Columns

Ferris ’13 and Schwartz ’13: Universal suffrage is definitely moral

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Guest Columnists

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 bennett_ferris@brown.edu and gabriel_schwartz@brown.edu.

  • Brown '15

    Thank you for addressing the real substance of the issue Mr. Hudson argued, and not attacking him ad hominem. It only serves to bolster his case when the most articulate argument against him is a flustered accusation of racism. You can also add that in addition to spending tax revenue, the government’s role extends towards social laws and foreign affairs, both of which affect all citizens equally regardless of how much income tax they pay.

  • Anonymous

    Your argument is completely based on the absurdity that rich have no moral ground and no incentive for the poor to be living lives (both of which are true). Also there are far more reasons for poverty today then having been born poor. In fact I would argue that the fact alone that you were born poor today holds no weight in a world with so many schools that give so much financial aid.

  • Jonathan

    To the comment below me, if a person is born poor with no type of educational support he may never do well enough academically to get into a school that offers significant financial aid. Going to an awful public school with high drop-out rates or having no parent to help with homework can hinder a person’s academic performance and college acceptances. Having to work to support a family removes most chance to even go to university period. Also, remember that the Ivies are much more generous with financial aid considering their endowment is large respective to smaller private schools.

    If it weren’t for financial aid I couldn’t afford Brown. Without social support or an acceptance to Brown I wouldn’t be able to afford full sticker price at any other University. My acceptance and scholarship were contingent on my having 2 parents to support me and push me through private school. Not all are this lucky. Please remember that it’s not as simple as “offer financial aid to let poorer people study.”

  • Gabe Schwartz

    Jonathan: Yep, thanks. That was easy!

    Brown ’15: LImited space is a concern, and yep, you are right. There are a million other arguments, and the one you point out is one of the most important that couldn’t be fit in. For instance, the incentive to take as much money as possible for yourself and keep it means there is now a political DISincentive to invest in promising businesses, even your own. And if the rich can direct where the higher taxes they might pay to make sure they hold on to political power go, they could just give their own companies subsidies from the government (why not? You control the government!) Keep adding on here if you want to, there are literally hundreds of substantive counterarguments.