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Thread: Academic Discussion of Politcal Systems

  1. #1

    Lightbulb Academic Discussion of Politcal Systems

    Two-Fold Purpose here:
    1) I'd like to get some reasoned feedback on a thought I had a short time ago
    2) I'd like to get the thoughts of other people about various political systems

    I'd much prefer that this didn't devolve into slurs and abuse. Using political figures, bodies, or organizations as referents and examples is fine, mentioning them merely to deride and insult is not.

    Something I've been considering over the past week or so is the problems of democracy as embodied by the contemporary United States. Per capita, voter turnout is routinely quite low, and from where I stand the vast majority of "political" discourse is abuse of the one party of another. The problem, I think, is the democracy requires an informed and interested electorate. By national law, every adult in the US is permitted to vote: damned few actually care to do so, and fewer still seem to actually understand the issues or candidates. By contrast, my impression of the electorate of Classical Athens is that they were both quite involved and very well informed. Admittedly, a much smaller state, but that got me to wondering.

    Bear in mind this is a theoretical construct, and therefore bound only by the dictates of ethics and morality, not the guiding documents and laws of any nation. I agree the franchise ought to be available to any citizen of the nation. I do feel, however, that some sacrifice ought to required. As a starting point, I'm thinking 5% of annual income. Yes, this means Bill Gates would be paying millions, perhaps billions, for the chance to vote, whereas Ida Mae Wilcox pays less than $1000. The actual price isn't the point, the point is the sacrifice: both gave up something in order to have their opinion counted. My thought is this would encourage only those who are actually informed and invested to take part on the political process.

    tldr; let's keep it polite and mature: is 5% of your income a reasonable price to pay to vote?

  2. #2

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    I disagree completely, as I believe it is a right to be able to vote, and to quote part of the UN human rights agreements:


    Quote Originally Posted by U.N. Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
    Article 25
    Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity, without any of the distinctions mentioned in article 2 and without unreasonable restrictions:
    • To take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives;
    • To vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors;
    • To have access, on general terms of equality, to public service in his country.
    In my interpretation of this, to charge for voting (whatever the amount) would amount to an unreasonable restriction on the right or opportunity to vote. While you may see no problem with the rich donating some money, consider those unfortunate enough to only just make enough money to pay the bills and support themselves. To these people every cent counts and 5% is just something they can't afford to pay, it is obviously in breach of their human rights to deny them the vote because of this. If you have a rule, then there must also be consistency, what happens with the unemployed? Do they pay nothing as that is 5% of their earnings, in which case how come they get away with it when someone stretched to the limit must pay. If we make them pay, then how how much is reasonable, and what about their financial hardships if they can't pay it, like the poor mentioned above? It is also not justified to assume unemployment is their fault, and even if it was it is not clear why they should forfeit their vote.
    Keeping with consistency, if we do say that the poorest do not have to pay, then where do you draw a line at income level for when you do have to pay. How can it be that one person gets the vote for free, but another must pay for theirs - there is no equal right there at all. So the only justifiable price is $0 for everyone.

    Let me consider now your argument for paying a sum of money to have the right: You say that there is low voter turnout, which amounts to political apathy by the majority, which is not an informed and interested electorate. You then go to say that there should be some sort of sacrifice made to be able to vote, which would encourage only the interested and informed to vote.

    Unless I misunderstand the problem here, the problem is the lack of an interested electorate, so any solution should therefore try to encourage a more interested electorate. This is where I do not get your reasoning - how will charging a fee encourage a more interested electorate? It would certainly ensure that only those that are interested and involved actually vote, but this does not actually address what we are trying to achieve, which is a getting greater number of interested electorate.
    Charging a fee is only likely to discourage those who are on the borderline of being interested from voting as their interest does not outweigh the sacrifice, those who are currently not interested are not going to become more interested as a result of the change, and those that are interested were going to go out and vote anyway. The result is a bit of capital being raised, but may quite probably result in a decreased voter turnout.

    In brief:
    Yes, the measure would increase the interest level in those who actually vote, but this does not change the amount of people interested in politics, which is actually the problem that we set out to address - it could even do the opposite. In light of that and the human rights issues as well, this is not a good idea.

  3. #3

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    I agree wholeheartedly with WoodlandWanderer. The Twenty-fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and the Supreme Court case Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections, passed in 1964 and 1966 respectively, guarantee the rights of US citizens to vote regardless of payment. Prior to those being passed poll taxes were used for the sole purpose of denying some citizens the right to vote.

    As for voter turn out, the biggest problem I see in the US is our two party system. Very little changes when you keep the same two groups in power. It creates little need for the parties to look out for their constituents, as regardless of their actions both parties will continue to stay in office.

