No Representation Without Taxation

Some sensible person on FB suggested that only taxpayers have the right to vote. Some of his "friends" demurred. I gave this answer:

Paying taxes is a significant part of citizenship, so is agreeing to do one's duty, if drafted or receiving a summons to sit on a jury. I avoided but did not evade military service on legal and reasonable grounds, but if taking the franchise away from draft-dodgers meant that I forfeited the right to vote, so be it. But that is only the start. Decades ago, I proposed a general rule that taxpayers, but not tax-consumers should be considered citizens. This would exclude government employees as well as welfare dependents. No man should be allowed to be the judge of his own cause, as Hobbes argued quite correctly, thus unionized public employees always voted for their own interest against those of the people who paid their salaries.

Obviously, such a principle would have to be fine-tuned to be practical. So, people who had spent a lifetime working and paying taxes would retain their rights, as would people temporarily on unemployment or receiving welfare benefits. Since only a free people in a free country would even consider such a principle, there is no point in arguing over details. But in a republic, as opposed to a demagogic tyranny, no one should be regarded as a citizen who is a burden on his neighbors and fellow-citizens. Imagine the consequences--closer to paradise than anything John Lennon dreamed up.

A number of people responded either favorably or politely.  One of them suggested the title, to which I responded.

As a witticism, yes, exactly. Of course, but as you obviously are aware, the whole point is that if only those who did their duty and paid the price could vote, taxes would be much much lower, there would be less government, and fewer unjust military adventures.

Another pointed out that a connection between paying taxes was raised and rejected at the "founding Philadelphia convention.  It's a good point...

Good point, but I'd make three little observations: First, nothing this sweeping or principled was proposed at the Convention, where they could hardly anticipate our situation, when a large majority of eligible voters are net tax-consumers, organized by special interest lobbies,. Second, There were many reasons to reject a proposal that would seem to put too much power in the national government--not a problem these days. Third, although it is good patriotic rhetoric to refer to the founding, only revolutionary states like Jacobin France or Soviet Russia were "founded." The coalition of sovereign states that rebelled against Britain were already bound in a confederation, and each of the colonies=states had a long political and judicial history, The Constitution was in part a crystallization of their experiences. It is certainly right for honest people to turn to the delegates to the Convention for insight, and just as important to look at their anti-federalist critics and the long history of the major states--New York, Massachusetts, Virginia, South Carolina--for the context. Obviously, no one seriously expect anything like this to happen, but it is a useful thought experiment to try to imagine what a normal reflective American in 1790 might propose to remedy the illness of an empire that had been once established as a republic.

Eric Obermeyer, who used to attend some of our programs in Rockford, was reminded of similar arguments made by Joe Sobran, but...

Libertarians, to give them their due, influenced My friend Joe And, I don’t blush to admit it my own ideas. I do think that my own proposal, which I was formulating by 1980, was more coherent and comprehensive but parents always love their own babies. By the way I extended it to government contractors and their employees

The Machiavellian Jeffersonian, Marco Bassani, observed:  "If government employees did not have the right to vote, the Democrats could not win a single election, from San Diego up to Maine."   Another virtual friend pointed out that even welfare-dependents pay some taxes on the goods they buy, to which I responded:

There are two points to reaffirm: First, that there is no point in quibbling over details when the object is merely a thought experiment, and second, that I made clear the question of taxpayers vs. consumers was on a net basis. Someone who receives, say, $35,000 per year in income, goods, and services and pays no taxes on them, may well pay liquor, sales, tobacco taxes of $500 or $1000, but he is still in the nick $29,000. Now let us imagine he as two kids in school--another $30, 000? As a wife-beater, he as spent several weeks in jail or prison--say 5 or ten grand--and his domestic activities have required frequent and monitoring from the Department of Child and Family Services. Whatever he pays in sales taxes is not 1% of his debt to the taxpayers.



