On the Other Hand...

Votes Are Too Cheap

by Jim Davies

Mr Wayne King, who was the Democrat running last year for Governor of New Hampshire, came out with a wonderful line in one of the debates with his Republican and Libertarian rivals: arguing for his plan to redistribute the school-tax burden, he said "What the State mandates, the State should pay for."

How sublime, how true! It's rare indeed for a Demopublican to argue from principle to policy (they normally either ignore principle altogether or else argue the other way around) so it was a real treat to hear him say that. In case he modestly can't remember, I caught him saying it on videotape.

Here, the sound and simple principle was, that if somebody forces you to do something you would not otherwise do, then at least he should pay for your costs in obeying his mandate. From that excellent principle Mr King concluded that since the State mandates Towns to provide schooling without direct charge or user-fee, the State should pick up the tab. Right on, Wayne!

Opposition to "unfunded mandates" is growing fast, from Sea to shining Sea. Towns are fed up with getting told what to do by States and having to tax their residents to do it, and would you know it, States are complaining quite loudly at being told by the Feds what to do and not being sent the money to pay the freight. It's all very reasonable, and I hope the movement grows very fast.

Let's Get Radical

We can extend Mr King's fine example to everything mandated by all government. Schools make up perhaps the largest single activity mandated in the State, so to be consistent, we must allow that everything else too is covered by the same principle. So let's consider some, and get right to the root of the matter.

Suppose your local, friendly Representative votes with 99 others for a mandate on all of us to get our cars emission-tested every two years, and the measure passes because most potential naysayers were out at golf that day. Suppose that the testing costs us $25 a pop and that there are half a million vehicles brought under the mandate, for a total annual cost of $6.25 million.

Following the fine principle that the mandator pays, each of the 100 who voted for that must write a check for $62,500 every year. Easy!

Will that rather heavy cost remain as a burden on the legislators? - not necessarily, for they were (we suppose) acting on behalf of those who elected them, right? - that's the theory. This will soon show if it's correct.

What each will reasonably do is to contact all those who voted for him (let's say, 2,000 people) and demand a check for $31.25 from each. Ultimately, you see, these are the people who sent the legislator to the State House and authorized him to vote for this mandate, so it's only fair that they should pick up the tab. He who mandates, pays, as Wayne King so rightly said.

But, wait! - some will object; we have a secret ballot and so he will not have any way to know to whom to send his 2,000 bills for $31.25!

Good point. I can see two ways to solve that little problem: either we abandon the secret ballot so that every voter can be held publicly accountable for what he votes for, or else we let the legislator pay the whole cost of $62,500 a year. I don't mind which, but I do offer a prediction: whoever finally pays the bill will from then onwards radically change his views about writing mandates.

Consequences

Uniformly applying this marvellous principle of "Mandator Pays" will have some far-reaching benefits. Let's suppose (after all, we live in an electronic age; there's no need to operate public affairs by a system designed for the era of the horse and carriage) that mandates are authorized by the people directly, by universal referendum. A bit like Ross Perot suggested a couple of years back, as a national and/or statewide "electronic town meeting."

Then, every time you prepare to cast a vote for some mandate, your phone would squawk the cost at you: "A Yes vote may cost you $250 a year. Press 1 for yes, 2 for no, 3 for let me think some more, have your credit card ready, please."

Here's another prediction: the number of laws that get written that way will be countable on the fingers of one hand. Voting, today, is far too cheap. This radical reform - Mandator Pays - will allocate price correctly. Further yet: there will be a firestorm of Repeal Acts, as the real cost of existing mandates gets passed along to those who actually support them - who put their money where their mouths are. Suddenly, such will be hard to find.

Schools, as presently monopolized, will be a case in point. When Mr King's fine principle gets applied consistently, the cost of forcing every child into a government school @ $5,000-plus per year will fall on to those who want to mandate the continuation of that system. They will consist of several politicians, all employees of the teachers' Unions, some teachers, and a few Marxist professors; I doubt whether many parents will want it, when they hear of better ways to spend their money. And the students? - forget it.

In all, perhaps as many as one thousand supporters of the Status Quo, for every $100 million of costs; which means each would face a bill of $100,000 a year; enough to give pause to the most fervent Marxist. The monopoly (and all school taxes) would end, and not a day too soon. That may not be quite what Wayne King had in mind, but it is exactly what his fine principle would require.

But what, some will wonder, could replace it all? - glad you asked.

It's called a "free market". The idea is easy: what you want to buy, you pay for. Being voluntary, it's the only truly moral system yet invented. We're familiar with it for many services already. It will do nicely for all the rest.

© Copyright Jim Davies 1999

Jim Davies lives in New Hampshire,
and enjoys contemplating which way is up.

The above is Edition # 88

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