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Does the Majority Want to Tyrannize the Minority?

June 22, 2011

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American Public Shows How it Would Cut the Budget Deficit

In the current struggle over how to deal with the budget deficit, there is a recurring fear on both ends of the political spectrum that the majority will coalesce around a deficit-cutting strategy that will benefit the majority to the detriment--and against the will of--a minority. This harks back to the concerns of some of the Founders of the republic that the majority might tyrannize minorities.

On the right there is a fear that lower and middle income Americans will coalesce around a plan for increasing the taxes of the wealthy against their will. On the left there is a fear that middle and upper income Americans will coalesce around cutting spending on social programs that primarily benefit those with low incomes, against the latter's will.

A recent PPC study found, however, that neither of these concerns were borne out when Americans were given an opportunity to make such changes. A representative sample of Americans were presented the federal budget, and federal tax rates and allowed to make changes as they saw fit, getting constant feedback on how their changes were affecting the budget deficit. They were also presented options for dealing with the Social Security shortfall. Here is what they did:

• Majorities of the lower and middle income respondents did raise taxes on upper incomes (over $100,000), but a majority of higher income respondents, though a slightly smaller one, favored such increases as well. Similarly, majorities in all income groups chose to raise the limit on income subject to the Social Security payroll tax above the current limit of $106,000, including those with incomes over $100,000.

• Majorities in all income groups opposed cutting programs that especially benefit those with low incomes, including housing programs, job training, and financial aid for college.

In most cases, among the groups who would be adversely affected support for the changes was slightly lower, but in every case still a majority. So in summary, majorities agreed on what needed to be done irrespective of the impact on them. Thus it appears that the majority public was not acting in a selfish manner that exploited or tyrannized the minority against their will.

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