In the column “Universal suffrage is immoral” by Oliver Hudson ’14, Hudson proposes a system in which, “the weight of a person’s vote should be proportional to the fraction of total revenue he contributes to the government.” We think this is a bad idea.
Hudson’s system would induce a great number of harms. His proposed voting system disenfranchises poor voters. What are the consequences of this? Here are a few examples, of many:
1. Because the wealthy don’t need them, many effective safety net programs, such as Medicaid, eventually get defunded.
2. With a higher percentage of business owners voting, as opposed to consumers, corporate regulations and consumer protections are likely to be washed away, despite the fact that clean air and clean water are in the interests of all citizens, no matter their income bracket.
3. Other costly programs such as education would see funding decrease too. If I’m rich, and I’ll definitely be able to pay my children’s tuition, what do I care if anyone else needs a Pell Grant?
By eliminating mechanisms of upward mobility, and, importantly, eliminating the 47 percent’s ability to regain them, Hudson’s system consigns the poor to deeper and deeper poverty. Ironically, this would negatively impact the people Hudson is trying to help. By lowering the disposable income of the 47 percent, Hudson’s plan would eliminate the liquidity needed for them to purchase goods and services lots of people in the 53 percent provide.
Let’s address the one benefit Hudson can claim for all of these harms: the elimination of the deficit. Hudson says this would be more likely to occur because people are more careful when they’re spending their own money. That would make sense, if you ignored the last 20 years of American political history, in which rich people repeatedly voted for revenue cuts and budgetary increases. More perniciously still, after the implementation of Hudson’s system, rich people would call for still greater tax cuts. When money equals voting power, there would be a perverse system in place for people to hold as much capital as possible to hold more voting sway.
We also take issue with the philosophical grounding of Hudson’s proposal. Hudson characterizes the government counting the votes of the 47 percent as “controlling how your neighbor or friend spends his or her money.” Even if you’re giving his money to charity, Hudson says, it is still morally wrong to spend it because it isn’t yours. Here’s the difference: Unlike your neighbors, you actually consent – especially if you’re rich and can move – into living in a country, and thus consent into paying the costs in exchange for its protections.
Moreover, that rich people are rich in the first place is morally arbitrary. True, some start off poor and work their way up. But most of these people leaned heavily on the kind of social programs Hudson’s system would eliminate to get there. Additionally, there are already systems in place on which our country spends money that disproportionately help rich people. Good luck getting rich without government enforcement of corporate law, not to mention the millions the government hurls into getting China to appreciate its currency, or the government brokering lucrative and preferential trade agreements like NAFTA that enable the companies rich people own to trade.
But let’s ignore these lucky few for a moment, because, among the rich – or even the middle class – the Andrew Carnegies are far outnumbered by the Donald Trumps. Most rich people achieve success not through hard work alone, but by inheriting a certain amount of capital from their parents and applying and investing that in smart ways. But the reason those parents had money in the first place has to do with the paternalistic voting practices of the past. The reason my parents have more money than the average black family is because, for generations, my white ancestors had the right to self-determination, tipping the economic scales in their favor. Our socioeconomic starting point isn’t a meritocracy. Why would you reward people for what is essentially a genetic coin flip?
Unlike the corporate voting model Hudson would emulate, our democracy doesn’t exist to secure and protect its profits, but to protect the rights of its citizens – not for the 53 percent or for the 99 percent, but for all of us. Democracy works. Let’s stick with it.
Bennett Ferris ’13 and Gabe Schwartz ’13 are 100 percent committed to hearing you out if you disagree with them. They can be reached at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.