also values and tastes is daunting when it is seen for what it is, that is, a surrender to popular culture.

Such globalisation as there has been so far has been Americanisation. Measured by one index alone, the baseball cap, it seems to suit a great many – indeed the majority. But a minority find it easy to resist the charms of modern American food, clothing, language, music, and manners. How are they to avoid being swamped when the market is dominant?

At present, the State provides some protection in the shape of noise abatement, planning requirements, and legally enforceable codes of public decency. But if Middle England is to survive the Internet, it must be permitted to arm itself.

For when the market is sovereign it is the wishes of the masses that prevail. There is always potential conflict between those who tend cottage gardens, enjoy Verdi, and buy their clothes at Dunn’s and those who wear rings in their ears. If, in the age of cyberspace, civil war is to be avoided, I see no alternative to the ghettoisation of Middle England, starting with the Home Counties. Let the privet hedges of England be the last barrier to Americanisation.

That the residents of Acacia Gardens must protect themselves is made plain by Professor Angell. “The State,” he says, “is failing to deliver its side of the Faustian pact, where the individual submits to the legitimate violence of the State in return for protection and security.”

But should Middle England be overwhelmed by the market, as I fear it must, even as the barbarians are at the door, the flag of Elvis flutters atop the gable, and the last bridge party is going down in flames, there will be nothing quite like the comfort of being untaxed.

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