When I moved to Phoenix in 1986, the sales tax was 6.7%. Today it stands at 9.3%. How have we let our state legislature, county, and city councils raise our taxes so? Well, actually, they didn’t. We did! Correct me if I’m wrong, but every sales tax increase in Arizona, Maricopa County, and Phoenix, except the recent food tax, has been approved by us at the ballot box.
That’s democracy for you. Aristotle, Polybius, and the Founding Fathers all warned about the evils of democracy. Tocqueville called it the tyranny of the majority. In our case, the majority votes to raise taxes, collected mostly from the rich, to distribute as gifts among themselves.
But hey! We are doing it for the kids. We are doing it because we need more cops and firefighters to protect us. Spending ever-increasing amounts of money on schools, most of which goes to bureaucrats, is not “spending” but an “investment.” An investment in the future.
Just about every year we have tax increases on the ballot. Some fail, but some pass. The result is steadily rising taxes. But when we voted to raise taxes for more police and fire, Phoenix announced cutbacks just a few months later. Taxes rose while the number of police and fire remained largely unchanged. It was all a big shell game. A trick to raise our taxes.
So why do we fall for it time after time? More than 2000 years ago, Polybius wrote that the people become “accustomed to feed at the expense of others and to depend for their livelihood on the property of others.” We just can’t help ourselves. If we didn’t receive our free schools for the kids, our free police and fire services, our cheap public transportation, our welfare, our unemployment, and our food stamps, we’d all suffer the consequences.
Most of you may find this a shock, but I hate democracy. I hate referendum and initiative. Politicians use it to skirt responsibility, saying that they weren’t the ones who raised taxes. Public unions use it to push for bigger government.
Our Founders knew the evils of democracy. Democracy had its place in American cities of the 1700s, at a very small local level, but the Founders knew that it could not work for large numbers of people. It only worked in small communities where just about everybody knew everybody else. The largest American city back then had just 100,000 people or so. Phoenix with well over a million people, Maricopa County with three million people or so, and Arizona with six million or more are just too large for democracy. That’s why the Founders made the US a republic. Except possibly for small communities, all our governments should be republics.
Democracy is based on majority rule. Republics are based on rule of law. I prefer the protection of stable and well-known laws than the whims of the public. The public’s job is not to vote for higher taxes or more “free gifts” either. As Jefferson said, the people are the “ultimate, guardians of their own liberty.” That is our job. To protect our liberty. Protect our liberty from foreign invasion. Protect it from our government. Protect it from each other.
So what is the true purpose of ballot propositions? Are they to defend our liberty? Sure doesn’t seem that way. Or are they designed to trick us and grow government? Based on our history, it sure seems that way.