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Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

18 Responses

  1. Vince Cornell says:

    I was pondering the idea of an actual “campaign finance reform” that would work (understanding that nothing of the sort would ever get put into law in this country in my lifetime). What if the source of funding for any campaign could not originate from outside the jurisdiction of that campaign? So a county sheriff could not receive any money for his campaign that originated from outside his county. A mayor couldn’t campaign with any money originating from outside that town or city. State legislators had to receive money that originated from within their district, and governors and national legislators had to receive money from within their state or, for those going to the house, their congressional districts. Finally, Presidents couldn’t receive any money originating from outside the United States.

    Again, it’s just a thought experiment with no chance of being enacted, but might such a construct prevent folks like Bloomburg from trying to buy the Virginia Governor off, or SuperPACs funded from California trying to influence politics in Alabama? Might it not even lead to the wealthy elites being forced to pick a state over which to rule, so instead of Bezos and Buffet and Zuckerberg and such all combined to rule over the country, they’d need to pick their own little fiefdom and focus their interests there? Would highly concentrated places like Silicone Valley spread out naturally? And perhaps it would get the dang Soros money off the table (that guy buys district attorneys by the dozen). Maybe this could even lead to more power and interest in local affairs vice the national level and the financial fault lines along which regional confederacies might develop?

    Just my own private thought experiment.

  2. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    You are on target, but the inability of counties, cities, and states to prevent outside money is a reflection of the broader problem, which is the usurpation by the national government of control over local commerce. Once upon a time some states prohibited banks form establishing more than one branch, while others did not permit out of state banks to opening up in their state. Communities could also prevent chain stores and fast-food joints, and small local school districts were independent of all outside control in establishing criteria for teachers, selection of tax books, organization of schools, discipline, etc.

  3. Robert Reavis says:

    The news about the senate race in Kansas is a great example of the utter nonsense we call free elections and what is actually Pelosi and McConnel working hand in hand for well, themselves.
    There were nine or ten GOP candidates planted in the election to split the ordinary Kansan’s vote so that huge advertising campaigns financed by non residents could purchase their desired candidate. Even Democrats helped finance some areas of the GOP map for the desired outcome. The news is that the never trumper won but “the facts on the ground” were that the top three GOP candidates all campaigned as huge Trump supporters. That particular primary is worth a deep look for those who still believe in naive notions of “free elections.” To understand how it’s really done not by Machiavellians, but by the audacious evil and stupid people who win win win and never grow weary of winning. In fact the only people I trust in these times are cultural losers because the only winners in today’s mass culture are the anarchists and liars who will do or say anything to destroy the culture that gave them life and a place to stand or in a more pathetic context, to kneel.

  4. Vince Cornell says:

    We had a recent Sheriff’s election here in my little rural county. The obvious choice was the guy who’d been working in the sheriff’s office for years, and was the heir apparent. But the outsider was a State Trooper who had been on the school board recently and blanketed the entire county with huge, full color photo signs a good 10 months before the election. He was driving around in a fancy, custom painted truck with his campaign logo and picture on it. He had at least 30 signs to ever 1 of his opponents, and at the polling place it was a virtual sea of signs with his name on it. He sure didn’t scratch up all that cash on his own, and it sure didn’t come from within the county.

    I’m happy to report that he lost and lost badly. So my county isn’t completely hopeless. Yet.

  5. Robert Reavis says:

    Dear Vince,
    God bless county government!
    In a happier age even our nations Senators were sent to Washington by representatives of the local states instead of appointed by “bundlers” in far away lands. Hard to imagine such a thing except in the examples such as the one you offered at the county level. (I hope it was in Fredericksburg VA. but I can’t remember if it is the seat for Caroline county or another.)

  6. Frank Brownlow says:

    Wonderful, one of the best pieces & exchanges I’ve seen here. Everyone utterly on target.

  7. Brent says:

    Many, many years ago, my father, a businessman, found himself sitting next to Anita Hill on a plane. My father, after finally putting a name to the face, introduced himself and began a conversation. (This was post-Clarence Thomas by a few years. She was then a professor, at a law school in Oklahoma, I believe.) Before long, he said, “You’re a law professor. Can I run an idea by you?” And he proceeded to outline something along the lines of what you proposed, Dr. Fleming. He said it’s a conflict of interest for people who receive more from the government than they pay in taxes to vote. They’ll naturally only vote themselves money, money that’s coming from other net taxpayers. What could be more fair than that? Professor Hill’s response? “That is the most inflammatory thing I’ve ever heard.” And that was the end of the conversation. My dad couldn’t believe it but was finally brought round on something I had been telling him for years––the liberal elite, the people I went to Harvard with, live in an alternate universe, light years away from common sense.

