In defence of “buying” the votes of poor and working people

Now that Bernie is promising big money initiatives, a chorus of people are crying out, claiming that this is cheating. To entice someone to vote for you by taking money to give to them from someone else, how dreadfully crass! It’s breaking the rules! a race to the bottom!

(Meanwhile the handouts to the rich of course are simply to be expected- for the good of the economy as a whole you see.)

We should reject entirely the notion that there is anything ethically improper in encouraging the less well off to vote for you by offering to give them things bought with money taken from wealthier people. The very same people who lecture us on the evils of purchasing the support of the poor with the money of the rich have no qualms about purchasing the support of the rich with the money of the poor!

People have the wealth and income levels they do due to a variety of factors, most notably (and not in any particular order):

1. Their own skills, choices and general fortune.

2. The situation of their parents.

3. Market structures (Monoply and Monopsony power etc.)

4. Social structures, forms of power, and attitudes.

5. Government action, regulation and policy, which can shape all of these other factors.

All these categories contain a vast array of factors which can affect your economic situation. No one factor makes someone rich. The well to do gain much from the government, starting with its choice to defend and legitimise their claims to property, and including many other forms of government action such as the maintenance of inflation and unemployment levels that benefit the wealthy, the suppression of labour organising, and the provision of infrastructure for business.

Thus rich people feel far less alienated by politics and far more likely to think that politicians are at least roughly on their team, because government has been good to them and we tend to trust that which is good to us. Thus, the participation and support of the rich as a bulwark of the existing order is already paid for. Government has better met the needs of the rich and they’re the overwhelming winners out of the current social arrangement. Both parties do an enormous amount to purchase not just the votes, but even more importantly the resources and support of elites.

Under these conditions it is more than understandable that many working people are less likely to get involved in politics (unless someone promises them a better deal) because the political system doesn’t much seem to care about them.

It is a good thing to challenge this state of affairs and demand a seat for everyone. If working people become more interested in politics or a particular politician because that politician is offering to economically enfranchise them, both that politician and their new constituents are acting prudently and ethically. Thus there’s nothing wrong with offering something to those marginalised by the current political and economic order, in fact if you’re going to run for office it’s ethically mandatory.

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