Our Debauched Electorate 3

Voting should be banned for those who get government checks.

Political corruption has been with us since the beginning of the Republic, and charging your opponents with corruption is still a powerful cudgel.  Nancy Pelosi quite rightly clobbered the Republican "Culture of Corruption" in 2006; now the worm has turned and the Republicans are gleefully preparing to campaign against what we call Obama's 40 Thieves.

In the grand sweep of history, concern about corruption is quite new.  Under an absolute monarch, there really is no such thing as corruption: it's all the King's money, and he answers to nobody about what he chooses to do with it or how much he wishes to extract from his longsuffering subjects - until they revolt, anyway.  The only context where "corruption" would have a meaning for the King would be some disloyal courtier stealing from him, and absolute monarchs tend to deal with embezzlement pretty briskly.

In a republican democracy, however, the government has no money of its own, contrary to the beliefs of most of our politicians.  Every last cent is the people's money, and it is supposed to be spent on our collective behalf.  We pay the army to defend us, we pay the police to protect us, and we pay the courts to fairly administer justice to all.

Even the modern growth of government beyond its original Constitutional bounds is, at least in theory, for the good of the people.  The advertised purpose of the EPA is to make sure we all have clean air to breathe and clean water to drink, certainly a worthy goal.

Corruption in High Places...

When we find the people whom we trust with high office and power over our money lining their pockets with it instead of benefiting us, we are rightly outraged.  Rep. William Jefferson (D, LA) became a laughingstock and is now a convicted felon when the FBI fished $90,000 in cold hard cash out of his freezer; the money was part of a bribe given him in exchange for trying to direct American and foreign business to a private company that it otherwise wouldn't have gotten.

If Rep. Jefferson had been an ordinary private citizen, would he have gotten this money as payment for his superior skills as a salesman?  No; his value lay in his political power and in his position of public trust.  That power is not supposed to be for sale; the definition of corruption in this context is using your public power for private gain.

One of the strongest arguments against a large, all-powerful government is that the more areas government controls, the more opportunity for corruption there is.  If you have freedom over your private property, there's no ill-gotten gains to be made from you.  If, however, an impermeable morass of red tape and regulations govern your every move, opportunities to smooth your path with a bribe abound.

...And In Low Ones Too

It's not just politicians who can be corrupt, alas.  In modern America, there are entire subgroups of people whose votes have been corrupted by government largess.  At best, they've been bribed with their own money; at worst, with funds forcibly extracted from those who earned it and distributed to those who have not earned a dime.

Is this not precisely what is promised by inner-city Democrat politicians appealing to the welfare class?  "You have no money.  You want money, and don't wish to work for it.  Vote for me, and I'll use the law to take money from those who have earned it and give it to you instead!"  How is this any different from vote-buying, or from corruption of the Rep. Jefferson sort?

Our Founders worried about this problem, though the exact source of the pithiest quote is somewhat debated:

A democracy can exist only until the voters discover that they can vote themselves money from the public treasury.

With an economy on life support, with unemployment at levels not seen in decades, with the national debt and deficit ascending to heights not seen outside of world wars, and with no end in sight, how is it that the ruling Democrats still poll in the 40% range?  By rights they should at the very most be in the single digits, if not howled into immediate resignation by the full-throated disgust of the voters.

The reason is as simple as it is disturbing: a large plurality of the electorate has been corrupted by legal bribes in the form of cash payments made to them by "the government."

In reality, of course, that money comes from you and me, but the recipients see it as government money which will be increased by Democrats and decreased by Republicans just as wage earners expect that taxes will be increased by Democrats and decreased by Republicans.  Is it any wonder that people who receive government money vote as they do?

Before Obama even won the nomination, the Christian Science Monitor sounded a warning:

Slightly over half of all Americans - 52.6 percent - now receive significant income from government programs, according to an analysis by Gary Shilling, an economist in Springfield, N.J. That's up from 49.4 percent in 2000 and far above the 28.3 percent of Americans in 1950. If the trend continues, the percentage could rise within ten years to pass 55 percent, where it stood in 1980 on the eve of President's Reagan's move to scale back the size of government.

