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We all know that our country was started on the battle cry, “No taxation without representation.” Initially the reverse was true also, “No representation (voting) without taxation (owning land or a business).” We abandon the landowner requirement for voting as our country moved from farming to manufacturing. We also eliminated poll taxes for good reason. Two recent articles got me thinking about the requirements (essentially none) for voting.
The first article, How Washington, D.C. Schools Cheat Their Students Twice, WSJ, 12/1&2/12 by Caleb Rossiter, discusses the remedial program in Wa., D.C. high schools. “In Credit Recovery, students who have failed a semester-long course attend a special class after school for a few weeks and magically earn credit for it – without taking a mastery exam.” The article goes on to say that far too many of these students go on to “graduate” from high school operating at a fifth-grade level. The second article, The Crisis of American Self-Government, WSJ, 12/1&2/12, is an interview of Harvard professor Harvey Mansfield by Sohrab Ahmari. Professor Mansfield’s concern is, “We have now an American political Party and a European one. Not all the Americans who vote for the European party want to become Europeans. But it doesn’t matter because that’s what they are voting for. They’re voting for dependency, for lack of ambition, and for insolvency.” Professor Mansfield goes on to say, “What makes government dangerous to the common good is guaranteed entitlements, so that you can never question what expenses have been or will be incurred.”
How are these articles connected? Our country faces some serious long-term, complex issues. These issues will require well thought-out solutions by our elected leaders. If a significant fraction of the electorate is operating at the fifth-grade level, how will they tell the difference between candidates proposing real solutions and those peddling smoke and mirrors? We have eliminated essentially all requirements for being a voter, yet in today’s and tomorrow’s world we will need ever smarter voters.
This brings me back to my opening point, “No representation without taxation.” I propose that in order to vote in any given election, one should have paid income tax or property tax in two of the preceding four years. I can easily justify this position with the cliché, “He who pays the piper, calls the tune.” However a better justification can be found in our country’s early history, the first years of Jamestown – which I doubt few of the students discussed above have a clue about. The colony almost perished in its first couple years because too many of the colonists were ill-prepared adventure seekers rather than farmers and hunters. In the middle of winter too many starved to death with a full bag of gold and an empty pantry. The colony survived because Captain John Smith demanded, “If you want to eat, you will have to work.” The colony survived because he forced everyone to contribute to the common good- acquiring food. The same applies today. The colony (America) will only survive if there are enough producers to support all consumers, and only the producers (tax payers) of common good (government treasuries) should have a voice in how those funds are spent.
If we are to give our Grandchildren a better world, we, our children, and our grandchildren are going to have to become more informed voters than ever before. And as our world becomes more filled with computers, cell phones, and credit cards; it becomes easier to forget that everything we consume has to come from somewhere (farms and factories). Simply saying “Tax the rich” doesn’t put food in the pantry.