Dicey's superb Law and Public Opinion refers to several varieties: public opinion, legislative opinion, and legal opinion; but he makes no extended reference, perhaps no reference at all, to that which is almost the most significant in our own time, namely executive opinion.

In Dicey's period, of course, employees of the state, including the armed services, were a small part of the total working population, and a smaller fraction still of the entire population. Now, the civil service alone, counting local authority employees, is vast, and when we further remember that many employees of private companies are predominantly engaged on public service contracts or within industries that are reliant on policies forcing purchase upon the consumer through levies (National Grid, insurance, the law...), we can see a very large part of the working population is indirectly or directly employed by the state.

Most remarkable, perhaps, about this swollen public sector, is that in spite of being non-net taxpayers, they are permitted to vote in both local and general elections, and that hardly anyone thinks this is odd. Indeed, it would seem to most that it would be wholly unreasonable to disenfranchise these people. But is it?; and can we go still further?

Pensioners on the state are only dubiously entitled, from this perspective, and recipients of benefits not at all. But a very large part of the population is actually already such a beneficiary; one thinks, for example, of child benefit, NHS services, or, even, the personal allowance. In fact, there is no need to worry about these details, for from the perspective of the civil servant the entire economy not engrossed by the state is seen as "tax expenditure", that is income and wealth that is foregone by the state and allowed to private individuals. Indeed, the grounding assumption in the informal political economy of our time is that the national income is, in its fundamentals, a public property, the distribution of which is one of the functions of government, if not the principle function.

In other words, we are reverting or have already reverted to a thoroughly archaic political view, namely that the Crown has possession of quite literally all, even the bodies of the citizens, and distributes largesse as a means of rewarding service; but with the variation, perhaps a very fragile one, that the ultimate beneficiary of the state is the the citizen; I say fragile since the citizen has very little power to enforce this view or to express disagreement with the wisdom of the state's dispensation.

This is so deep a reversion in public attitudes to property and income that it seems unlikely to be turned around by anything other than a major shock or, more likely, a steady shift in imperceptible increments, so small that at the time they are scarcely perceptible at all even to contemporaries. Some insight with regard to this movement, if it is ever to happen, might be found in the gradual transitions observed in the prehistorical past as tribal societies became primitive monarchies, and these monarchies eventually weakened and private property rights were granted (or re-granted) and came to be characteristic of a modernised society. Insofar as I understand this process it seems extremely slow and even erratic, with transformations simultaneously in both directions, for example a strengthening of the property rights of urban dwellers while those of rural wage earners might weaken.

The important question, then, is whether there is any indication that we might be moving away from the current view on property. I see no sign at all, and if anything think the tide has a little further to go in the current direction before it turns.