An Immodest Proposal


  • The problems with elections and special interests
  • Failed efforts to limit influence of special interests
  • How cantons solve the problem of elections and special interests
  • Cantons as the solution to big government: true representation of the people

What you are reading I called an immodest proposal because it is shockingly large in scale. Yet I believe I can convince you that not only is it necessary, but not bringing it about would eventually be tragic.

I believe that the greatest problem with the American system of government today is with Congress. How can I prove this to you? As the old expression goes, “follow the money”. 

Our system of government is a form of representative government. The election campaigns are extremely costly, requiring huge influxes of contributions. These contributions come mostly from special interest groups, who make these contributions, not out of a sense of civic responsibility, but as a way of getting the ear (and votes) of the winners. What this ends up meaning is that the representatives that are (according to the Constitution) supposed to be representing the interests of the people instead become the representatives of the special interests to whom they are indebted for the success of their elections.

There have been two proposals in the past which have attempted to fix this problem. The original proposal goes by the name “publicly-funded elections”. This proposal gets to the core of the problem, namely the advantage special interests have in getting the attention of elected officials thru campaign contributions. Attempts to make this work, however, have failed.

The second is “term limits”, intended to keep elected officials from getting too much power. This will never be allowed by special interests, because it will become too costly for the special interests to constantly purchase a new set of pliant members of Congress.

Special interests, in short, will never abide any proposal that will limit their ability to game the system of government that has served their interests so well and for so long. They will never abide any such proposal, including the one I am about to make. The question is, can the will of the people for true representation ever be stronger than the will of special interests to keep their advantageous position?

I have shown the problem by following the money. Now let’s look for the solution by doing the same.

One estimate of how much money is spent cumulatively by all lobbyists of the federal government comes to about $10 billion annually [1]. It would appear that those who spend this money to gain influence with members of Congress consider this to be money well spent, perhaps even a bargain.

What are the sources of revenues for the federal government? The largest percentage, 51%, comes from personal income taxes. The second largest source (35%) is the payroll tax that funds the Social Security programs. Corporations, though they have one of the highest corporate tax rates of any country in the world, contribute a mere 6% of the total government revenues. The balance, about 8%, is made up of excise, estate, and other sources. For the year 2019, revenues from these sources amounted to only about 78% of total government expenditures for the year [2]. The additional 22% was borrowed from future taxpayers [3]. (Be sure to thank your sleeping children tonight for their generosity [4].)

Notice this: two of these sources of federal revenues, personal income taxes and payroll (Social Security) taxes, come to 86% of total revenues. For the year 2019, that percentage comes to nearly 3 TRILLION dollars [5]. Does it seem fair to you that lobbyists can spend a mere $10 billion (about a third of one percent of total revenues) and get such a lopsided level of respect from those who are supposed to be YOUR congressional representatives? 

So here is my immodest proposal: replace the parts of the US Constitution thru an amendment that would change the form of Congress, replacing the House of Representatives (though not necessarily changing the name) with a form of representation of the people that will greatly increase the power of the people who contribute to federal revenues, and greatly decrease the power of special interests. That is the end result of my proposal. Now let me walk you thru how this can be accomplished.

I have given this form of government a name: Canton Nation. It is based on an unfixed number of associations of taxpayers (called “cantons”) organized according to their values. Similar to political parties, each canton would publish their core values, and taxpayers would join a canton for a year based on how closely their own values correspond to those of the canton. In this way it is like registering yourself a Democrat or a Republican because you substantially agree with the values of one party versus the other. With cantons, the range of variation between cantons would be much greater, requiring less compromise on your part when choosing a representative. 

In the final stage, when the chosen canton representatives take the place of the elected members of  the House, the Internal Revenue Service would take on the role of Registrar of Canton Membership, so that each taxpayer would have recorded which national canton they had chosen for that year. With that information it will be possible to determine how much revenue would be allotted to a specific canton for that year. The number would be calculated this way: the total revenues for the year, divided by the number of taxpayers contributing to that figure, times the number of members of each canton. For example, in 2017, the total revenues of the federal government came to about $3.3 trillion. The total number of taxpayers came to roughly 143.3 million. This comes to about $23,000 per taxpayer. Each canton would multiply that number times the number of their members to know how much they had to spent on programs that year. (Those taxpayers who neglect to select a canton by the cutoff date will be allotted to the existing cantons proportionate to the membership count of the cantons. Thus, if canton “A” has 10% of the total number of taxpayers who have chosen a canton, it will be allotted 10% of those who chose no canton that year.) The end result would be that each canton would directly represent their members, and would be able to spend that amount according to their values.

Expenditures would be made by the cantons as they see fit. Each department and government program would need to come before the canton representatives and make the case for their budgets. The canton representatives would work out among themselves how the programs would be funded, or whether in fact they deserve to continue. Those programs with broad support would be funded by many of the cantons cooperatively, as a coalition of the willing. The programs that some cantons do not support would find their support from other cantons, while the many programs that should have been discontinued long ago will wither away from total lack of support. No program would get funding unless the cantons funding it represented a simple majority of taxpayers. At the end of the fiscal year, any money not spent by a canton would be returned to its members in an equal distribution.

An astute person might ask, “what is to prevent the cantons from being swayed by the special interests any less than members of Congress?” The safeguards against this are built into the structure of cantons. First of all, the cantons gain their power from the number of members who choose them each year. This means that the cantons are all in competition with each other for members. If any canton fails to act according to the values of their members, they will suffer the loss of members and, as a result, power. Secondly, the leaders of each canton will always be aware that all eyes, internally and externally, will be on them, ready to take advantage of any misdeeds. Their power as canton leaders depend on how well they represent their members. Since they are chosen annually, not elected, there are no costly elections for the special interests to fund.  This will greatly diminish the power of the special interests.

As it will be in the interests of cantons to increase their membership, they will be able to do this most effectively by reducing taxes, which they would accomplish by reducing expenditures, not by deficit spending. This they will achieved by getting rid of the innumerable government boondoggles that exist today, and by enforcing only those regulations that are considered absolutely necessary for a prosperous nation. The alternative is to continue to allow special interests to have their way, which will eventually strangle the life out of us as a nation.

Now for the interim steps to bring all this about.

National cantons can be established now as membership organizations. A modest membership fee will allow them to publish their particular set of values, and to gain a following. At the same time, cantons can be established at every other level of government, replacing the lower houses of state legislatures, county boards, and municipal councils.

As the number of members of cantons grow, they will reach a certain tipping point, at which time it will be expedient to push for the necessary constitutional amendment that would replace the House of Representatives with a new structure made up of the national cantons. At that point, Americans will have once again representative government that represents all the people, all the time, not the special interests.