Politics and Opinion

Opinion

The relationship between a citizen and a government

Money and power

Money is an interesting subject. It is a medium of exchange, meaning that the pieces of paper have no value as such, but what they represent does.

Money is also power. To be without it is a shock. It is very frightening to realize what can happen to a person without money. They can be made to beg, or forced into work they may not like.

Recently, the writer of this article ran out of money while travelling, and it occurred to them to ask some of the people around if it was necessary to be a resident to beg, but the writer thought it might not be appreciated as a joke. In walking around, thinking how to ration out their last money, the writer imagined this little joke:

"Is anyone allowed to beg?

No, you have to be a resident."

Money is power in many ways. Denying a person money is one way to make them dependent on others: on a person, on a country, or dependent in society, generally. The relationship between a citizen and it's government, in a democracy at least, is that the citizen has the same rights as others in that country.That is: if a government takes taxes from them, they have the same rights as other citizens: the same rights to drive on the roads, to walk on the footpaths, to vote, and to work.

Elections, for example, imply a certain democratic right,the right of voting, various citizens’ rights, and various conditions of citizenship. While not every country that has elections is a democracy in a conventional sense, as some are more or less democratic, it still implies something:  that it is not a dictatorship for example.

So, the relationship between a government and a citizen is very important when it is considered what it means: In a democracy, if a citizen pays tax, they are allowed to have the same rights as others, they should probably expect. That is: the understanding that as a citizen they have the right to vote, are allowed to drive on the roads without any different treatment to any other citizen, are allowed to walk on the footpaths without any other treatment to any other citizen; it can be argued paying taxes in a democracy implies this.  Otherwise, maybe it could be argued that the government would be taking tax under false pretenses: in fact, stealing part of a citizen's money, versus not stealing other citizen's money - to some extent, in that the citizen who is discriminated against is getting less benefit from the taxes than other citizens and being deprived of rights which other citizens get.

You are a citizen: what does it mean?

So, when a government says: 'You are a citizen', what does that mean? It implies an attitude that the person is accepted, is a citizen, that the person means something. It is something that has a certain implied respect to it, maybe, to say: 'You are a citizen'. If the government is saying their country is a democracy, surely it means the citizen is considered equal to other citizens. It means that the person is not watching their money being stolen from them, to fund the footpaths and roads of others, for example, while they are deprived of this in some way. Maybe they are not allowed to walk the same footpaths; maybe they are harassed or spat at, the message being: ‘You are not equal.’ If this was done with government knowledge, or as deliberate government action, it could be argued it is violating the agreement that the citizen believed they had with the government.

Financial decisions and government information

So, a citizen, for example, lives in a country and assumes they have the same rights as others. They make decisions based on this assumption: they invest in real estate, they spend money in shops by buying items (which is an investment in the shop, as is indicated by what happens if the shop has no customers. It is, then, an investment in a small way, in the country, to shop in it.), they spend money on education maybe, or they invest money in shares in the stocks of the country's businesses. This is money they earned, or that others earned.  It is no trivial thing.  It could be the result of years of work. The citizen has made the choice to invest that money in the country, by living in it as opposed to leaving it. They spent a lot of money on that country, then,  or what may be for them a lot of money: they bought it's coffees, they bought it's clothes, they shopped and bought it's books, and bought it's real estate. They invested years in the country and the amount of money they have spent over those years amounts to a choice they made: to spend it as a citizen of the country they were told they were a citizen of, versus to leave that country, to spend it on another country's coffees, shops, books, and real estate. Hundreds, thousands of dollars are spent by this citizen. Every time they walk into a clothes shop to buy a new shirt for 59.95, they are investing in the country. Every time they go into a bookshop to buy a book for 29.95 they are investing in the country. The shopkeeper makes money from that sale, the government makes tax from the shop keeper’s earnings, and the citizen is investing in the country every time it buys any product in it.  This person has the right to be treated then, as a citizen, not as an inferior, one could argue, as this citizen is helping to support the country with their money. They could easily have left and spent it elsewhere. So, for a government to have lied to a citizen is a violation of what it means to be a citizen, and the citizen is paying the government money, in tax, for which it is receiving benefits less than other citizens. This could be argued as a government having broken an implied agreement between a citizen and a government.

