New York Times Deal Book: The Tom Perkins Theory of Taxation and Representation, by William Alden:
This time, Tom Perkins knew he was courting controversy.
Mr. Perkins, the 82-year-old venture capitalist who caused a stir last month when he said in a letter to the editor of The Wall Street Journal that protesters criticizing the wealthy were similar to Nazis, has fully embraced a new role as a spokesman for the beleaguered “1 percent.” In a conversation with a Fortune magazine editor at a San Francisco event on Thursday, Mr. Perkins spent an hour riffing on his position that the wealthiest Americans are being unfairly treated.
One major theme was taxation. Many wealthy businessmen argue that the rich pay too much in taxes. Mr. Perkins goes several steps further.
“The Tom Perkins system is: You don’t get to vote unless you pay a dollar of taxes,” he said at the end of the interview, explaining that he had spent some time formulating this theory. He cited Thomas Jefferson and Margaret Thatcher to provide ideological precedent.
“But what I really think is, it should be like a corporation. You pay a million dollars in taxes, you should get a million votes,” he said. “How’s that?” The remark drew laughter from some in the audience, who apparently thought the investor was joking. In a summary of the event, a Fortune reporter wrote: “Perkins later said offstage that what he meant was that, with 50 percent of registered U.S. voters not paying taxes, ‘we got ourselves into a mess.’”
Perkin's off-the-cuff proposal is a political non-starter, of course, but not without precedent. In the 19th Century, for example, Sweden used a complex system of weighted voting that gave wealthier voters greater voting power than poorer voters. I'd be interested to know how economic and political historians assess that period of Swedish history for growth, fairness, security, order, and so on. (If only I had an intern to put on that research project!)
My guess, however, is that in modern society a system of weighting votes by taxes paid would be a disaster. As I've noted before, I'm a big fan of Jerry Pournelle's The CoDominium science fiction series. In it, as Wikipedia explains:
The United States of the CoDominium Era is a welfare state divided into two classes: Citizens and Taxpayers. "Citizens" are welfare dependents who are required to live in walled sections of cities called "Welfare Islands." People are given whatever they need, including the drugs like Borloi to keep them pacified. There are no limits to how long they can stay on welfare, except that they must live in a Welfare Island. Although people are free to gain an education and work or become a colonist, many citizens did not, preferring to live their whole lives supported by the government. Generally citizens are uneducated and illiterate. Some BuReLoc involuntary colonists are Citizens. By the late CD era, the Welfare Islands were three generations old. "Taxpayers" are the working, educated, and privileged upper class. They carry identification cards to separate them from Citizens.
We need to make sure everybody has skin in the game, not just the top few percent. Everybody ought to vote and everybody ought to pay taxes.