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What Value a Vote - Government Largesse


In a recent blog discussion an individual identifying themselves as a citizen of Vermont weighed in on local issues. See: http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2010/nov/04/election-message/#c1415286. I questioned whether he/she paid taxes here. The answer was “Does the value of a vote only come from the amount of taxes paid?” Well let us think about that. I am assuming that was a rhetorical question and that she/he does not vote here or perhaps this may be another example of what the discussion on Mr. Kobach is all about? See: http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2010/nov/05/secretary-state-elect-kris-kobach-jump-election-fr/#c1416096

Circa 1835, Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) wrote Democracy in America, a seminal thesis on the operation of our new democracy. One of his many observations was that "a democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury …”

Now that comment gets bandied about by the right in bashing the left. That is not my intention. The question I pose is can individuals who have little or no stake in a decision be expected to vote against something that would benefit them? If you pay little or no taxes will you not vote to provide goods and services for yourself paid for by others or not paid for at all?

In the beginning the vote in this country was limited to those who had property because the only real tax was that on property. It has evolved significantly since that time. Today almost half of our fellow citizens pay little or no taxes for the general operation of the federal government but they do get to vote. We now have a federal debt approaching $14 trillion dollars (and that does not count government pensions and social security). Our annual expenditures are almost twice our annual income. Could we be seeing exactly what Mr. de Tocqueville predicted?

Locally we raise the majority of our government operating expenses (not given to us by Washington as discussed above) from property taxes. Our local property taxes to pay for goods and services for the few has grown significantly in the past decade. Our city debt also continues to rise and is consuming increasing portions of our annual income. In Lawrence over half the population pays little or no property taxes because they rent (see:
http://www2.ljworld.com/weblogs/loyal-opposition/2010/oct/31/free-lunches-for-renters/#c1412733 Are we seeing the same willingness to vote for ever increasing largesse here in Lawrence as suggested by Mr. de Tocqueville?

I am not commenting on the worthiness of any given government expenditure. I am simply observing that we seem to have reached a point where every increasing goods and services are sought without regard to paying for them or acknowledging the consequences of not paying. Could this be because the majority no longer has to pay for those goods and services? In fact at the federal level no one is paying. If the poor and privileged are to benefit and the rich are held harmless who pays and what are the consequences? See: http://www2.ljworld.com/weblogs/loyal-opposition/2010/oct/15/government-folk-lore-only/ and http://www2.ljworld.com/weblogs/loyal-opposition/2010/oct/22/the-poverty-game-are-we-n/

In his book Mr. de Tocqueville suggested that following the fiscal binge a totalitarian form of government will arise to clean up the mess. Could he also be right about that? I hope not but I must admit to some trepidation!


Cait McKnelly 5 years ago

"Circa 1835...." This is the biggest flaw in your argument. The entire reason that the United States has survived as a representative democracy with only one major revolt is because the Constitution is a living document. The country that we live in today is nothing at all like the America that deToqueville saw. A good case in point is the fact that at the very beginning of this country (and still in effect at the time that book was written) no one in this country had the right to vote unless they were free, white, male landowners. I'm sure you know that Thomas Jefferson asserted much the same philosophy as de Toqueville. Indeed just before his death in 1826 Jefferson made statements to the effect that he was surprised the country had made it to it's fiftieth anniversary. As for the apparent difficulty that you have with the Vermont citizen expressing a voice in local politics, this person has no vote here. Therefore they would derive no benefit from any election at the state or local level here. The mere fact that they commented honestly means nothing and is a simple exercise of free speech. However organizations from outside the state (and their money) can and do have an impact on this state and it's elections. These are people who do have something to gain from it, even if they have no vote. Those organizations can be spending money to effect business policy or social policy regarding homosexuality or the right to abortion or can be merely partisan organizations spending money and influencing party candidates. Those organizations have been granted "personhood" by the SCOTUS. And to me, sir, those "persons" are far more to be feared than an individual commenter from Vermont.

George Lippencott 5 years ago


Well sir, you will get no argument from me about the effect of money on politics - whether the SEIU or the COC.

I believe my reference to Llama was more tongue in cheek concerning the on going debate about voter fraud or lack of it. Of course, she/he is entitled to her/his opinion – never said otherwise.

As far as the dates - I do not believe that Mr. de Tocqueville had a date time stamp on his comments. They apply whenever they apply – if they apply. We did not have serious federal involvement in our day-to-day lives until Mr. Roosevelt’s administration. It has grown since.

You turned my argument on spending driven by lack of consequences for it into an argument for constitutional growth. I believe the constitution is silent on spending other than to require it to start in the House, the body closest to the people. I do believe that there was never a stated or implied intent that the few would pay for the many, a tack our system seems to be taking.

How about a comment on that rather than a comment about rights of free speech never questioned in my blog.

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