I like to read history books, and recently read something that changed my opinion.
People in this part of the internet tend to be either conservative or libertarian, while socialism is frowned upon. We’re also aware there is such a thing as the tyranny of the majority, and that democracy should not be unlimited.
This is why I sometimes hear the sentiment that only property owners should have the right to vote.
I see the reasons behind that:
1) People vote with their left foot. They don’t necessarily think things through, or read everything each candidate says before voting. That seems like a good reason to restrict voting rights, or make sure everyone can only vote after gaining a minimum of understanding of what they are voting for. In fact, there is a funny moment in history that shows the bad consequences of not knowing what you are voting for. After the 1848 revolution in France, the French people suddenly got the universal male suffrage. The peasants ended up voting for Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, simply because he was the original Napoleon’s nephew, and the name of Napoleon was associated with good things. They didn’t hear much about the other candidates. He quickly turned himself into another emperor and got all the power.
2) People shouldn’t be able to vote themselves into other people’s money. Yes, if one is allowed to vote for a candidate that promises to take from the rich and give to the poor, many people will.
This is, however, just one side of the story. 19th century England shows how things can get, if only property owners get to vote. England was the country who started the industrial revolution first, and was in the 19th century very rich and powerful partially because of all that industry. The capitalists of that time were, in theory, fans of the free market, and many books were written on how great the free market is for the wealth of a nation. However, in practice they were very unlibertarian in their deeds. In practice, people who owned land and capital also sat in the government, and did whatever they could to protect their interests.
One example is the Corn Laws. English landowners noticed that imported corn was cheaper than their own, so they imposed excessive tariffs on the imported bread, making their own bread cheap by comparison. This lead to a crappy life for wage workers. One time, they went demonstrating against it, and got mercilessly chopped up and trampled by the cavalry. The government thanked them.
Another example is artificially hobbling the bargaining powers of the wage workers by illegalizing labor unions and striking. All this lead to a crappy life for wage workers.
At the same time, certain intellectuals showed up, and told the workers that socialism is the way to go. Instead of addressing the unfair laws, socialists suggested more unfair laws, just in the opposite direction. They helped everyone learn to resent the whole system where labor is bought and sold, and everyone gets only as much as they deserve. I can hardly blame them for the resentment, even if it was misdirected.
Thus, by not allowing everyone to vote, the property owners abused their power, allowed socialism to creep in and destabilized a good thing. You can get away with exploiting and marginalizing a small portion of population, but not a large portion of the population.
So what does this mean? To me, it means that allowing only property owners to sit in the government is a bad idea. And allowing only property owners the vote might boil down to exactly that, eventually.
Poor people shouldn’t be able to vote themselves into welfare and rich people shouldn’t be able to vote themselves into artificially hobbling their competitors. The solution to both seems to be to have a constitution that can’t be changed by voting, and allowing everyone to vote.
USA has those things, more or less, but it’s still kind of a mess. I guess even if you have a good thing to begin with, it will still become destabilized one way or another, just in a different way. But exploration of those ways is a topic for another post.
What do you think? :0)
P.S. : I never studied political science or anything, so if you have, and this all sounds stupid or “well, duh” to you, bear with me.