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Hudson '14: To my outraged readers

By Oliver Hudson

Opinions Columnist

Published: Sunday, November 18, 2012

Updated: Sunday, November 18, 2012 23:11

Last week, I wrote a column about universal suffrage that provoked campus-wide outrage (“Universal suffrage is immoral,” Nov. 13). I have not read enough of the comments to determine if more people believe I am Mussolini or Stalin — Hitler was thrown in a few times for good measure.

Some responses from readers were respectable criticisms of my argument, but most distorted my message. I will now address a few of the misrepresentations.

First, many claimed that I am arguing that some people are superior to others. I never made a claim about any person’s self-worth. I argued if somebody pays more in taxes, he or she should have more voting power. But my critics inferred that more voting power implies superiority. My view, incidentally, is every person deserves respect as an individual, and no person is any better than anyone else.

Second, I was lectured about my misunderstanding of democracy and America’s founding tenets. Yes, my proposal is undemocratic. But the United States of America was not meant to be a democracy. In fact, the founders despised democracy. James Madison, the “father of the Constitution,” argued in the famous Federalist 10 that democracy is an undesirable form of government, incompatible with “personal security or the rights of property.” Thomas Jefferson, who penned the words “all men are created equal,” said of democracy: “A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where 51 percent of the people may take away the rights of the other 49.”
The founders established a republic, not a democracy, and deliberately did not give a vote to everyone. In the original text of the Constitution, those eligible to vote for representatives in the House “had to have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature.” Then, many states only allowed the vote to white male property owners. U.S. senators were appointed by state legislatures. I am not endorsing the voting restrictions at the time of our founding. I am pointing out that universal suffrage was not among America’s founding principles.

Third, many say the government acts on non-economic as well as economic issues, so it is wrong to apportion the vote based on economic contribution. There is no such thing as a non-economic issue. Any government action, even if not explicitly economic, must be implemented or enforced with some mechanism — a court system, for example. This costs money. Thus, the government is only able to act to the degree of expected tax revenue collected. Therefore, the “non-economic argument” offers little resistance to apportioning the vote by taxes.

Fourth, many claim that my voting scheme prevents upward mobility. History disagrees. The late 19th-century United States, the “awful” Gilded Age that I want to drag us back to, witnessed the greatest increase in the standard of living of the average man than any other time period. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average annual income of nonfarm workers rose by 75 percent from 1865 to 1900, after adjusting for inflation. Between 1860 and 1900, America’s per capita wealth increased from $500 to $1,100.  Government during the Gilded Age was very limited. The government did little besides maintaining tariffs and the postal service. The tremendous economic growth benefiting the average man in the late 19th century was not a result of votes at the ballot box.

Finally, I was, of course, called a racist. It is true that my proposal would give more voting power to whites than non-whites. This is an effect of the proposal — the purpose is not racist. The effect of choosing the fastest runners for the U.S. Olympic Sprinting Team leads the team’s roster to have a disproportionate number of African Americans. Does that mean the act of choosing the fastest sprinters is racist?
To address the situation as a whole, I would like to end with a quote from Ruth Simmons, former Brown president.  
“When I was your age … I was passionate in my views, particularly about the manifest evil of apartheid and its adherents in South Africa. One day … in a classroom discussion about apartheid, in which every student in the classroom agreed with me that apartheid was corrupt and indefensible, a lone young white South African woman spoke up in class and defended (apartheid). I have now forgotten all the comments of those in the class who spoke against the horror of apartheid, a hideous system that has now been justly abolished. But I have never forgotten these simple words spoken in opposition to my own. They taught me more about the need for discourse in the learning process than all the books I subsequently read. And I have regretted for 30 years that I did not engage this woman’s assertions instead of dismissing her as racist … Those moments will come to you in this place. You can look away, you can turn away when they do, or you can engage them and not look back 30 years later wishing that you had the opportunity to do it.”

