Recently, Tom Perkins, a very rich venture capitalist suggested that everyone should get 1 vote for every dollar they pay in taxes, giving them influence equal to their contribution to society (or at least their tax contribution). If we were to take his suggestion and only took income tax into account, we would be turning more than 70% of the voting influence over to the top 10% of wage earners. Does this make sense? Will America be better or worse off if we do this? Are these the people we want to shape our country’s political policies? What do we know about these people except they make a lot of money? Rather than trying to look at the whole group, let’s just take a look at one of these people, Tom Perkins.
I assume Tom Perkins pays a lot of taxes and that his influence would increase if we put this plan in place. I’m not going to question his business smarts, he makes a lot of money so he must know what he’s doing. So let’s just take a look at his public policy opinions, or at least the one he just stated so publicly. He claims that taxes will lead to the economic extinction of the 1%. He can’t mean that there won’t be a top 1% of wage earner, because there will be, no matter what else happens the ability to calculate the top 1% won’t disappear. Since they won’t “disappear” his claim that they will suffer economic extinction must have some other meaning? Does he mean the current group of high wage earners will earn a lower percentage of the total income earned? Does he mean that they will be replaced by a different group of high wage earners? Does he mean they will accumulate less wealth? Does he mean they will yield less economic influence? Does he mean their life style will be impacted? Does he mean that the poor will vote to take all their money from them? I’m just not sure what he means here. What is the “economic extinction of the 1%”? I am pretty sure that I don’t want to give more votes to someone who speaks nonsense!
Let’s take this concept and look at the other end of the spectrum. Maybe from that angle he is really on to something. Under his plan who would not get to vote at all. Is America better off or worse off letting someone who pays no taxes exercise a vote? There are different ways to look at Federal Taxes and different percentages of people who pay them depending on what taxes you count. If you only consider income taxes, then it is estimated that about 43% of people don’t pay Federal income taxes. But most of these people still pay federal taxes when you include payroll taxes like social security and medicare tax. Only about 14% of people don’t pay any Federal Taxes. Don’t assume that these people are lazy, homeless people, or that they are people who chose not to contribute to society. Many of these people are disabled, senior citizens, and students. I would suggest that if you look at who actually votes in this group, that a vast majority of the group would be disabled, senior citizens, and students. I’ll ask my question again. Is America better off or worse off if we take the right to vote away from a group of disabled people, senior citizens, and students. I don’t think that would be good public policy and I don’t think I want to give more votes to someone who thinks it is.
Tom Perkins suggestion that his influence should be greater because he pays more taxes is very offensive to me. As a venture capitalist he should realize that the money he brings to the table is not the only contribution required to make capitalism work and to what makes America great. He is a venture capitalist because he has no good ideas of his own – except the idea to give money to people who have good ideas. Is his contribution really that much greater than the person who has the idea worthy of an investment? Most good ideas require the hard work of a lot of the 99% to come to fruition. Is his contribution even greater than theirs?
The offensiveness of his suggestion stirred another thought for me. Is his suggestion that money should equal votes that much different than the current Supreme Court rulings against limiting the influence of money due to the right of free speech. Does the right to free speech mean that we have to allow people with money the right to amplify their influence? The idea that he should be able to pay others as much as he wants to increase the reach and frequency of his personal right to free speech is no more just than allowing him more votes because he pays more taxes. If he wants to exercise his right to free speech he should speak! If he is too busy his right should allow him to hire one guy to speak for him! If he wants that one guy’s speech on every TV and Radio in the country all day every day that goes beyond free speech. That is buying influence in the same way a bribe is influence or paying others to vote in a particular way is influence. Using money to gain political influence can and should be regulated!
I’m glad that Mr. Perkins exercised his right to free speech. I’m thankful he said what he did. I hope that this will open a discussion about the connection between money and influence in this country. I hope others see that political influence should not be based on money in the area of voting or in the area of free speech.