Green Room

Representation Without Taxation

posted at 12:48 am on April 9, 2010 by

A correspondent recently raised the question of reforming the American electoral system so that only those who pay income tax are allowed to vote.  It’s a provocative notion, even though it Ain’t Gonna Happen… at least, not on this side of a systemic breakdown that puts everything on the table.

Let’s explore the idea as a thought experiment.  If taxation without representation was an outrage that sparked the Revolution, why is representation without taxation acceptable?   It’s logical to suggest that only those who pay for government benefits should have a vote in selecting our representatives.  Allowing net tax consumers to vote seems like an inherently dangerous practice, given their numbers – we’ve reached the point where 47% of American households pay no income tax – and their strong motivation to support politicians who promise endlessly increasing benefits.  When politicians loaded with vast public funds to purchase votes meet up with a population eager to sell its votes for benefits, a grim marketplace will inevitably develop. 

This is a formula not only guaranteed, but designed, to produce an unsustainable entitlement state.  The high-rolling politician secures victory by defeating the productive, and creating a dependency class large enough to smother taxpayer revolts at the ballot box.  Restricting the vote to those who pay into the system would break this fiscal short circuit.  It would also tend to cut down on voter fraud, since the IRS puts a great deal of effort into tracking people who owe taxes. 

Americans are understandably queasy about removing anyone’s voting rights.  The Left has long wanted to extend the franchise, to include constituencies with a reliable appetite for increased government spending, such as convicted felons and illegal immigrants.  If a damaged, desperate future America placed restrictions upon voting, the effort to repeal them would begin immediately, in a blaze of savage intensity… which would continue into a state of permanent civic unrest.  It wouldn’t be hard to keep the dependency class whipped into a violent frenzy with daily reminders of the nation’s outrageous refusal to let them vote.

Beyond the ethical and political considerations, there’s another deep flaw behind the theory of requiring taxation for representation: it wouldn’t solve our problem.  It’s not welfare, as conventionally understood, that is killing us.  How much of that 47% who don’t pay income taxes are living in desperate poverty?  The truth is that middle-class entitlements are the unsustainable tumor which fills the beds of Hospice America. 

Social Security, Medicare, and now ObamaCare will swell to consume the entire federal budget, along with much of the wealth produced by the entire planet, within the next two decades.  That’s the fearful nature of the deficit tornado spinning over Washington D.C.  Charity for the destitute is not unsustainable, even when it’s pumped through the corrupt and wasteful digestive system of the federal government. 

ObamaCare isn’t a system of health-care vouchers for the poor, financed by a tax on the middle and upper classes.  It’s a complete takeover of the insurance industry, designed to ensnare both the middle and lower classes, with the ultimate goal of directly controlling fifteen percent of our economy.  The old system of tax-and-spend welfare isn’t good enough for the Left any more, and the public long ago soured on it anyway.  Both liberals and conservatives have always understood that massive entitlements for the middle class, such as the left-wing Holy Grail of socialized medicine, were the endgame.  They only disagree in their perception of which game would be ending.

Our method of selecting representatives is less important than the rules they live under, after they’re elected.  What is the wise choice between a Constitutionally-limited hereditary monarchy, and a democratically-elected Congress with effectively unlimited taxation, spending, and regulatory powers?  Our reverence for the Republic is only returned in full when our democratically elected representatives exercise limited powers, within the boundaries of laws they cannot break, or redefine to serve their ambitions. 

The way our politicians reach Congress and the White House is important.  What they do after they get there is even more important.  The illusion that we can control them with the threat of future elections should have died forever in the squalid back-alley birth of ObamaCare.  Its birthing cries drowned out the objections of sixty percent majorities, and shattered the eardrums of business managers, from Caterpillar to AT&T.  Insulation from electoral consequence is purchased daily in that grim marketplace I mentioned earlier, where votes and piles of taxpayer money change hands.

Representation without taxation is not our fatal problem.  People from every income group should accept the responsibility to vote wisely, and insist on absolute fidelity to the Constitution – that mighty covenant between free men and the lawful republic they defied the guns of empire to raise.  Our legislators and President are meant to be the guardians of our freedom, not the engineers of our lives… or merchants who trade entitlements for power.  The thick web of puppet strings which spread from our titanic State reach deep into the 53% who still pay taxes.  Ignorance and ideology led us to this moment, not just the selfish votes of our permanent dependency class.  The government needs to shrink, not the electorate. 

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Our reverence for the Republic is only returned in full when our democratically elected representatives exercise limited powers, within the boundaries of laws they cannot break, or redefine to serve their ambitions.

Do natural laws, including and especially the laws of supply and demand, count? At this point, the only bonds on our representatives in Washington are those laws of the physical world, the laws of which no human is capable of breaking.