Oliver Hudson ’14 may be contacted at

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Tue Nov 20 2012 22:29
Might want to check your sources a bit more. Jefferson never said the quote you attribute to him.
Still not satisfied
Tue Nov 20 2012 19:27
Congratulations Mr. Hudson, You've convinced me that the founders weren't in support of democratic government. What you didn't do: prove that they were right. The fact that any ivy league student can honestly think that a government by the people is absolutely astounding. Yes, maybe government should spend and tax less. But should the highest earners be in control of the government? Even if that seems 'fair' to you, I assure you, it is quite morally reprehensible.
Tue Nov 20 2012 17:09
Cool, Steven Cohen, Board of Trustees, Billionaire, shark in formaldahyde in lobby, part of biggest insider trading scandal ever, tipped off by a university professor making 270 million -- how many more votes should ge get? Could Brown get more?
Tue Nov 20 2012 17:07
Note that in defending yourself, Oliver, you're comparing your own opinions to apartheid. Bet you support what's going on in Gaza too. You're not worth arguing with because you're on a different moral plane.
Jack Throck
Tue Nov 20 2012 13:16
If, as seems to be the consensus among those responding to Oliver's piece, it is right and just to allow all adult citizens to have an EQUAL vote (not disproportionate to the amount of taxes they pay), what is the moral justification to taxing adult citizens at DIFFERENT rates?
Tue Nov 20 2012 09:46

Capitalism is a system by which the barter, trade, and access to goods is provided liquidity and efficiency by an intermediary. It allows efficient allocation of end resources. To say capital is an "intermediate good" and leave it at that misses the point entirely. Capitalism allows individuals to pursue the goods they desire in an optimized, idiosyncratic fashion, preserving individual self-determination. Adam Smith in "The Moral Theory of Sentiments" would agree that the end goal is happiness and not capital nor "trivial trinkets" (as he points out that the common fallacy that the consumption of things makes us happy drives markets). However, to propose that governments deal in nebulous notions in a one size fits all fashion may result in contradictions to self-determination, liberty, and democracy. I point to ideas of "security" and a war on terror as examples where we now live in a demonstrably less free society.

It is also important to point out that capital and money are fundamentally different things. Money can be inflated/deflated/debased, etc. whereas capital is comprised of the real resources with which to produce. I think you may have been confusing the two as evidenced when making comments like "monetary unitarianism" (is there a new church, the FED, where money is God? So Bernanke may actually be the antichrist?).

The idea of using taxes as a measure of voting power then, is that taxes reallocate resources and the use of these resources should be decided by those with actual "skin in the game." I disagree with this thesis because unlike corporations and stockholders, governments have geographic capture of their citizens and thus are an institution. Institutions have to answer to stakeholders which not only include stockholders, management, and labor, but also the affected community members.

SAO '11
Tue Nov 20 2012 08:10
Dear Mr. Hudson,

The fact that economics is involved in every action of the government does not, thereby, imply that all government decisions should be based on economics. I do not know where this leap of reasoning was made. This is an odd sort of consequentialism to hold: it is a kind of monetary utilitarianism, where capital is placed above all else. But surely, there are things other than capital, such as personal fulfillment, happiness, health, and other forms of well-being, such as the ability to pursue the former, that are at a minimum equally important, and arguably more basic.
Put a different way: Capital is a mere instrumental good, and the argument here is that there are more fundamental goods. You are going against several thousand years of philosophy, all the way from Plato through Aristotle, Hobbes, Mill and Ryle, by implying that it is increasing or considering CAPITAL that should be the highest purpose of government. Make no mistake, this is what you imply by claiming that people who make more money should have more votes in government.
You must find a way to A) block the implication or B) show that increasing capital really is the best pursuit of government. In the case of B, then you are looking at a business model for government, on par with a shareholder/company relationship. Why THAT should lead to the best policies for all is, I submit, completely obscure to me and your entire readership.

Lastly, I would like to point out that the 'gilded age' saw such great increase in capital partly due to the corresponding expansion of settlements and increase in population, not to mention the California Gold Rush of the middle of the century. You seem to have found the wrong cause for the increase in capital by implying that this was due to economic policies in place at the time. The economic policies in place at the time were, rather, a consequence of the equally diffuse government.

Please check yourself into a basic class in logic before proceeding any further in your terrible argumentation.
Sofia, Class of '11

Tue Nov 20 2012 00:24
*idea* Start a GISP next semester that explores the many problematic assumptions and examples (Olympics?!) that your last two "op-eds" have presented. You can integrate works from history, ethnic studies, political science, and economics. I think you would benefit from this granted your classmates are able to engage in civil discourse.
Mon Nov 19 2012 21:25
I'm disappointed by all the ad hominem attacks people have made against the author.
At the same time, I'm disappointed that the author, in responding, chose only to make straw-dog arguments addressing only the most poorly formulated attacks on his original article.
Oliver owes it to his readership to address some of the serious critiques we have raised, not simply the "misrepresentations," which are all he deals with here.
Mon Nov 19 2012 20:03

I disagree with your articles, but I'm so proud of you for being willing to voice and defend your opinions. The students who are mocking you with hatred and unreasoned arguments embarrass me as a Brown student a lot more than you ever could. If Brown students claim to have reasonable, thought-out opinions, then they ought to be able to defend them calmly, not like whiny brats who were just told they couldn't eat dessert. Good for you.

