By Douglas Kruger
A facebook meme did the rounds last year, asking: ‘Is there a tax I can pay to stop Covid-19? Or is that only for climate change?’
It captures something. And the timing is apt, as a Jersey minister recently said that the government could one day consider a congestion charge. Let’s strip away the euphemism and describe it honestly: they want us to pay a new tax to punish ourselves for driving. Are you okay with that?
The JEP ran a survey posing that question. I ticked ‘no’, because there was no option to select, ‘Are they utterly insane?
I don’t think we are hard enough on government ministers who propose punitive taxation. It is one thing to raise funds for a new school, a new road, a long-overdue highway between us and Guernsey.
It’s quite another to say: we wish to financially punish you for going about your business – pay up.
Indeed, I think there should be a mechanism for the instant removal of ministers who make such proposals. After all, did you vote them in to penalise yourself?
The first problem with this proposal is the most basic: it doesn’t work. We do not create traffic for our own entertainment. Do you go cruising about at 8am on a Monday for the fun of it? No, we are conducting our lives. Charge us more, and we must still conduct our lives, just at greater expense. Thanks for that.
Secondly, it’s anti-freedom. Our full and final rejection of such a proposal should be stated this simply: ‘No. Because we say so. And you represent us.’
But rather than just whine, I would like to make a proposal. Let’s push in the opposite direction, and hard. Instead of accepting new taxes, new rules, new restrictions, what if we make it our collective goal to push for greater freedom? And thereby, greater wealth for our community? ‘Liberation’ is one of Jersey’s most dearly held values after all.
Well, each year, the Heritage Foundation publishes the Index of Economic Freedom. I don’t see Jersey on the list, so we must suppose that they lump us together with the UK. This year, the UK ranked 28th for freedom to business. This is the nation that championed the end of slavery globally, and it’s not even in the top 20 for extending freedom to its own people, with regards to commerce.
What say we, on this Island, lead the way in the British Isles, and teach the mainland how to change all that? It’s not that hard to do.
Any system, left unchecked, tends to accumulate rules over time. Rules do not fall away by themselves, even when they become outdated or counterproductive. Some are good, some are bad. Both become entrenched. Then each year, government ministers add new ones, when they have bright ideas like, ‘I know! Let’s punish our own people for driving around.’
Only intelligent intervention can rid us of the mounting weight of these impediments. Thus, imagine the introduction of a new portfolio: Minister for Freedom. Or a very small task-team: The Jersey Freedom Commission. Imagine such a body tasked not just with opposing unnecessary new restrictions, but actively empowered to take a hatchet to the old ones that should no longer exist.
We might even call in the specialists and open our bylaws for critical inspection by a professional entity. Imagine a team from, say, Deloitte or EY, tasked with freeing up trade. Here’s the project: Find out which licences serve only government, and not entrepreneurs. (Sound radical? We’re not here to be a support system for a government. It’s supposed to be the other way around). Which legal hurdles do nothing more than add weight and cost to the system? Which monopolies (haha) should no longer be protected, on the grounds that we are not a cartel? A racket?
Freer trade and increased competition bring prices down – a win for everyone – and independent operatives tend to be less susceptible to privileged backhanders.
The methodology exists. Consultants have written a plethora of insightful books detailing the history of nations – and large organisations – who have done it.
‘Simple: Conquering the Crisis of Complexity’ is just one of the excellent books available on the topic. It details initiatives such as the simplification of credit card terms and conditions, successfully slashed from 30 unintelligible pages, down to a customer-friendly single page, despite vociferous opposition from those in the industry who wailed, ‘It can never be done!’ Of course it can. You just need clever people empowered to do it. And when they do, it’s like a breath of fresh air.
Let me give you just one example of a needless set of government restrictions that could be removed tomorrow, lowering costs, improving life for parents, and promoting a great deal more wealth on the Island.
I was at a birthday party. I listened to a ring of parents expressing their frustration: ‘Child-care is ludicrously expensive here.’ They’re right. It costs between eight to ten times more than what we used to pay for excellent childcare in South Africa, where the service tended to include considerably more.
One parent said, ‘I wish I could just hire someone on a casual basis to watch my kid for a few hours a day.’ Apparently, you can’t. There are licences, forms, permissions, conditions, zoning laws – ogres with clubs guarding the bridge.
Five parents were privy to that conversation. All five expressed the same wish.
Now think about that for a second. Two people meet. One has a need, the other has the solution. Both would benefit from the transaction. One would gain time, the other would receive money. And it’s a widespread need. Multiply transactions like this over several tens of thousands of parents, and not only have you freed up countless hours of human productive potential, but you have also allowed those who are struggling to earn money, without the necessity of training for full-time employment.
But you are not allowed to.
Free societies do not have to ask their government for permission to transact, particularly when the transaction is not a criminal activity.
It reminds me of what we saw on ‘Clarkson’s Farm, Season Two’. On the one hand, government encourages farmers to diversify to survive a challenging economic climate. On the other, they throw every imaginable obstacle in the way, raising costs, requiring time to comply with ridiculous trivialities, and, in Clarkson’s case, just being petty on purpose. Oh, and then they tax you on top of it.
If we are at all similar here, then it’s no wonder we lost Camerons.
Great Britain is centuries old. It desperately needs Ministers of Freedom. I believe that if task teams took hatchets to unnecessary regulations, the Isles might easily move from sixth wealthiest in the world, to fourth or fifth. That would change lives. We should spearhead it in Jersey and show them the way forward. After all, no one does ‘liberation’ like us.
Douglas Kruger is an award-winning professional speaker and author. He was inducted into the ‘Speakers Hall of Fame’ by the Professional Speakers Association of Southern Africa. His books are all available via Amazon and Audible. Meet him at douglaskruger.com.