Monday, February 06, 2006

"Let the People Decide"

A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine. -- Thomas Jefferson

While there shouldn't be any question about the love I have for my right wing brothers and sisters in the blogosphere, there are issues on which we occasionally depart. For me, the Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR), or Taxpayers Protection Act (TPA), or whatever they are calling it these days, is one of those issues.

I understand this puts me in the significant minority among right wing bloggers. I know my opinion will be received about as well as Clay Aiken opening for Jay-Z.

I am second to no man or woman in my belief in low taxes, less government, free markets, and business development. Before all the lefties get excited, trust me - Governor York wouldn't hesitate to cut the gravy train off. It's all a question of how we get there.

That being said, I chuckled when I saw Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce's press release in favor of of the TPA, a bill that hasn't even been circulated among legislators yet. The release (titled "Wisconsin Taxpayer Protection Amendment: Let the People Decide") contained this line:

"At WMC, we say: 'Let the people decide!'"

Oh really?

Well then, let's throw it open to a public vote and let the people decide on the following:

  • Universal Health Care

  • Withdrawing Troops from Iraq

  • Capping Gas Prices

  • Legalizing Abortion (assuming Roe v. Wade is overturned)*

  • Capping CEO Pay


  • And the list goes on and on. All of these, of course, would pass, and each would be disastrous. In every case, the discretion of our lawmakers serves as a goalie to thwart public opinion. It works the other way, too. Think carrying concealed weapons would pass a public vote? I'll put it on the board right now - what gets the higher percentage - concealed carry or whoever runs against Herb Kohl?

    As an example, WMC's release also contains this statement, which can be described as misleading at best:

    Colorado’s program also includes mandated increases in education spending above the rate of inflation- this eats into resources for other state programs and priorities before government budgets are even developed. These automatic spending hikes are not part of the Wisconsin Taxpayer Protection Amendment. Politicians will be forced to prioritize spending.

    Colorado's original program had no such provision (and I agree, any constitutional provision that mandates spending is appalling). Actually, Colorado voters came back in 2000 and passed a constitutional amendment that mandated school spending above the rate of inflation, which was in direct conflict with their TABOR. So their voters actually chose to have conflicting constitutional provisions on spending. Does anyone really think that couldn't happen in Wisconsin? You just throw out a generic "do we need to prioritize spending on schools" question on a ballot and what does it get? 60%?

    Fortunately, we don't need to have this battle about direct democracy. It was debated at length during a little known period of history known as the Founding of the United States. James Madison, credited as being the architect of the U.S. Constitution, had contempt for democracy - he famously wrote The Federalist #10, which warned of the dangers of majority rule and faction.

    Madison said:

    Democracy is the most vile form of government...democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention: have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property: and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.

    Now, no modern day lawmaker is going to argue against the wisdom of the public. But the public is famously bipolar when it comes to public policy. "The public" almost always wants lower taxes and more spending (I would settle for lower taxes and less spending). "The public" is busy fixing their cars in their driveways, starting small businesses, and taking all of Jesse Jackson's illegitimate kids to their t-ball games, and not necessarily consistent in dictating complicated fiscal policy. For that, we hire representatives to reflect our interests. If we don't like them, we vote them out.

    I think WMC does a great job advocating for the interests of employers and taxpayers. In this case, however, I have to respectfully dissent from their position. We all want lower taxes - how we get there remains the unanswered question. I think we can do it without usurping our founding principle of representative government.

    *Wisconsin law still outlaws abortion, so a proactive vote would have to be taken to keep it legal should Roe v. Wade be overturned.