That two-decade shrink-the-government trend now appears over, if for no other reason than demographics. The aging baby-boomer generation is poised to receive big payments from Social Security and government healthcare programs.

Not all government payments are morally equivalent.  Welfare checks, for instance, fulfill no moral claim whatsoever; they are a gift to those who won't work.  Disabled benefits have a better moral basis because if you legitimately cannot work a civilized society really doesn't want to see you starve in the gutter.

Government employees have a moral claim also, as they are (at least in theory) doing honest work for honest pay the same as any other paid worker.  Our Social Security system has the strongest moral claim of all, since the recipients have paid in money for their entire working lives and are surely entitled to some return.

The moral basis is irrelevant to the bottom line: people who receive money from the government for any reason are naturally inclined to vote so as to grow the government, because that way they themselves personally will get more money.  Do old folks vote for politicians who plan to cut Social Security?  Do inner-city welfare mothers vote for mayors who want to slash the welfare rolls?  Do union members vote for senators who think companies should be allowed to fail if they can't make a profit rather than be bailed out at taxpayer expense?  Of course not, and for good and logical reasons based on individual self-interest.

Givers, Takers, and Stakeholders

How can we fix this critical problem?  Think about how a company runs.  No company can survive without loyal employees.  Yet many examples have shown that companies run collectively by their employees, unless they are so small that they all personally know each other, fail miserably.

Why?  Because each individual employee benefits more and sooner by voting continually for raises - even though that starves and kills the company and they eventually lose it all.

Instead, successful companies are controlled by people who put their own money into it.  We call them investors or stockholders.  Each individual stockholder might vote for a larger dividend, but that might starve the company's internal investment and reduce the value of their stock.  The tradeoff is apparent, so the decision can be wise.

As for the employees?  They have no say, unless they themselves are stockholders or have been elected to the Board of Directors by those that are.

What's the comparison to politics?  The stockholders in this great venture we call the United States of America are the taxpayers - those who, perforce, are investing their own money in its success.

The recipients of government funds - whether that be welfare, government employees, politicians, or beneficiaries of any other kind - are like the employees.  Their money source inherently makes their opinions biased and untrustworthy.

A Modest Proposal

By opening the vote to all who can breathe, we have over decades created a bankrupt nation of grasping dependents.  The surprising thing isn't how many sponges there are, it's how many productive people we still have left!

If we are ever to return to a limited government and balanced budget, it's essential that we stop the hogs from being able to vote themselves a full trough.

Fortunately, we already have an effective way to determine this: our tax returns.  Every American who earns money is required to fill one out and get it right under penalty of law.  If you don't earn any money and don't have to fill out a tax return, obviously you aren't paying any taxes; why then should you be allowed to vote?

And since the tax return also shows where your money came from, it can say whether you work for the government.  If so, you're automatically too biased towards bigger government.  You're already getting a reward from the government every two weeks; you don't need the vote, and the rest of us don't need you to have it.  The one exception, of course, is members of our military and police, who put their very lives in the service of our nation in a way ordinary workers don't.

Imagine how our nation would be changed if we restricted the vote this way, in a modern version of our Founder's old property-owner restrictions!  At one stroke, the welfare sponges and government bureaucrats would no longer control our politics.  Of course any individual one of them could at any time choose to find a private-sector job, pay more in taxes than they receive from government payments, and immediately get back the right to vote; but collectively they'd be cut off.

Then we might finally learn to live within our means, once those with an interest in living beyond our means no longer have a say.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Petrarch or other articles on Politics.
Reader Comments
What a plan! As likly as perpetual motion, unfortunately......
April 15, 2010 3:38 PM
A great plan....
April 16, 2010 4:44 PM
Well argued and have endorsed this kind of idea for a very long time. I would however disagree with the idea that government employees should not be allowed to vote.

Of course some will vote for their own personal game but that is no different then a employee of Space X voting for people that support increased dependence on private space programs. If governmental employees are not useful then they should be fired. If they are useful their opinion is just as important as anyone else's.
April 20, 2010 8:24 PM
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