Friday, May 3, 2013

Should Everyone Have the Right to Vote?

Limiting the right to vote, is this a step on the road to freedom and away from oppressive government? Richard Ebeling says "yes."

Thinking an Unthinkable: No Voting Right for Those Living at the Taxpayer’s Expense

by Richard Ebeling

One of the most sacred ideas in our democratic era is the belief in the universal and equal right of all citizens to have the voting franchise. Yet, some have argued against this “right.” But their challenge to an unlimited right to vote has not been based on grounds of gender, age, or property ownership.

One such critic was the famous British social philosopher and political economist, John Stuart Mill. In his 1859 book, “Reflections on Representative Government,” (Chapter 8, ‘Of the Extension of the Suffrage’), Mill argued that those who received “public assistance” (government welfare) should be denied the voting franchise for as long as they receive such tax-based financial support and livelihood.

Simply put, Mill reasoned that this creates an inescapable conflict of interest, in the ability of some to vote for the very government funds that are taxed away from others for their own benefit. Or as Mill expresses it:

“It is important, that the assembly which votes the taxes, either general or local, should be elected exclusively by those who pay something towards the taxes imposed. Those who pay no taxes, disposing by their votes of other people’s money, have every motive to be lavish and none to economize.

“As far as money matters are concerned, any power of voting possessed by them is a violation of the fundamental principle of free government . . . It amounts to allowing them to put their hands into other people’s pockets for any purpose which they think fit to call a public one.”

Mill went on to explain why he considered this to be especially true for those relying upon tax-based, redistributed welfare dependency, which in 19th century Great Britain was dispersed by the local parishes of the Church of England. Said Mill:

“I regard it as required by first principles, that the receipt of parish relief should be a peremptory disqualification for the [voting] franchise. He who cannot by his labor suffice for his own support has no claim to the privilege of helping himself to the money of others . . .

“Those to whom he is indebted for the continuance of his very existence may justly claim the exclusive management of those common concerns, to which he now brings nothing, or less than he takes away.

“As a condition of the franchise, a term should be fixed, say five years previous to the registry, during which the applicant’s name has not been on the parish books as a recipient of relief.”

I would suggest that the same argument could be extended to all those who work for the government, for as long as they are employed by the government they are directly living off the taxed income and wealth of others.

And if it is said that government employees pay taxes, too, the reply should be that if you receive a $100 salary from the government and pay in taxes, say, $30, you remain the net recipient of $70 of other people’s money and are not a contributor to the costs of government.

Extending this logic a little further, I think that the same case could be made that all those who live off government expenditures in the form of government contracts or subsidies, should likewise be excluded from voting for the same conflict of interest reasons.

Such individuals and their private enterprises may not be totally dependent upon government expenditures for their livelihood. A rule might be implemented that to be eligible for the right to vote: no individual or the private enterprise from which he draws an income should receive (just for purpose of example), say, more than 10 percent of his or her gross income from government spending of any sort.

If such a voting restriction had been in affect 100 year ago, it is difficult to see how the government could ever have grown to the size and cost that it now has in society.

In turn, if there were any way to implement such a vote-restricting rule, it is equally hard to see how the current, gigantic interventionist-welfare state could long remain in existence. Government, no doubt, would soon be cut down to a far more limited and less intrusive size.

Our dilemma, today, is that, to use John Stuart Mill’s phrase, we have a political system in which many who have the right to vote, use it “to put their hands into other people’s pockets for any purpose which they think fit to call a public one.”

Unless some way is found to escape from our current political situation, to use Frederic Bastiat’s words, in which the State has become the “great fiction” through which everyone tries to live at everyone else’s expense, we are facing a fiscal and general social crisis that may truly be destructive of society in the coming years.

Dr. Richard Ebeling is Professor of Economics at Northwood University and the discoverer of the "Lost Mises Papers"


  1. What is the value of a fantastic idea which is completely impossible to implement given the current political order?

    Though the degrees of determining who is accepting too much government money would be impossible to sort out without a horrible new bureaucracy. Just saying "how about 10%?" glosses over all the excruciating details. Do the employees of a privately owned McDonald's located on a military base still get to vote? How many transactions or shell companies are needed to 'cleanse' the (snerk) dirty federal money? We'd end up with all the federal workers shuffled into contractor companies shielded just on the other side of whatever distance threshold is decided. In quantitative terms the size of government would shrink dramatically! Not in real terms though...

  2. I agree. I would also add that any voting for items that affect property taxes that you must be a landowner to vote for the very same reason.

  3. As a state employee, this a good question. I would at least start denying voting those who receive welfare or those types of assistance and have the right to vote to land owners. Of course what is property? Stocks, bonds, land, car, and such are property.

    The other issue is that everyone is touched by government largess. There are plenty of 'private' companies that make most of their money from local, state, and federal contracts. I saw Forbes or some other article that had a list of the top 10 defense contractors and the number of employees; that was almost a million people.

  4. Maybe in an ideal world, but all this would do is give power to the republican establishment and we all have seen how well that worked from 2000-2008...

    It is simply common sense -- it's your tax ; you should have a say in how it's spent

    1. Absolutely! The franchise has become a complete joke, since the parties work together whenever necessary to crush reformers, and we are left to simply validate their choice of candidates. My own (equally doomed, obviously) suggestion is a simple check-off box on your 1040 form, right at the top, directing to which department(s) your taxes should be sent, or if you would rather prefer to pay off the debt, since further borrowing would be unnecessary. Congress, being now almost completely unneeded, would be free to go pack sand, along with the many now-unfunded, unwanted bureaucracies.
      Thank you; I'll be here all week...

  5. I've been advocating this idea for years. When people hear my rationale, they look at me like I've committed a heinous crime or something. Evidently they've been brainwashed into thinking that voting is indeed a right, no matter how ultimately destructive it is.

    This is the critical difference between a constitutional republic that our founders gave us, and the democratic mobocracy that we endure today. The latter is inherently unstable and inevitably regresses into a growing parasitic class feeding off a shrinking host. We're in the final death throes.

  6. Indeed!

    ...And if one works for a company that receives government largess (in the form of bailouts or subsidies), you should not be able to vote, neither should you or the company be able to donate to their campaign efforts!

  7. If A pays twice as much in tax as B, should A have 2 votes?

  8. Professor Ebeling is a great economist but this idea was DOA when Mills first thought of it. Justice can only come when people deal with each other through voluntary exchange. Voting in government elections is the opposite and should be abandoned.

  9. There's logic behind it which means it would never happen. That said I would still choose to advocate ignoring the bastards. Rather than extol the virtues of voting to those who paid taxes I'd choose to point out that it is still theft and the whole thing is a sham.

  10. If those paying taxes and not receiving benefits were the only ones who could vote then yes government would shrink. Voting however would then be skewed to favour parties who lowered the benefits available (sensible to a point!). Would you then have people on benefits who were just eating porridge and housed in old shipping containers? What if a taxpayer then fell on hard times and had to experience the effect of their previous voting decisions? They'd want to change it I'm sure but then they wouldn't be able to!!

    If you are to discriminate on who can vote it should be based on intelligence and the ability to ignore sensationalist media headlines and look for political parties that actually have a long term strategy and understand what their policies were.

  11. Trying to fix voting is like trying to fix government. Why would you want to try? It's like saying rape would be fine if only gentle people were allowed to rape.