Investments made in a context: social infrastructure

The social infrastructure of a country, such as whether it is secure, stable or in a civil war, and therefore unstable, is indicated, if not stated, by a government. The government also says what is the country’s status as a democracy, a dictatorship, and so on. If it is claiming the country is a democracy, for example, it seems logical to argue that it is also saying by implication that the citizen is considered equal to others. Stock market prospectuses and company prospectuses are issued on the basis of this stated or maybe partly unstated understanding, and they say things, although naturally often with more sophistication, like: ‘this is a blue chip company, it has a secure rating, it has a good history and it is in a secure country’. The implication for the citizen is that they can invest in this company, and that they have the right to take what is said in the prospectus literally. That it is not a lie in any way. That the country is not involved in a hidden civil war, for example, which could make the investment unsafe. The company prospectus, then, is very important. The company exists in a country with a government and the government has organizations that check out this company, and the government has maybe also set the rules for the company's prospectus listings or what information is required to be given to investors for listing on a public stock exchange. The citizen might decide to buy shares in the company.  As a theoretical example, would happen if a government is lying and the country is involved in a hidden civil war? If that same government had not advised the citizen that this is happening? Then, the citizen, in good faith, invested in a company in that country, and the government had not told the citizen that it was not the kind of country the citizen thought it was.

Trickery

If a government lies or misleads an investor, such as by not declaring to the investor that the country is socially unstable or involved in a civil war, does the citizen have the right to sue the government if the company collapses? Or to sue at all for any reason at all: if there was a hidden civil war, for example, and the citizen was not told this at the time, how does the citizen know that the company's results were not affected by this?  They don't. They could not be sure.  So, it could be argued that regardless of the results of their investment, they could still sue, because it is not possible to say what would happen if the country was not involved in the civil war. Their investment might have done well, but it might have done better if the civil war was not happening, for example. The citizen has been tricked, in this illustration, into investing in a company in a country which has an unstable infrastructure, and the government has not told the citizen that.

So, money is power. In this theoretical example, the citizen now has to consider that the government is taking tax from them, and the government has not told them their investment is unstable.

Denying the rights to be treated equally: tax implications

So, in continuing this illustration, the government would now be in a very powerful position regarding the citizen, to whom it had denied rights to be treated equally as a taxed citizen. Imagine a person works four or five days a week, for thirty years, puts money into a bank account, then watches it be stolen in taxes from them to fund others who are allowed benefits they are not allowed: they have nicer footpaths, better roads, more privacy, and are not subjected to harassment on these same footpaths, whereas the citizen is. That is, the things for which tax is paid for are somehow different for others than for them. This citizen is now forced to know the money he or she worked for, or was given as an inheritance or in any other way (which someone worked for) is now being partly stolen by that government.

This would be insulting to the citizen: degrading, even.

One could even suggest it would be a public slap in the face, to such a citizen, depending on what happened, how many people were involved, and how it was done.

Legal fraud?

So a government in such a situation is defrauding a citizen of it’s rights and could one argue, in such an example, that they have violated the fundamental agreement between a citizen and it's government to such an extent that the government does not have rights over the citizen anymore? That they have effectively treated the citizen differently, and that a government that says it is a democracy can't legally do that? Citizens might often discriminate against other citizens in all countries, such as discrimination against race, against sex, against all sorts of things, which is of course also illegal, but a government is not supposed to discriminate against its own citizens: this is political power.

Political abuse of power

Money is power and political power using money could also occur. What is the legal situation when a government knowingly discriminates against a citizen?  It is definitely power involved. (Whether it involves a violation of law could depend on what is considered law. Is the citizen right to expect that it will have the same rights as others? In a democracy, surely it is).To take it to an extreme, a citizen could be forced into effective work or some kind of the equivalent of prostitution, by having to work for whoever paid it, while other citizens had freedom. It is political power if the government knows of the abuse of the citizen, surely, and chooses to do nothing to stop it while taxing the citizen, and definitely political if the government personally gave permission for citizens to discriminate. For example, as an illustration, the other citizens have respect while walking on the footpaths, but a citizen who is spat on, or harassed while walking on these same footpaths, does not.  If a government was involved in this, and actively said: 'Go and spit on that citizen; we give you permission', then that would be the government personally involving itself in the discrimination (but it might also be argued as personal if a government knew it was happening, and did nothing to stop it.)  Then, it would be violating the power between a government and it's citizen. The citizen is discriminated against. Their money is being stolen, to some extent. It is being used to fund others, who are getting benefits from it that are deliberately and obviously denied them. It is then, degrading.

In such situations, maybe it could be argued that the government has violated the citizen's conditions of citizenship. That it has no right to the citizen anymore at all. That the citizen is effectively turned into a stranger in it's own country. Technically, the citizen should be able to get a restraining order placed on such a government, in the same way a citizen can do to a citizen.

Could the citizen sue for part of it's tax back?  Could they demand compensation for suffering, lost freedom, and damages?

So, what does it mean to be a citizen?

Choice

It means a lot.  It means the citizen made a choice. Just because they did not sell their house, pack up and leave and go and live in some other country, did not mean they could not have done so, if they had known that the country they lived in (which means: the country they invested their time, money, and life in) was fraudulently misrepresenting itself to them.

That is what it means.  The citizen made a choice, and on the basis of an implied agreement, which such a government, in such a situation as above, would be arguably able to be accused of having legally broken: the implied agreement between a citizen and a government.

 

By Katrina Wood

Written by Katrina Wood: July, 2014

 

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