Saturday, September 17, 2005

Column on Property, Voting, and Taxation

[Please always proof columns before use.]

Property, Voting, and Taxation

Tibor R. Machan

The poll tax has properly been struck down in American law?one need not
be a property owner or pay any fee in order to vote.

OK, but may be this is obsolete. Arguably, it is an ideal that fits a
kind of government that does not sanction coercive, political wealth
transfers?theft by remote control. That is to say, when a government is
properly limited to its minimal function of securing our rights?in terms
of the Declaration of Independence?s theory of just government?then the
limited voting power should be available to all citizens. We all do have
an just concern with the performance of government officials as protectors
of our basic rights.

The poll tax idea can make sense because so often American governments go
way beyond their proper function and get involved in all sorts of coercive
wealth redistribution. Following the idea of no taxation without
representation, in a somewhat roundabout fashion, a modern poll tax policy
would support the idea of ?no representation without property,? since
those who represent voters turn out to have all kinds of power to use and
dispose of other people?s property. If you have no property, then, you
should not be involved in deciding who will be representative in this game
of wealth distribution. Just stands to reason?not stake, no vote.

The remedy of eliminating any poll tax and having to own property as
qualification for voting makes sense, however, when the vote is not a
means by which people may confiscate other people?s wealth. Yet that is
exactly what the vote has become, as some famous and prescient thinkers
had forecast many moons ago. The idea is simple: Send enough folks to
Congress who will simply vote into ?law? taxation measures against those
who have wealth and, then, once they have been taxed good and hard, send
the money to those who voted them into office (not before, though, taking
a good bite for themselves for their services of performing legalized

Some would justify this by the claim that ?we have decided this, so no
one can complain.? But that?s dishonest and means to achieve, by
linguistic trick, something that is morally vile.

Just imagine that a German responds to a complaining Jew who protests
having been sent to concentration camp, saying, ?But we have decided this,
so you shouldn?t complain. It?s the will of the people.? Balderdash. It is
no such thing. It is the will of some people and it comes to trampling on
the will of other people, plain and simple. Which is exactly what this
taxation scheme comes to, as well: by means of the bugaboo of majority
vote?that is, what has come to be the tyranny of majority?some get to rob
others of the fruits of their labor, their good fortune, and their savvy
commerce. By what right? None.

This idea that majority vote makes everything fine is becoming more and
more insidious and we can see it clearly now in the newly created
semi-democratic Iraq where it seems like a majority will simply run
roughshod over a minority, where religious fanatics of one stripe will
oppress religious minorities of another, not to mention all the secular
inhabitants of the country.

This illiberal democracy, critiqued adroitly by Fareed Zakaria, in his
The Future of Freedom (Norton, 2003), is, of course, also a direct threat
to democracy itself, to the proper kind. Just recall how Adolph Hitler
managed to get to be supreme ruler of The Third Reich! By the unrestrained
democratic method that was afoot in the Weimar Republic, that?s how. How
do lynch mobs work? Quite democratically, thank you.

This view, then, that so long as it?s all done democratically, it is
morally and politically unobjectionable is nonsense, a ruse that?s
convenient for those who want to live off other people. No doubt,
sometimes it is understandable why people are eager to gain the support of
others resources and labor, but this, from the moral point of view, needs
to be obtained voluntarily, not via expropriation and conscription.

So, yes, there should be no requirement of owning property in order to
vote. However, there should be no opportunity to vote measures into law by
which some people confiscate the belongings of others, by which they
coerce others to work for them. Let generosity flourish, but never at the
point of a gun even if it?s held by the majority.

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