Dwight Lee on Whether the Poor Vote Their Financial Interest
By David Henderson
Many people worry that a majority of the voting-age population will soon pay no federal income tax and will, therefore, be motivated to vote themselves even more federal transfers. Undoubtedly, most of those paying little in taxes want more government transfers, and a large percentage of them vote for such subsidies. But the desire for transfers does not explain why recipients go to the polls, or vote for them. The fact that an increasing number of Americans pay no federal income tax does raise serious concerns. But the best hope for dealing with these concerns comes from recognizing that the desire for transfers that others will pay for has almost no effect on people’s voting behavior. This conclusion, which may surprise many people, follows directly from thinking about incentives and about opportunity costs.
This is the opening paragraph of Dwight Lee, “Do the Poor Vote Their Self-Interest?” It is one of the two Feature Articles for August.
Possibly surprising to some, Dwight’s answer to the title question is a resounding “NO.” Moreover, his case does not fly in the face of insights from Public Choice. The exact opposite is true. He bases his case on insights from Public Choice.
The whole thing is worth reading.
Interesting footnote: As editor of the piece, I was going to suggest that Dwight contrast his conclusion with that of the famous quote from de Tocqueville to the effect that once the majority gets net transfers from the minority, the culture is cooked. We often hear conservatives and, occasionally, libertarians quote this. One little problem: It appears that de Tocqueville didn’t say it.