Working with the system

Most of the systems that countries depend on rely on our engaging with them. The police are a good case in point here. There are generally not enough police in most countries to apply law by force, and if people don’t consent to be policed, they stop being effective. People who consider the police to be fair and reasonable will consent to being policed. When people think their police are corrupt, unjust and unreasonable, they won’t cooperate.

The same can be said of tax systems, border control, customs and excise duties, benefits systems and so forth. Give people a fair system and the vast majority of people will deal fairly with it, will self-report fairly, and so forth. Give people a corrupt or unfair system, and many more people will be inclined, or obliged to try and cheat it.

If the system appears to be unfair, cheating it can feel like justice. If you can’t trust the system to treat you fairly, there’s no incentive to cooperate with it and every reason to try and fudge things so that you get what you need. Why should I pay my tiny amount of taxes (this is a rhetorical question) when big companies who owe millions, don’t?

However, it’s noticeable at the moment than many systems in the UK are skewed towards trying to catch out what had been a tiny minority of cheats, and do so at the expense of fairness to the majority. By this means, many more people are moved towards not co-operating, and as a consequence the whole thing becomes ever more corrupt. Our benefits system pushes people to the edge and over it all the time. Survival depends on playing the system, taking cash in hand work, and for some people, theft. Given the beliefs and attitudes of our current government, a punishment-orientated, ever less fair system is likely to result from this.

Treat people as though they are good, decent and likely to do the right thing, and the vast majority of us will. Treat people as though they are suspect, make it hard for them to sort out what they need, and you give them little choice but to cheat you in order to get by.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

4 responses to “Working with the system

  • The Turning of the Wheel

    I’m just grateful we still have separation of powers so the judiciary can challenge government decisions. A real victory today that the high court has deemed employment tribunal fees unlawful, so employees can once again gain access to justice if they are treated wrongly by their employers. Another small victory the other week when a single mother of an under 2 year old who had been made homeless as a result of the benefit cap won her case – with the judge stating that this was never a reasonable intent of the cap (the cap doesn’t apply if you work but the system rightly doesn’t require you to work when you’re caring for a toddler so the two elements of the system were in conflict) – sadly the Secretary of State intends to appeal the ruling.

  • Bill Watson

    As outlined in my 2006 book ‘Police Forces of the World’, the ideal number of police officers in a well-ordered community is about three officers per 1,000 of the population – provided reservists (special constables) numbering between 10 and 20 percent of the regular force strength are available to assist when needed. This isn’t always achieved, but in some jurisdictions is vastly exceeded, e.g. Islamabad, Pakistan, had about one officer for every 87 people in 2005. In other areas the presence of a Federal force, e.g. Royal Canadian Mounted Police, tends to reduce the reliance on large numbers of local police.

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