Daily Archives: November 30, 2011

Democracy doesn’t authorise economic enslavement of a minority

Democracy is implemented in many ways around the planet, and we all interpret it differently. Wikipedia uses a reasonable definition, where ‘all citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives’. That should not mean that the system can be manipulated in such a way that a majority should be able to force the minority to pay for their lifestyle, but in practice it has in the UK. This is because of the way that government (Labour especially) has used the public sector not just as a means of providing public services but also as a powerful tool to get elected.

Today we see public sector strikes in the UK. The public sector now accounts for over half the UK economy, and about 700,000 of public sector jobs were seemingly created by the Labour government to increase the likelihood that they would be re-elected. This could be seen as corruption of the democratic process, in much the same way as deliberately increasing immigration to increase your support base, but I guess that depends on your a priori political allegiance. If you are a beneficiary, then it may well seem fair and reasonable, but to me this seems to be a severe abuse of democratic principles. I’d also argue that any gifts or bribes made by a corrupt agency are not valid entitlements to the beneficiary, any more than you own something that has been given to you by someone who stole it.

Democracy gives everyone a say, but it should not become dictatorship of the majority and certainly not a means of economic enslavement of a minority. Voting for a government to give you big handouts is all very nice, but someone has to pay for them and it should not be a means to steal from others. Public sector terms were once fair but are now unduly generous. Pensions that were affordable when lifespans were low have not been modified as they should as longevity has increased. To have allowed this to continue for so long, knowing that the benefits and costs far exceed what was intended by the original agreements, is licensed theft from hard-working private sector employees who are increasingly unable to afford decent lifestyles themselves.

Only a tiny amount of cash is earned by a few public sector jobs. Almost all the public sector consumes wealth that has to be earned by the private sector. Some public sector jobs are essential to our well-being and way of life, and it is right that they are properly remunerated. But survey after survey shows that people in the public sector generally earn far more per hour than their ‘equivalents’ in the private sector, even before their pensions are taken into account. With a few exceptions, they have higher salaries, take more sick leave and work fewer hours per day, and based on my experience, I would also say that they are less competent. On top of higher salaries, pensions in the public sector are extremely generous compared to private sector ones, having been set when people died a few short years after retirement at around 70 and when salaries were far lower than in the private sector. Even though people now live typically to their 80s, public sector workers can still retire very early, so that 30 years of work (working from age 20-50 for a police, fire service or prison officer for example) can fund over 30 years of expected retirement at up to 2/3 of final salary. Pensions can therefore be worth even more than salary for junior staff, since a year of work on a starting salary can earn a year of pension on 2/3 of a much higher one at retirement. By contrast, in the private sector, increasing longevity has led to widespread dismantling and downscaling of pensions.

Strikers might insist that they want to keep such enormous privileges, and argue that the terms and conditions were agreed when they started work. But the terms when they were agreed were intended to offer just a few years of comfortable retirement, not decades. They are greedy and selfish to ask that they continue, and know that their demands are very unreasonable. They deserve to be condemned. At best, they should receive average private sector terms and conditions.

The solution is simple. It is time to do exactly as private sector companies have done, to notionally make every public sector employee redundant, and to re-employ those who are needed on a contract that is comparable to the average in the private sector. Or let them take redundancy and never be employed again anywhere in the public sector. Some private companies have done exactly this as a means to impose new contracts.  (That highlights another current public sector advantage. When people are made redundant by a private sector company, they may not work for that company again. But people in the public sector often leave one public sector job and start another, still receiving redundancy payment. That’s fine if the employers are truly different but since they often behave as one body when it comes to strikes and pay bargaining, like today for example, they simply aren’t.)

It is time to reassert true democracy, and to stop public sector dictatorship and private sector economic enslavement. Public sector employees are not entitled to keep privileges earned or extended by voting in governments that look after them at the expense of everyone else, either through negligence or deliberately. The extent of those privileges was not agreed by those who now have to pay for them. They must end. Immediately and fully. Anything less is an abuse of democracy.

We need to make sure everyone in society is treated fairly in democracy, not just by being given a vote, but by having a system that ensures that a majority cannot vote for the rest to subsidise them.