Benjamin Franklin never wrote or said “A democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch,” but it’s true in corporate democracy … except the lamb has no vote. (More)

“Two Wolves and a Lamb” in the Polling Place … and the Boardroom

Conservatives and libertarians love to quote dead people, in part because dead people can’t object “I never said that” or “I didn’t mean what you think I meant.”

So it’s a safe bet that, in a discussion of democracy, a conservative or libertarian will pull out this chestnut falsely attributed to Benjamin Franklin:

Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.

That quote is not in any of Franklin’s writings or quoted speeches, and its absence is hardly surprising. The word “lunch” first appeared in London in 1786 – two years before Franklin’s death – and did not enter common use until the mid-19th century. He could not have written it without a time travel machine.

Indeed the quote is a modern invention. It first appeared in 1990, in an online conversation on UseNet. A year later it was used in a letter to the editor printed in the Los Angeles Times, and two years later in James Bovard’s anti-government screed Lost Rights: The Destruction of Liberty.

“Takes us back to a democracy where two wolves can vote to eat the sheep for dinner”

But it’s oh so much more convenient to attribute that and similar ideas to dead Framers. Not only can the Framers not object, but many conservatives agree with Tom DeLay’s declaration that God wrote the Constitution. And some of the Framers did claim divine inspiration, although Thomas Jefferson was not among them:

On similar ground it may be proved that no society can make a perpetual constitution, or even a perpetual law. The earth belongs always to the living generation.

Jefferson wrote that in September of 1789, over a year after the Constitution was ratified. So much for perpetual adoration of the Framers.

Still, the “two wolves and a lamb” quote has become common in right-wing rhetoric, and yesterday Alex Jones dragged it out to agree with Phyllis Schlafly that Hispanic immigrants will enslave whites:

“What these polls consistently show,” Schlafly told Jones, “is that three-fourths of the Hispanics coming in want a bigger government providing more services – I’m talking services like healthcare, Obamacare – and only a tiny percentage even understand or want a smaller government.”
Jones was totally on-board, adding, “And then they’ll support literally making those of us that produce their slaves.” He went on to say something about how George Soros and Warren Buffet wanted to raise taxes on the middle class, which “takes us back to a democracy where two wolves can vote to eat the sheep for dinner.”

When it comes to taxing and spending for the general welfare – the most basic functions of government – conservatives reject the notion of representative democracy. Taxes and spending approved by elected officials – if conservatives disagree – become “theft” or “taxation without representation.” (Note: conservatives think taxation without representation is just peachy for Those People.)

“It should be like a corporation. You pay a million dollars in taxes, you get a million votes.”

Those People aren’t just immigrants. Billionaire Tom Perkins argued that rich people should get more votes:

The venture capitalist offered the unorthodox proposal when asked to name one idea that would “change the world” at a speaking engagement in San Francisco moderated by Fortune’s Adam Lashinsky.

“The Tom Perkins system is: You don’t get to vote unless you pay a dollar of taxes,” Perkins said.

“But what I really think is, it should be like a corporation. You pay a million dollars in taxes, you get a million votes. How’s that?”

Perkins claimed he was offering an “outrageous” joke, but Ted Nugent made the same argument last year, and it’s floated around the conservative blogs for awhile.

It’s based on a conservative-libertarian concept of free market ‘democracy’, where shareholder voting legitimizes corporate governance. Indeed the Cato Institute’s Donna Card Charron argued that the stakeholder model – with non-shareholders such as workers and environmental advocates represented in boardrooms – are making “destructive inroads” that “threaten corporations.”

In the conservative-libertarian worldview, the wealthy – and only the wealthy – deserve a voice in corporate government. And increasingly, they argue that civic government should work the same way.

That’s beyond “two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch.” It’s two wolves voting on how many lambs to eat … with the lambs getting no votes at all.

Or as conservatives and libertarians call it, “the natural order.”


Happy Friday!