Saturday, 23 June 2012

Of government and its sock puppets

People still ask why I take a dim view of charities and the ‘Third Sector’, especially on the Isle of Man. I would have thought that by now it was obvious - especially if you ever had the painful experience of sitting in a room while those behind the worst examples try to beg money, or excuse derailing the democratic process and delaying the introduction of open, transparent government to the Isle of Man (I know, open, transparent, democracy….or even government….pigs might fly first).
Luckily the excellent Chris Snowdon of Velvet Glove Iron Fist (see right) has just produced a paper for the Institute of Economic Affairs which pretty much sums up the problem. The paper is called Sock Puppets: How the government lobbies itself and why (Chris Snowdon, IEA Discussion Paper No. 39) – probably the funniest, but most accurate, title for a serious survey on a growing social problem you will see in a long time.
The paper begins: “In the last fifteen years, state funding of charities in Britain has increased significantly while restrictions on political lobbying by charities have been relaxed. 27,000 charities are now dependent on the government for more than 75 per cent of their income and the ‘voluntary sector’ receives more money from the state than it receives in voluntary donations.”
Staggering stuff (unless, perchance, you have taken note of all the local examples of such chicanery I have banged on about, and are already worried about it). 
While, as more of a left libertarian, I do not share all the ‘areas of concern’ identified by the IEA and other free market ‘think tanks’ (and would add a problem they don’t identify – links between religious groups and the state and their effect when, for example, the ‘charity’ economic framework is abused by religious bigots for their own nasty theo-fascist ends), I do share their concern about the principles. I certainly share their conclusion, that instead of government-run pseudo-charities “….it would be better to restore the independence of the voluntary sector, safeguard taxpayers’ money and rebalance civil society in favour of grass-roots activism.”
 There’s a brief summary of the paper at, or if you prefer to just go straight to the paper itself you can find it at .
In the comments after the IEA summary, I was particularly taken by Phil Taylor, who says: “Could I suggest a rule of thirds? The Charity Commission should insist on the use of some designation such as "Government sponsored body" for any organization that accepts more than one third of its income from government sources of all kinds but still wishes to be treated as a charity. Once a body exceeds two thirds of its income from government sources it should cease to be a charity and should formally become an agency of the relevant department. It could then be monitored by the NAO and use a web address, etc. Then we would all know what we are dealing with. To re-iterate: - You could call yourself a charity as long as less than one third of your income came from the state. - Above one third you could still be regulated as a charity but you would not be allowed to use the word charity when describing yourself and would have to use a designation such as “Government sponsored body”. - Above two thirds just call yourself what you are – a part of the government.”
Now, consider the devastating (for them) but liberating (for the rest of us) effect on the Manx pseudo-charity racket if Tynwald looked at that idea.
Oh, of course, they can’t. That would involve identifying which black holes they’ve been throwing public money down, explaining why they thought it was a good idea, and then taking back responsibility for the public services we thought we were paying them to provide.

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