Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Meta Talking Point - The Problem With 50%+1

Sometimes our political rhetoric can reveal or obfuscate a basic truth. In order to unearth that truth, you have to go beyond the talking point, hence the name of my blog. Today, people have gotten so cynical and intellectually dishonest that it's easy to lose track of what's real. I never want a person to read this blog and leave in doubt of my own opinion or intellectual honesty.

So occasionally, I'll take some rhetoric or talking point, and then break it apart and analyze the underlying truth. This will be the first of what I hope will be many.

Yesterday, Mitt Romney had an excellent rhetorical bit: "[Obama's] campaign strategy is to smash America apart and then cobble together 51 percent of the pieces." Of course, what he neglected to mention is that any politician in the US trying to win an election is going to try and cobble together 50%+1 of the votes.

But that's the fundamental problem with many Western democracies. Having a simple majority of people voting for you means that something that's pretty damn close to a majority didn't vote for you either. In a liberal democracy (in the truest sense of the term), the majority rules while agreeing not to violate the rights of the minority.

With that in mind, can we really call our political system a liberal democracy? Yes, it takes a lot more than a simple majority to take away your freedom of speech, or your right to due process, or even your guns. But what about your money?

One of the central planks of the Obama campaign is to raise taxes on families and individuals that make more than 250,000 and 200,000 dollars, respectively. Let's say that President Obama wins reelection by 51-49%. And that enough Democrats are elected in the House to cobble together a 50%+1 majority (218 legislators).

Most political pundits would then make the claim that the Democrats have an electoral mandate to raise taxes on those high earning families and individuals. But that seems ridiculous to me. Money is extremely important to the vast majority of people, even those making 200,000 USD a year. It seems to me that just cobbling together a simple majority for one election doesn't seem like the government should have the ability to raise taxes on a minority of the country.

Multiple things can affect an election. What day the election is held on, what the weather is like, how a certain sports team in a certain region fared recently, the order in which candidates are listed on the ballot, and multiple things that are seemingly insignificant, that, in aggregate, can swing an election one way or the other. Somebody who wins an election by the barest of margins could have easily lost had the election been held a day later (or a day before).

It doesn't seem right that a simple majority cobbled together over the course of a day should have the right to deprive a minority of a certain portion of their property. But there's really nothing in our Constitution that prevents the House from voting higher tax rates on a certain segment of the population.

It's like the old saying goes. Democracy doesn't work well when 2 wolves and 1 lamb vote on what's for dinner. Government intervention in a person's private affairs has to be justified. If I deprive a person of their money, there must be a good reason. Did that person steal it? If I deprive a person of their freedom, there must be a good reason. Did that person commit a crime?

Funding the government is an important and worthy goal, but it isn't healthy if the government decides that additional funding should come from a certain minority of the population simply because it is possible. There must be a good reason.

And I don't think "because they make more money than the rest of the population" is a good enough reason for higher tax rates on high earning individuals and households. But that's just one example. I don't think a simple majority should be able to decide anything that deprives anybody of their freedom or property without that individual committing an act that deprives the freedom or property of another person.

Tyranny, whether exercised by a tyrant or a temporary majority, is still tyranny.

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