  4. #4
    AmbezeSubHealth

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    Without a real news press what is a vote?

  5. #5

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    The U.S. right to vote is an important one - charging a fee to vote is in its essence a poll tax which was found unconstitutional in Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections.

    The net effect would be to reduce the voting population which is low enough already.

  6. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by Traemo View Post
    By contrast, my impression of the electorate of Classical Athens is that they were both quite involved and very well informed. Admittedly, a much smaller state, but that got me to wondering.
    Biased sample, and it's not close.

    The electorate of classical Athens was limited to male landowners. That's a small fraction of the population, and one weighted towards those who had strong vested economic interests in the day-to-day doings of the state, not to mention that, by virtue of being landowners, they were almost certainly better educated than average, and probably at least marginally smarter than average.

    Moreover, the issues were more local and less complicated overall - writing 2,000 page bills intended to build effective regulatory oversight over the extremely complex web of the financial-products industry is something that the public is essentially incapable of reasonably understanding. Most modern national legislation requires significant expertise to truly understand, and at least competency in sciences, statistics, macroeconomics, history, and foreign affairs in order to follow with any intelligent grasp.



    Bear in mind this is a theoretical construct, and therefore bound only by the dictates of ethics and morality, not the guiding documents and laws of any nation. I agree the franchise ought to be available to any citizen of the nation. I do feel, however, that some sacrifice ought to required. As a starting point, I'm thinking 5% of annual income. Yes, this means Bill Gates would be paying millions, perhaps billions, for the chance to vote, whereas Ida Mae Wilcox pays less than $1000. The actual price isn't the point, the point is the sacrifice: both gave up something in order to have their opinion counted. My thought is this would encourage only those who are actually informed and invested to take part on the political process.
    Any flat tax is a regressive tax. Forcing people to optionally choose to pay such a tax to have representation will result in a massive power shift to the upper classes, as they would be forced to sacrifice the least in relative terms. Using Bill Gates as an example represents a gross misunderstanding of the diminishing marginal value of money.

    Worse, all of the normal assumptions regarding the upper class minimizing their effective income to dodge the tax because they have the means and incentives to hire kick-ass accountants carry over, and thus, 5% ends up being even less to them. If we use the current, definitions of income, then anybody who is already exploiting the loophole that is capital gains will owe much less than 5% if anything at all. Using Bill Gates as an example represents a gross misunderstanding of how the super-rich currently abuse the tax code to minimize the number on Form 1040 line 43.



    So, no, this is an awful idea, as it has the practical effect of institutionalizing government by the plutocracy.

  7. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by NutFreeFruitcake View Post
    The electorate of classical Athens was limited to male landowners. That's a small fraction of the population, and one weighted towards those who had strong vested economic interests in the day-to-day doings of the state, not to mention that, by virtue of being landowners, they were almost certainly better educated than average, and probably at least marginally smarter than average.
    while agreeing with the bulk of your pointing out the lack of comparative democratic virtues, i don't agree with your final statement.

    and i don't see why people always have to make the comparison with classical athens, as regards democracy, when the elegible voters within that system not only had the prospect of real gain from voting but also were allowed to play other active parts in the process of democratic resolution.
    we don't have that, today (in the US nor in the UK). for most folk, it doesn't make any real difference which political party has control as those who comprise those parties will be the same kinds of people from the same socio-economic backgrounds as each other, and with the same self-interests. what gains can be had, by common folk, from 'democracy' are very limited and usually just token gestures.
    and the odds of a common person being able to play a decisive role in the execution of the democratic process, as a politcian or advisor, are just as restricted as the former owing to the great gap between the rulers and the ruled in culture, identity, education, association, wealth and opportunity.

    call it what you wish - plutocracy, oligarchy, etc - but it certainly isn't democracy.

    as for common folk 'paying' to vote: do they not already pay via taxation? do they not already pay with their lives and limbs in the process of working and in their fighting the wars of their rulers?
    turns out that by matters of reckoning, the common folk have already paid more than their fair share. so, for fairness, let's see the ruling classes paying the same cost in the same way.

  8. #8

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    Several very good points were raised. Additional issues that would need to be addressed were also brought to light. I like it.



    Quote Originally Posted by Traemo
    Bear in mind this is a theoretical construct, and therefore bound only by the dictates of ethics and morality, not the guiding documents and laws of any nation.
    I probably should have said any nation or body

    WoodlandWanderer, BruanHam: I take you points, however, I discard them as irrelevant inside the confines of my proposed topic. I do not consider UN Resolutions nor the US Constitution to be ethical or moral guidelines. I am willing to listen to cogent arguments as to why they should be considered such, however.

