In the United States, any citizen who is at least 18 years old and not a convicted felon has the right to vote. Most of us accept and celebrate our universal suffrage. But is it a good idea? In my view, no. Not every adult U.S. citizen should have the right to vote. Instead, only those who pay taxes to a government should be eligible to vote in that government’s elections. So, for example, under this system, an adult paying sales tax in Rhode Island but no federal taxes would qualify to vote in Rhode Island state elections but not in federal elections. Restricting the right to vote to taxpayers is moral and practical.
After all, what is a vote? A vote is a piece of control over how the government spends taxpayer money. Every government program, every enforced law and every action taken by the government is funded from tax “revenue.” This includes government debt, since it must eventually be repaid, and inflation, since it is a tax on the purchasing power of the dollar. Thus, to function, government takes money from group A and distributes money – in the form of benefits and programs – to group B. Membership in group A and group B may or may not overlap.
It follows that universal suffrage is immoral. Is it right that someone who pays nothing to a government should be able to vote to decide how that government spends other people’s money? Most would agree that controlling how your neighbor or friend spends his or her money is morally wrong. Why, then, do we accept that it is right when government is the middleman between you and your neighbor or you and your friend?
Many will say this comparison is not fair because the government taxes not to steal, but for the good of the public. So if you went to your friend and told him you’re taking his money to donate to charitable causes “for the good of the public” that would be fine? It is noteworthy that we call one case stealing and the other taxation, but they are effectively the same.
Your neighbor’s money is his money. Therefore, only he gets to “vote” what he does with it. The case ought to be no different for the government. Only those contributing to the public treasury ought to have a vote in how it is spent.
Apart from being moral, a tax qualification for voting is practical. Consider the old adage “nobody spends someone else’s money as carefully as his own.” If only those contributing voted, money would be spent less freely, since voters would begin to treat the public tax dollars more like their own money. This increase in fiscal responsibility in the government would be a great measure today, when the U.S. government is $16 trillion in debt, not adjusting for unfunded liabilities.
In general, universal suffrage encourages high spending and deficits. When everyone votes, but only a small fraction pay most of the taxes – the top 20 percent pay 94 percent of all income taxes in the United States – there is incentive for those not paying to vote for greater spending and deficits since they won’t have to worry about picking up the tab. We morph into a society of producers and free riders.
Practical reasons then suggest it is in the interests of the country’s economic health to restrict access to the ballot.
While my proposal would do a lot of good, it must be taken a step further to be complete.
The weight of a person’s vote should be proportional to the fraction of total revenue he contributes to the government. This, however, presents problems with certain taxes – such as the sales tax – in determining how much a person has paid to the government.
But it could be applied quite easily to certain taxes, such as the income tax.
Thus, if person A contributes 100 times more than person B in income taxes, person A should have 100 times more voting power than person B. This is the logical extension of the earlier case.
What I am proposing is not a radical, backward idea from a time when voting restrictions were used to exclude certain groups from voting on the basis of gender or race. In fact, what I am proposing is the practice of many societal institutions. Consider the business world. If you own stock in a company, your shareholder’s vote is in proportion to your ownership of the company.
The U.S. government should be no different. We all own a portion of the government. We ought to elect our representatives, just as stockholders elect their boards of directors, in proportion to our ownership.
A vote is a right, but it should be a privilege.
Oliver Hudson ’14 thinks the 53 percent should move to Galt’s Gultch. He may be contacted at email@example.com.