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Dougal’s Law

Dermot Mulroney (edited – oops, Morgan) played Father Ted for just three seasons before passing away, and is fondly missed – who knows what comic delights we have foregone as a result of his passing.

Watching an episode recently, I realised that his gormless colleague Father Dougal inadvertently provided us with the solution to many of humanity’s governance problems – he simultaneously diagnosed the disease AND provided the cure.

By looking at a toy cow.

Bear with me.

You see, we need government.

If we don’t have it, there is no-one to prevent the strongest from merely taking what they want, and imposing their kind of “rape and pillage” order on the rest of us gentler souls.

And even once you have government, if it’s too small (under 15% of GDP seems to be the limit, according to the Rahn Curve) then it can’t reliably keep order, defend our borders, apply justice and manage regulations.

We have a fair bit of data on this.

So……….we need government, and it shouldn’t absorb less than about 15% of our GDP.

But that doesn’t mean we just need government to be BIG. It primarily needs to be influential.

And there are two ways of government being influential.


But far away.

Which means it ends up looking like this:

Or small…

…but near.

Which means it ends up looking like this:

The same.

Big and far.
Or small and near.

You get the idea – it’s a matter of perspective.

And here’s what that means.

As our societies have grown, so our problems have grown in scale and complexity. Our rulers were faced with making government either stay distant and increasing in size, or remaining small but then having to draw nearer.

As drawing nearer involved lots of extra contact with the public and a diminution of power and status (ask a local council official what it’s like at the coal face) they understandably decided to give the other method a try first.

Because staying distant and getting bigger meant LESS contact with the demanding taxpayer, and lots of nice things like steaks and helicopters, and blowjobs in the back of limos.

So here we are – our governments have grown bigger, and are more distant than ever before.

And yeah………’s not really working.

We need our government to draw near, so they can stay small.

But how might we measure this?


If instead of paying £1000 a month in tax (note that I am not limiting this to income tax) to central government and only £100 a month to local government, the average taxpayer was paying £100 to central government and £1000 to local government…?

The ratio between them might be considered a proxy for the power and distance of your government.

In the example above (probably quite close to the average British taxpayer) we are at 1:10


We need to get to 10:1


So what is Dougal’s Law?

The ratio of local to national taxes is inversely correlated with the quality of governance?

We have government the wrong size and proximity for our problems.

Those that don’t know about the Rahn Curve think the solution is for government to get bigger and further away. That we should aim to solve national problems with supranational or even global solutions.

Maybe they don’t know about Dougal’s Law?

Government needs to get smaller and nearer.


P.S – hat tip Switzerland.

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4 years ago

Dermot Mulroney played Father Ted for just three seasons..”


John B
John B
4 years ago

‘ As our societies have grown, so our problems have grown in scale and complexity.’ No they have not grown with society growth. We are no longer prey to wild animals, culled in the cold of Winter through lack of adequate shelter and food, our food supply no longer entirely dependent on the vagaries of weather, pest, disease or stolen by invaders, we can afford more, better food, many diseases and conditions previously fatal are now treatable/curable, we are wealthier, better hygiene, more pleasant hovels in which to live, we can travel wider, have more leisure time, less arduous work,… Read more »

4 years ago

Your best article. An excellent point well made.

4 years ago

Interesting point. My parish council – whose members I see on the counter in the Post Office, shopping in the supermarket, walking the dog on the beach, and I can walk to the office – takes about 1.5% of my council tax. The district council – I know one local former member who’s run her shop for decades, and I can on the spur of the moment catch a bus to the office and be back for tea – takes about 25%. The county council takes over 70%. I go to the County Seat every now and then to spend… Read more »

4 years ago
Reply to  jgh

And the two biggest budget items are adult social care ( so working age adults not looking after their parents in-house ) and children’s services ( so working age adults not looking after the offspring of their loins in-house ). The cost of collecting the bins and providing public parks barely registers compared to those two. So adults who are scum – what can be done? I don’t know. But that’s your major problem.
Imv of course.

Michael van der Riet
Michael van der Riet
4 years ago

This is the way the Nordic countries work their tax. On top of that in Finland everyone’s tax return is public record and there is a certain amount of virtue signalling with additional voluntary payments of local municipal tax.

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