Thursday, May 14, 2009

Democracy or tyranny?

"The government of the absolute majority is but the government of the strongest interests; and when not effectively checked, is the most tyrannical and oppressive that can be devised... [To read the Constitution is to realize that] no free system was ever farther removed from he principle that the absolute majority, without check or limitation, ought to govern." ~ John C. Calhoun

Lately I've been hearing all kinds of arguments about majority votes being the 'will of the people' and, therefore, justification for all types of actions that appear contrary to what our founders intended.

Primarily, these discussions are over such issues as tax levies or other taxation for which the public gets a vote. The concept being that if a majority vote to take away part of your income for something, then it must be okay because a vote was held and the majority ruled.

However, such discussions fail to ask a fundamental question, which is whether or not a vote should even be held.

You've heard the adage that democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what's for dinner? A republic is when the sheep has a gun... The fear of our founders was that a majority can impose its will on the minority, leading to tyranny by those in power/control.

Over time, the idea of majority rule has turned into tyranny - especially when the majority can decide that your property (money earned) gets to be taken forcibly from you in order to fund things that the majority want. This is especially true when it comes to certain property taxes for items like zoos or science museums.

These issues get on the ballot and then the majority gets to decide if everyone is going to pay for them - whether or not they're ever used. This is especially onerous when most people who pay for these items through their taxes are not able to take advantage of the limited 'free admission' times and end up paying a second time whenever they want to visit these publicly-funded institutions.

One of the reasons given for supporting such items is because they enhance the community. That may be true, to some people. Others will be of the opinion that they enhance the community so long as they are self-supporting. But then comes the argument that if the 'public' doesn't support them, they won't be able to provide access at reduced rates for people who are too poor to afford them on their own.

This is where the Marxist perspective comes into play: from each according to their means to each according to their needs. If the 'poor' cannot afford these things on their own, then those with money must have their money taken away from them to subsidize these ventures so that the poor can benefit from them as well. This is certainly not what our founders intended.

But, Maggie, don't we have an obligation to help the poor? Didn't our Christian-influenced founders support the idea that we need to help those less fortunate than us?

Of course - but that requirement of the Christian faith (and many others) is a personal one. It is incumbent upon each of us as individuals to do this - not the government. In fact, many teach that it's an abdication of your responsibility if you turn over your obligation to the government. And certainly, no religion teaches that you must force others to abide by your beliefs - or that charity that is mandated through laws or other means is really 'charity.'

But somehow, it has become accepted thinking that a majority gets to decide the confiscation of private property for a purported 'public' means and that those who object to such confiscation are morally bad because they don't want to 'help' those who will benefit from such confiscation.

In my ideal world, such funding votes would have different rules than they do now. If an item was on the ballot for funding, people voting 'yes' would be agreeing to split the needed amount of funding among themselves, while those voting 'no' would not be charged. This way, the vote is not to forcibly confiscate funds from everyone, but only to determine who is agreeing to let the government facilitate their 'donations' to a particular entity.

Of course, under such a rule, I doubt that we'd see so many levies and tax issues appear on the ballot because such a system is just a different method of fundraising - and if the entity was successful at fundraising (either through donations or fees charged) they wouldn't have a need for a levy or tax. Additionally, entities wouldn't be able to rely upon a very small number to support their confiscation of funds from everyone, especially when you consider that they only need a majority of people who actually come out to vote, which rarely reaches 50% eligible voters these days.

Sadly, I don't see the system changing any time soon - if ever. It's too easy to convince a minority that they can benefit at the expense of others, and make them feel okay about doing so by calling it 'democracy.'

3 comments:

Tim Higgins said...

Maggie,

This has long been one of my pet peeves as well (I still haven't gotten over COSI).

Whether it is emminent domain laws changing or levies returning to every ballot until it passes, property has begun to lose meaning in this country. People seldom realize that the original line in the Declaration of Independence was, "life, liberty, and property".

As for enhancement of community, we have a zoo, a new museum, and TARTA ... do you feel enhanced.

As for helping those less fortunate, it is not charity when government takes at the point of a gun.

Perhaps all such levies should have to be renewed annually by vote. Perhaps those asking would be more circumspect and more careful with the money received.

I wonder how many who voted for the most recent round of levies are feeling quite so generous now.

Hooda Thunkit said...

Maggie,

Very well thought out and presented!

I particularly liked the idea of those voting additional taxes and levies splitting the costs, while those voting against it NOT being required to support it/them.

I would like to further suggest that those who do not personally own property have no business even casting a vote on property tax issues...

Maggie Thurber said...

Hooda - I thought about that, but I know that those who rent cover those costs as part of the monthly fee.

However, I was thinking that those who live in subsidized housing - who are NOT paying the market rate for their homes - might be a good category to exempt from voting on property tax levies...

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