  8. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    I am grateful for all the good comments. The Anita Hill anecdote was precious and the descriptions of loafs government at work most useful and enlightening.

    Although this piece, which was prompted by someone else’s post on FB, was completely off-the-cuff, I have been thinking about this subject, writing about it, podcasting about it, boring friends and family, for at least 20 years. I’m going to search my computer files for something earlier and more thorough.

    I said either here or on FB that there are historical precedents for taking something like this approach, and, while I don’t want to bore my readers, something about the Greek debate over isonomia, equality under the law, might be interesting.

  9. Gregory Fogg says:

    Dr. Fleming, many years ago you advocated the abolition of all welfare, down to and including the minimum wage. I, of course stole that line but later modified it to down to and including child labor laws.

  10. Raymond Olson says:

    Good discussion, indeed.

    Vince–For some time, probably decades, I’ve advocated a policy similar to what you suggest. I propose that contributions to political campaigns be allowed only if the donor is a citizen (which is already requisite) and a constituent of the candidate the donor is trying to bribe, er, help. Hence, any citizen eligible to vote may contribute to candidates for that citizen’s congressional district, Senate seats, and the presidency. (I’m eliding state offices, but the principal would apply to them, too.) Like your proposal, it’s but a dream, I fear.

  11. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    Mr. Fogg, Child Labor Laws should be abolished not so much as part of the welfare system, which to some extent they are, but as a violation of the autonomy of the family and the rights of parents. This will be taken up in Volume III of Properties of Blood. Ray, yo are absolutely right. I have wondered if we shouldn’t ban paid campaign assistance from outside the candidate’s jurisdiction. This would be partly to clarify politics but even more to solidify community. In the same spirit I have proposed residency requirements for athletes on professional sports teams. My preference is for 10 years, but even one or two would be a step in the right direction.

  12. James D. says:

    Dr. Fleming,

    A couple things:

    Is there any way that a state could control riff raff moving in from other states? Its probably too late for Virginia and North Carolina, burdened with Northerners over the past 30 years. Idaho, especially, Boise is plagued with Californians and my own area is inundated with out-of-town hipsters and techies from the coasts.

    How do we disenfranchise all of the lobbyists and leeches who peddle their influence to win government contracts? They are essentially living on welfare too. A relative of mine worked for a very influential senator. He has now grown fabulously wealthy from joining a “private” company whose entire existence is based on handouts from the government. I told him that he is the richest welfare loafer I have ever met.

  13. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    Uder the Constitution, one could make stiff voting requirements. One difficulty has been that the business class generally welcomes all immigrants, because cancerous growth is their heart’s desire.

  14. Allen Wilson says:

    Cancerous growth, indeed. I wondered for years why all executives kept bloviating about growth, growth, growth, and ever more efficiency, ever more profit. Why couldn’t a company just reach a comfortable stasis instead, one where the company is profitable and stable over the long term, without any need for further expansion? It’s the nature of capitalism, that’s why. It would consume the entire universe if that were possible. A system based on such a drive is bound to destroy itself.

  15. Andrew G Van Sant says:

    The falling birthrate will solve everything. Fewer consumers will drive demand down and supply will follow. Capitalism is a Ponzi scheme.

  16. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    Yes, solve everything, but the solution is an Endlösung in which the old American stock yield up their land to a Lebensraum for our guests and visitors.

  17. Andrew G Van Sant says:

    But by then America will not provide a better life for anyone, except possibly those attracted to a nomadic life. Maybe Native Americans will give up their casinos and return to their traditional lifestyles. A side benefit would be that the reduced population of white tailed deer would not eat the plants in our yard.

  18. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    And think of the boom for sellers of blankets, bullets, and cheap whiskey.