Forthcoming Papers

Redirecting Direct Democracy: Non-Essential Spending as Political Speech

Stephanie R. Hoffer


Direct voting on taxes and spending have created an imbalance between direct democracy and representative democracy at local levels of government. Overreach by voters, unable to engage in debate and compromise, can force representatives into defensive and suboptimal decision-making, resulting in either underproduction or overproduction of certain public goods. As a consequence, some scholars have called for extreme limitation, or even abolition, of direct democracy in tax and spending decisions. This need not be the solution. Empirical studies of human behavior suggest that channeling direct democratic decision-making would produce results superior to those of limitation or abolition. Building a bridge between representative and direct democratic processes, even with regard to relatively inconsequential subject matters, would provide representative government with valuable information about constituent attitudes and preferences while fostering constituent cooperation in the provision of public goods. Specifically, this Article proposes preservation of existing direct democratic mechanisms while permitting constituents to opt out of payments for particular non-essential public goods chosen by the representative government on the basis of established criteria. Such a system would lessen the likelihood of overt tax revolt by giving a voice to all constituents, even those who decline to proactively engage in political speech, satisfying libertarian preferences of some while creating feedback on shared cooperation among others.