Couched in those terms, the entitlement programs that Congress enacted over the years amount to a blank check for poverty, in an unlimited demand which Congress is willing to buy with our tax dollars. Or as the song goes, “They’ll make everyone beggars, ’cause they’re easier to please.” What our representatives forget is that even they aren’t immune to cash flow issues; and as soon as the “Obama Money” checks stop, they will face an irate and now-semi-dependent population. I doubt they have a plan for what comes after, since there are too many of them with too much power to apply for refugee status abroad.

Blacksmith on April 9, 2010 at 2:13 AM

Seems like there is no bound to making laws. It hasn’t been that long ago in America’s history that slavery was legal. But laws were made, our Constitution amended, to make freedom legal. Interesting that something as basic as freedom had to be codified.

Americans should be in an equal hurry to see that their economic freedom is codified as well. There has been no end to reducing the freedom of Americans to be financially independent from the State. And others financially dependent on the State. The Republicans should find a way to theme-ify (suggest a better word, it’s early) this in the 2010 midterms and the 2012 elections. Certainly the dependent class will not be tolerant of losing their entitlements, but sooner or later they’ll be without anyway. As you stated above, this is unsustainable. Might as well start the weaning process as soon as possible.

Robert17 on April 9, 2010 at 6:54 AM

(snark warning)
Instead of changing who can vote, what about changing the value of each vote?
Super delegates!
Reversed 3/5ths compromise! (where the 53% “slaves” get the whole vote, the dependents get 3/5ths).

Surely that wouldn’t lead to abuse either, since they have such a good history of working out… /sarc

Doc, that was a good & level headed essay. I’ve often thought property tax payers (real estate, not vehicles and such) should be the only ones to vote on a local/municipal bond referendum. But the housing bubble showed that would have been another perverse incentive for home ownership.

SnowSun on April 9, 2010 at 9:05 AM

I remember as a college student being horrified at the anti-democratic society depicted in Heinlein’s Starship Troopers (in that novel, only those with military service could vote). Many years later, I have to admit it is tempting to wish for voter restrictions of some kind, e.g. “no representation without taxation.” On more somber reflection, though, I have to agree with the Doc that the problem is not so much who is voting but rather who they are voting for and what powers whose elected officials take on. What we really need are hard limits, seriously enforced, on Federal power in local affairs and on Federal power to incur debt.

jwolf on April 9, 2010 at 9:29 AM

Utopia: 99% of “the people” live on the achievement of 1% “the rich.”

This is the left-wing’s perpetual motion machine.

Or maybe cold-fusion.

jeff_from_mpls on April 9, 2010 at 9:40 AM

The income tax is certainly not the only federal tax people pay. Fuel, cigarette, excise taxes…

Jeff2161 on April 9, 2010 at 10:23 AM

The only voting restriction that Americans have willingly accepted over time has been a minimum age. If we would just crank it up to 30 or so, it would solve a lot of our problems. Adulthood, which used to begin at 18-21, has just been officially deemed by Congress to begin at age 27. That’d work.

joe_doufu on April 9, 2010 at 11:26 AM

This is what I would do…

1. You can’t vote for a candidate for the house if you don’t pay taxes as all spending bills originate in the house.
2. Make all congressmen employees of the state they represent. The state legislature sets their salary and they get the same benefits, including retirement, as every other state employee.
3. Campaign finance reform: Ya can’t give money to people you can’t vote for. Congressmen represent their home districts, not a Union, The Sierra Club or IBM. Only registered voters in their district can vote for them. Why should anyone else be able to give to them? Obama threatened to withhold funding from several congressmen if they didn’t vote for Obama Care. They don’t represent Obama, they represent the people in their home districts.

That is enough for now.

The Rock on April 9, 2010 at 1:01 PM

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Ed Morrissey on April 9, 2010 at 2:31 PM

I’ve always believed that you get what you pay for, and if you pay for it, you respect it. Everyone should pay the same %. If you are the paper boy, if you are the Avon lady, if you are Warren Buffet, or Madonna, and you make money in this country, or you are a visitor to our country, then you should pay for our streets, our services, our way of life. Everyone should have the same per centage rate, NO PROGRESSIVE TAX, NO DEDUCTIONS, NO COMPANIES, just the people paying for their government. What per cent? That is a discussion for the numbers crunchers.
But with that fair rate, you don’t vote for a tax increase or wild spending because it becomes personal. When spending is your own money, it changes the perspective. No exceptions. No deductions. No excuses.
Oh, and make everyone write the check too. Then it comes home that it is your money, your government, and they are taking it away from you. Every time you vote for more government spending, you vote for less money in your pocket. See if that doesn’t change taxing and spending. See if the people don’t get the reality with that formula.

Ohio Granny on April 10, 2010 at 7:48 AM

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