Neil's News

Democratic Bugs

1 May 2003

[Scottish Socialist Party poster] For amusement I've been reading the political manifestos of the local parties. The ever-entertaining Scottish Socialist Party are pointing out that most Scots pay up to 10% of their income to local taxes. They suggest that this tax should be eliminated for most people. Instead they want to tax the rich for 20% of their income. According to their literature, 77% of the population would benefit.

This reveals a problem with the system. Under a democracy every person has one vote and all votes carry the same weight. This scheme lends itself to abuse. One would expect that poor majorities (who wield many votes) would use this power to impose crushing taxes on rich minorities (who wield few votes) and on businesses (who wield no votes). So what keeps this bug from being exploited? Why does the Scottish Socialist Party only have one elected member?

The best answer I can come up with is campaign financing. Businesses and wealthy people routinely give generously to political parties. Until now I interpreted this as a form of corruption; by-passing the democratic process to buy laws and policies. But I'm starting to think that this is a necessary defence against the tyranny of the majority. Using one flaw to offset another flaw.

They certainly didn't teach us in school that a dose corruption is required to keep democracy healthy. I'd be interested in hearing counter-arguments to this theory.

Update: #7214 points out that contrary to expectations (and contrary to the MSP who visited my house canvassing for votes) I am allowed to vote here. Not only that, but it appears that any Canadian tourist can register to vote. That's an interesting way to run a democracy. I wonder if they allow dead pets to vote too.

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