Economic Control and the Centralisation of Authority in the State

As the power of control of a society consolidates, the central and pivotal question revolves around the “power of the purse”, that is, the power to collect the economic power of the nation and its citizens and the power to apply that power for purposes and reasons determined by the controlling authority.  No absolute centralised power can be complete without controlling the purse-strings of the State.  The economic power can be collected through taxation, or through confiscation, depending on the organization of the societal grouping.  An absolute central authority has the power to dispose of the assets so collected without reference to any other party.  In states that have set up along the lines of democratic sovereignty, the power of the purse is separated from the executive power and resides in some other body.  For example, in the United States, the Constitution puts the power to levy taxes, and the power to budget funds in the Congress, which then in turn empowers the Executive Branch to deploy the funds as available and as granted, to carrying out its administrative and executive functions.  The Congress, in theory, derives its representative power from the people at large who elect the members (although in a practical sense, the system does not necessarily work as conceived in its ideal form in the modern world).

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “The administrative side of the national organisation has three principal parts, financial, executive proper and judicial.  The financial power carries with it the control of the public purse an the expenditure of the wealth contributed by the society for national purposes, and it is evident that this must pass into the hands of whatever authority has taken up the business of organising and making efficient the united action of the community.   But that authority in its impulse towards undivided and uncontrolled gestation, a complete unification of powers must naturally desire not only to determine the expenditure according to its own free will, but to determine also the contributions of the society to the public purse both in its amount and in its repartition over the individuals and classes who constitute the nation.  Monarchy in its impulse towards a despotic centrality has always sought to engross and struggled to retain this power; for the control over the purse of the nation is the most important sign and the most effective element of real sovereignty, more essential perhaps than the control over life and limb.  In the most despotic regimes, this control is absolute and extends to the power of confiscation and despoliation otherwise than by judicial procedure.  On the other hand, a ruler who has to bargain with his subjects over the amount of their contribution and the methods of taxation, is at once hedged in in his sovereignty and is not in fact the sole and entire sovereign.”

“In advanced modern countries we have a controlling authority which claims at least to represent more or less perfectly the whole nation; individuals and classes have to submit because there is no appeal from the will of the whole society.  But even so it is questions, not of taxation, but of the proper organisation and administration of the economic life of the society which are preparing the revolutions of the future.”

Thus we see in today’s world, the stirrings of concern about income inequality and unequal access to and availability of the resources of the society for all of its citizens.


Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 20, The Drive towards Economic Centralisation, pp. 179-180