11.05.2008

Massachusetts Rejects Second Tea Party

With the three statewide ballot questions yesterday, MA voters were presented with variations on a theme. That theme was "Individual rights... essential or expendable?"
  1. Should the state income tax be abolished? (Do individuals have the right to keep the money they earn, or is the government justified in seizing it?)
  2. Should possession of small amounts of marijuana be made a civil fine rather than a crime? (Do individuals have the right to do what they will with their own bodies?)
  3. Should greyhound racing be abolished? (Do property owners have the right to use their property however they see fit as long as they don't violate another person's rights, or do dogs have rights that trump a man's rights?)
In this land that was a seat of the Revolution, with great men like John and Samuel Adams proudly fighting for liberty, the voters answered with a confused, weak, conflicted muddle that amounted to "hunh?"

The proposal to abolish the income tax was defeated overwhelmingly, and greyhound racing was banned. On the other side, holding small amounts of marijuana will now only be grounds for a civil penalty.

Overall, this is disappointing, but not at all surprising. It simply shows the extent to which people no longer think in principle. What they do respond to, however, is base emotionalism and arguments from fear.

Question 1
Unions--especially the teacher's union--raised significant amounts of money to oppose Question 1 and incessantly ran TV and radio spots playing on irrational fears that ending the income tax would bring with it the end of life as we know it. They described school closings, layoffs of firemen and police, crumbling roads, etc. In essence, they said "Think of the children!", and "Imagine your house burning down with no firemen to save you!"

This appeal worked both because people use pragmatism and emotion as decision-making tools, and also because there was no principled defense of property rights given by Question 1 proponents.

The initiative, spearheaded by the Committee for Small Government, has Libertarian Carla Howell as its leader. True to those Libertarian roots, they never bothered to present a reasoned argument for why the state income tax is wrong. They stated that "government is too big" as if that was all that needed to be said. They spoke of government waste, how voting against the measure would send the "please give us more of the same" message, and how the average resident would retain nearly $4000.00 of their own money each year. Those are all true statements; true but insufficient.

But when confronting an opponent that plays to base fears and relies on the ingrained reliance of the populace on the nanny state, a principled repudiation of taxation is needed, founded on the fundamental right to property. Howell and the CSG failed to do that.

Questions 2 and 3
The other two questions were not as obviously fundamental, but nevertheless, dealt with individual rights.

Massachusetts voters chose to reduce the prohibition of marijuana. Though it doesn't go far enough, this is a positive sign that people still respect the fact of another person's right to their own body. That Question 2 passed likely says more about the evolving cultural acceptance of the drug than it does of the public's grasp of the individual rights issue. But in this election year, we must take what small glimmer of a silver lining we can get.

On the other hand, responding to the emotional appeal to protect cute little doggies, the voters chose to revoke the right of businessmen to choose dog racing as their business. Some voters explicitly think that dogs somehow have individual rights that compete with a man's, and thus it is moral and just to ban the practice in the name of dog safety. But the majority of voters simply didn't consider that a dog track owner has a fundamental right to run his business, and that dogs are property. As such, no one has the right to outlaw that or any other business.

Just as the First Amendment guarantees the freedom of speech, even if it is speech that is abominable or disgusting, property rights guarantee that one is free to dispose of his property as he wishes, even if it's in a way that others find reprehensible, as long as he does not violate any other person's rights.

The Bottom Line
Massachusetts voters missed a golden opportunity to stand up and fight, in principle, for their property rights, both in keeping the money they earn and operating a business of their choosing. Nearly 235 years ago, Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty protested the Crown's interference in the economy of the Colonies by dumping 45 tons of tea into Boston Harbor. Yesterday, the citizens of Massachusetts were handed the chance to throw off one of the many yolks of tyranny anround our necks, and we responded by saying we like it just fine where it is.

2 comments:

LB said...

I still cannot believe that Question 3 passed! How can it even be legal for a bunch of people to get together and decide to deprive a small group of other people of their chosen profession or the rights to use their property as they see fit?

Don't like dog racing? Don't go!

To me, this is truly the most frightening and revolting thing that was decided yesterday. We suspected it for a long time, but now it's official: this state has gone to the dogs.

C. August said...

Good one.

Though I can see how it's easier for people to conveniently forget that they are voting away the rights of someone else, with the implicit cozy thought that nothing like that would ever happen to them.

What I can't believe is that people would voluntarily choose to continue the income tax, simply based on irrational fear. The last time the question was on the ballot, it nearly passed, and that scared the crap out of the unions and the pols. However, I think it was a more accurate picture of peoples' gut reactions (implicit values? I wouldn't go that far...).

But after the government ad machine -- and Deval Patrick's well-timed threat to cut $1 billion from the budget -- scared everyone into thinking that their kids would have no schools, their houses would burn and their cars would fall off crumbling bridges... well, the rest is history.