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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!