The Null Device

Feudalism with American characteristics

The latest idea to emerge from the US's Tea Party movement: the president of a group calling itself the Tea Party Nation has called for voting rights to be restricted to property owners:
PHILLIPS: The Founding Fathers originally said, they put certain restrictions on who gets the right to vote. It wasn’t you were just a citizen and you got to vote. Some of the restrictions, you know, you obviously would not think about today. But one of those was you had to be a property owner. And that makes a lot of sense, because if you’re a property owner you actually have a vested stake in the community. If you’re not a property owner, you know, I’m sorry but property owners have a little bit more of a vested interest in the community than non-property owners.
Of course, a lot of home owners don't actually own their homes as such; the banks own the majority share of them. Taken literally, this would either restrict voting to the minority who own property outright or give the banks a legitimate block vote, along with property-holding corporations. (Given that, in the US, corporations are legally considered to be individuals, to the point where restricting corporate political donations was considered an infringement of their Constitutionally-guaranteed right of free speech, corporations dominating a property-based voting system is not implausible.) Those who don't own property would, in effect, become second-class citizens, a sort of peasantry, and America, one of the first nations to never have had aristocratic titles, would be well on the path towards reinventing feudalism with American characteristics.

(See also: Libertarian Monarchism, or why absolute monarchy looks like a better way to maintain property rights and thus freedom, if you squint, tilt your head at a certain angle and smoke a lot of crack.)

There are 2 comments on "Feudalism with American characteristics":

Posted by: Greg Sat Dec 4 00:20:59 2010

It's interesting to propose that power over decision-making be distributed according to the size of individuals' vested interest in the thing about which decisions are being made. ("... property owners have a little bit more of a vested interest in the community than non-property owners.") After all, many smaller organizations purport to work that way. (Though I suspect these claims fail under scrutiny.)

Some people would counter your argument that people buying houses wouldn't get the vote they think they're entitled to because it would go instead to the bank that lent them the money, by arguing that paying a mortgage exposes the borrower, just as much as it does the lender, to property price fluctuations. However there is a counter-argument to that in turn: property prices are not the only measure of the quality of a society.

Posted by: Greg Sat Dec 4 00:27:50 2010

Taken to its logical conclusion, the 'vested interest' principle runs into other problems too. Should owners of large properties have more say than owners of small ones? If so, how finely-grained should the differentiation be? Are there simply 'large', 'small' and 'non' property-owners, or do we use a more complex calculation, such as the tax bracket system. And what about investors in non-property assets such as shares, gold, futures or fixed-interest - do they get to vote too? What if they move their investments into property just before an election and out again just afterwards - is that cheating?

Or perhaps the size of one's property should not be taken as the measure of one's stake in the community. Perhaps it's *relative* size that matters. For example if my only asset is a house in Rowville, my psychological commitment to Rowville is large, whereas someone who owns two houses in Rowville and seven in Reservoir doesn't have my commitment to Rowville and might even be a traitor - no vote for them!