    One of the purposes of the proposal was t o ensure that those who had the franchise were actually interested in exercising it. While the gross effect would be to lower the actual number of voters, the percentage of voters who were invested in the system would increase, sharply I think.

    NutFreeFruitcake: I'm not convinced the sample was biased. I still think the average voter in Classical Athens was more invested in the system than the average voter in the modern UK. I agree that the issues have become much more complex and require a much greater degree of expertise than 2000 years ago. I'll concede that few people are capable of actually understanding everything required to legislate and run a modern state. I counter with, I never specified what precisely the voters voted on.

    I think I can see your argument that a flat tax is regressive, but I'm not sure I agree with assertion that it unfairly effects the less affluent. The intent of the 5% is to create a sacrifice that is both meaningful for everyone, but isn't inherently out of reach of anyone. A blatant "nuh-huh", again the means for determining what is and isn't income wasn't specified. Theoretically, this could negate tax shelters and accounting tricks to minimize the actual cost. I will concede I don't understand micro- and macro-economics as well as I probably should; I cannot think of a method of fairly imposing a meaningful sacrifice to serve this purpose. Can you?

    ade: I suspect Athens is brought up so often because it is the classic example of actual democracy.

  9. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by Traemo View Post
    NutFreeFruitcake: I'm not convinced the sample was biased. I still think the average voter in Classical Athens was more invested in the system than the average voter in the modern UK. I agree that the issues have become much more complex and require a much greater degree of expertise than 2000 years ago. I'll concede that few people are capable of actually understanding everything required to legislate and run a modern state. I counter with, I never specified what precisely the voters voted on.
    The sample is biased because it is weighted towards people who have greatly increased incentives and high relative ability as compared to the typical member of the population. They were more invested because the average voter had reasons why they'd be more invested.

    Also, why would it matter that you never stated what the voters voted on? We can reasonably assume that their lawmaking involved more easily-approachable topics than our own.



    I think I can see your argument that a flat tax is regressive, but I'm not sure I agree with assertion that it unfairly effects the less affluent. The intent of the 5% is to create a sacrifice that is both meaningful for everyone, but isn't inherently out of reach of anyone.
    Since money experiences diminishing marginal returns, such that the 100th dollar is less useful than the 1st and the 1,000,000th dollar is less useful than the 100,000th, a 5% tax on a $20,000 income is a higher real burden for the earner than a 5% tax on a $2M income.

    Since such is the case, we can confidently expect to have more lower-earners opt-out than higher-earners, as the monetary incentives line up as such.



    A blatant "nuh-huh", again the means for determining what is and isn't income wasn't specified. Theoretically, this could negate tax shelters and accounting tricks to minimize the actual cost. I will concede I don't understand micro- and macro-economics as well as I probably should; I cannot think of a method of fairly imposing a meaningful sacrifice to serve this purpose. Can you?
    Frankly, you cannot invent a tax scheme which people with enough money to stand to save significantly by hiring top-notch experts to structure their income will not do so. Thus, no, you really can't design a system that will evenly enforce a 5% flat tax. Any attempt you make is going to fall short with respect to the higher incomes specifically.

  10. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by Traemo View Post
    WoodlandWanderer, BruanHam: I take you points, however, I discard them as irrelevant inside the confines of my proposed topic. I do not consider UN Resolutions nor the US Constitution to be ethical or moral guidelines. I am willing to listen to cogent arguments as to why they should be considered such, however.
    I'm afraid I don't understand how you can discard all of my points as irrelevant. Even if we ignore current constitutions (I'll come back to that) then the arguments regarding the effects of a flat tax on the lower income band, are directly relevant to what you are proposing.
    In regards to constitutions I will will accept that if we are considering a fictional country then we can do away with what is stipulated by the U.S. constitution, as that applies to only one country in the world. The UN on the other hand has 192 member states - which is most countries on earth. Given the wide membership, it is reasonable to assume that human rights charters agreed here reflect the views of the majority of people; and therefore should be taken into account when governing a country, even if it is under no-one's jurisdiction.

    I would appreciate it if you could highlight precisely which of my points you consider to be irrelevant, otherwise I cannot properly defend them.

    Quote Originally Posted by Traemo View Post
    One of the purposes of the proposal was t o ensure that those who had the franchise were actually interested in exercising it. While the gross effect would be to lower the actual number of voters, the percentage of voters who were invested in the system would increase, sharply I think.
    If this was your intention then I will accept that some of my arguments are now irrelevant. However I do not interpret your original post to have the aim and meaning you state here; so until you clearly set out what the problem you are trying to solve is, and what you wish to end product to be, I stand by my original arguments as relevant.

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