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Theft by ballot is still theft

Theft by ballot is still theft

Ronald M. Nate, Ph.D.
September 16, 2022

A man is walking down the street when a thug confronts him with a gun and says, “Gimme your wallet!”  Such theft is a crime. Nobody deserves to fear for their life and property this way. 

But what if the man is confronted by a posse of five gun-wielding thugs?  Clearly, that’s no better and still theft. Does a mass of 100 thugs change the injustice?  Nope, still theft.  But is it any different if the group of thieves is a bare majority of the voting public electing to take your property for their benefit, backed by the force of government?  

A few weeks ago, 1,212 voters in the Madison School District voted to extend a $2 million dollar levy for another two years. Each property owner in the district must pay $83 for every $100,000 of taxable value on their property for two years. Failing to do so will result in lawsuits and/or the extreme consequence of taking their entire property. A slim majority of voters may have well just said, “Gimme your wallet,” with the hired gun of government force at their backs.  

And “slim majority” is not an exaggeration; 1,181 voters opposed the levy, while 1,212 voted in favor  The 31-vote margin is as close as they come. Consider there are over 10,000 registered voters in the district; those voting for the levy do not represent anything close to a majority of those eligible to vote, nor of the total number of property owners. The few demanded money from the wallets of the many.  

And that’s not all. The school board asking for the levy promised employees pay increases and restoration of pay for furlough days if the levy vote was successful. The district is the second largest employer in the county, employing over 800 people. It’s easy to see how those most directly benefiting from the levy — district employees and their families — were eager to vote largesse from their neighbors and local businesses. The theft is real. 

In cases where those who directly benefit from the taxation are allowed to vote wealth away from those who just want to be left alone (especially in times of high inflation and already high property taxes), how can one call it anything but theft? We should be better than this. 

All this explains why supermajorities should be required in all cases of votes for levies and bonds.  

That said, is it still in any way fair and proper for a super majority to vote to take wealth from those around them.  Back to the man on the street analogy, would he feel any less victimized if the thug posse consisted of 90% of his community neighbors? Probably not. Taxation often feels the same as theft. 

Finally, the very low turnout also exposes another advantage for the taxing entity. If the election date is not well-known except by those with a vested interest, it makes it easier to pass bonds and levies. The dates for all bonds and levies should coincide with other elections like primaries and general elections. This gives the district and the people more opportunity to inform and be informed about what the election means for them and their taxes. Higher turnout dilutes special interests.

Taxation, especially by direct voting of those vested in the taxation, is theft. So, does this mean if we eliminate theft by taxation we would eliminate government? Not by a long shot. There are other ways to fund government.  We haven’t always had property taxes or income taxes, but government still existed and functioned. User fees, tariffs, and donations are alternatives to the theft of taxation. These methods would all incentivize government to be more limited and more efficient. They would be more responsive to those they serve. In the end, slim majorities wouldn’t be able to use the lever of taxation to commit theft from their neighbors anymore. Persuasion is almost always better than force, and voluntary exchange is better than theft. 

Ronald M. Nate, senior policy fellow at the Idaho Freedom Foundation, is an economics professor at BYU-Idaho, holds a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Connecticut, and is a state representative for Idaho Legislative District 34. 

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