Liberty Matters

John Stuart Mill and the Dangers from Unrestrained Government. Part II

Continuing my previous post I would also like to point out the following concerns Mill had regarding unrestrained governent.
Even Desirable Government Serves Should Not be Monopolized
Though Mill may have concluded that government in a liberal society should extend its responsibilities beyond the narrower confines of a more strict laissez-faire policy, he nonetheless remained suspicious and indeed critical of any monopolization of such tasks.
For instance, he believed that state involvement in education was essential to assure the development of a generally literate, intelligent, and informed citizenry. But while he argued government funding and supplying of schools were desirable for a functioning and free society of reasoning and reasonable individuals, he was forcefully against the exclusion of educational competition.
Nothing was more to be feared that total government control over any facet of life that would threaten to stifle the creative, innovative and uniquely original ideas that only emerge from diverse and free minds able to think and experiment:
One thing must be strenuously insisted on: that the government must claim no monopoly for its education, either in the lower or in the higher branches . . . It is not endurable that a government should either de jure or de facto, have a complete control over the education of the people. To possess such a control, and to actually exert it, is to be despotic. A government that can mold the opinions and sentiments of the people from their youth onwards can do with them whatever it pleases.“Though a government, therefore, may, and in many cases ought to, establish schools and colleges, it must neither compel nor bribe any person to come to them; nor ought the power of individuals to set up rival establishments depend in any degree upon its authorization.”[46]
Dangers from Democracy and the Need to Limit the Franchise
In his famous essay “On Liberty,” Mill had warned about both the political tyranny of the minority and, now, in his “democratic” age the growing danger of a tyranny of the majority.[47] In the Principles, he emphasized the same point, arguing that, “Experience, however, proves that the depositories of power who are mere delegates of the people, that is of a majority, are quite as ready (when they think they can count on popular support) as any organs of oligarchy to assume arbitrary power, and encroach unduly on the liberty of private life.”
Indeed, Mill suggested that a tyranny of the majority was potentially more dangerous than the monarchies or oligarchies of the past, since when “the people” assert their sovereignty there remain few if any of the intermediary institutions of society to protect and support the threatened individual from the abuse of the “masses.”[48]
This danger of an unbridled voting majority taking advantage of their numbers to plunder others in society was an especial problem in democratic society, Mill warned. Therefore, in his 1859 book, Reflections on Representative Government, Mill argued that those who received “public assistance” (government welfare) should be denied the voting franchise for as long as they receive such tax-based financial support and livelihood.
Simply put, Mill reasoned that this creates an inescapable conflict of interest, in the ability of some to vote for the very government funds that are taxed away from others for their own benefit. Or as Mill expressed it:
It is important, that the assembly which votes the taxes, either general or local, should be elected exclusively by those who pay something towards the taxes imposed. Those who pay no taxes, disposing by their votes of other people’s money, have every motive to be lavish and none to economize.“As far as money matters are concerned, any power of voting possessed by them is a violation of the fundamental principle of free government . . . It amounts to allowing them to put their hands into other people’s pockets for any purpose which they think fit to call a public one.”[49]
Mill went on to explain why he considered this to be especially true for those relying upon tax-based, redistributed welfare dependency, which in nineteenth century Great Britain was dispersed by the local parishes of the Church of England. Said Mill:
I regard it as required by first principles, that the receipt of parish relief should be a peremptory disqualification for the [voting] franchise. He who cannot by his labor suffice for his own support has no claim to the privilege of helping himself to the money of others . . .“Those to whom he is indebted for the continuance of his very existence may justly claim the exclusive management of those common concerns, to which he now brings nothing, or less than he takes away.“As a condition of the franchise, a term should be fixed, say five years previous to the registry, during which the applicant’s name has not been on the parish books as a recipient of relief.”[50]
I would suggest that the same argument could be extended, today, to all those who work for the government, for as long as they are employed by the government they are directly living off the taxed income and wealth of others.
If it is said that government employees pay taxes, too, the reply should be that if you receive a $100 salary from the government and pay in taxes, say, $30, you remain the net recipient of $70 of other people’s money and are not a contributor to the costs of government.
Extending Mill’s logic a little further, I think that the same case could be made that all those who live off government expenditures in the form of government contracts or subsidies, should likewise be excluded from voting for the same conflict of interest reasons.
Such individuals and their private enterprises may not be totally dependent upon government expenditures for their livelihood. A rule might be implemented that to be eligible for the right to vote: no individual or the private enterprise from which he draws an income should receive (just for purpose of example), say, more than 10 percent of his or her gross income from government spending of any sort. 
If a form of Mill’s voting restriction rule had been in affect 100 year ago, it is difficult to see how the government could ever have grown to the size and cost that it now has in society.
In turn, if there were any way to implement such a vote-restricting rule, it is equally hard to see how the current, gigantic interventionist-welfare state could long remain in existence. Government, no doubt, would soon be cut down to a far more limited and less intrusive size.
[46.] Mill, Principles, p. 956.
[47.] John Stuart Mill, “On Liberty” [1859] in Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Vol. XVIII (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1977), pp. 213-310.
[48.] Mill, Principles, p. 945.
[49.] John Stuart Mill, Consideradtions on Representative Government [1861] in Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Vol. XIX (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1977), p. 471.
[50.] Ibid., p. 472.