Austin '15
Mon Nov 19 2012 19:35
One of my high school teachers once explained to me that a persuasive argument needed Pathos, Ethos, and Logos in order to be effective. Both of your columns are lacking all three and deserve F's in 9th grade English.
Mon Nov 19 2012 19:32
So, once I graduate from law school, if I decide that I should work as a public defender or as an assistant DA, my vote should somehow magically count less than if I decide that I should go into banking law? What if I decided to be a firefighter? Or a police officer? Or, god forbid, a teacher? Do you want so badly to further disincentivize these professions?

I understand that some people don't understand that there is more to a person's societal contribution than his salary, but I didn't realize they wanted to codify it.

Mon Nov 19 2012 19:27
ur ideas r poopy 4 the world
Mon Nov 19 2012 19:27
Regardless of whether this proposal was good or not, I REALLY urge every member of the Brown community to consider what kind of environment is fostering.

There are many people from all ends of the political spectrum who say things that sounds stupid, and probably truly is. However, we should at least allow them to be heard and respected.

The Ivies (especially Brown and Harvard) have a reputation for only listening to their own perspectives. To the rest of the world, how does this come across?

Mon Nov 19 2012 18:42
While I agree with the last part - that everyones opinion must be heard, I have to disagree once again with this article. You say that more voting power does not imply superiority? Even as you stated - the court needs to be financed - so wouldnt leaving courts in the hands of wealthy taxpayers give them certain control?!
Moreover, you have simply ignored the biggest fact - whether someone is rich or poor has a lot to do with LUCK - the home one is born into - whether it is on a sidewalk or a mansion in beverly hills. Your argument is deeply flawed.
Mon Nov 19 2012 16:48
Did I fall asleep and wake up in a Whit Stillman movie? This could literally be part of the script from Metropolitan, tone, subject-matter, and all.
Mon Nov 19 2012 15:34
"It is true that my proposal would give more voting power to whites than non-whites. This is an effect of the proposal - the purpose is not racist."

Oh, but of course you don't have to deal with the effect. Great for you. You're the one with no skin in this proposed game.
Avoiding consequentialist decision-making is immoral. Your lack of empathy and unawareness of privilege are astounding. This is not exaggerating or playing the victim or whatever excuse you want to dismiss it as; it's rightfully calling you out.
It's weird how people are getting more offended by the name-calling than the actual racism.

And this violates your logic. Fiscal irresponsibility is (you claim) an effect of universal suffrage. But it is not the purpose. So ...

Internet Tough Guy
Mon Nov 19 2012 15:32
Have you acquired the knowledge thus far that there are people who suffer from conditions beyond their control, and are naturally in that state? My auntie, for instance, happens to be a person of that nature. She is a crane operator that has bad joints and a bad spine from operating the crane but you probably lack empathy for that case also.

I do not fall under this category as I am 6'5, 270lbs and every day I make an effort to stimulate myofibrillar hypertrophy by inducing skeletal muscle microtrauma. I would be most enthusiastic about you saying such a thing of unkind nature to my aunty in the vicinity of my physical presence. This has a low probability of coming to pass however as you are courageous only when your words first travel through an electronic medium to a public display forum. My belief is not strong that you would vocalize these insults when there is little spatial distance between yourself and that person.

That is my thought process. I would like to know yours. Oh, I do offer my apologies as you lack a frontal lobe with the necessary neurons and synapses which are prerequisites for a sentient being. I myself, however, would be most happy to book you in for a three day cruise to travel to my location and visualize yourself making such taunts to a person of my acquaintance with the removal of an electronic discussion medium.

Reality Check
Mon Nov 19 2012 14:38
Nice- "Anonymous" wants him to take a class on race at Brown? Right, 'm sure there's loads of balanced, open-minded discussions going on there that respect opposing viewpoints. Because that's what Brown is known for- tolerance of non-liberal opinions; Oliver being living proof.

What's next, send him to Econ100 with Professor Castro?

Mon Nov 19 2012 13:42
I don't know why you think the gilded age was so great man...if you calculate the average growth rate of per capita GDP it's 1.99% annually. If we look at the annual rate of GDP growth from the end of 2009 to the end of 2011 its 4.18%.

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