332. "Summer-Share Citizenship?" The New York Times (June 1, 2000), page A29.
Summer residents from the Hamptons to the Rockies are raising their voices in protest over being required to pay high taxes in their vacation getaways while being denied the right to vote in local elections. Second-home owners, including many who are superrich, are quick to evoke the Boston Tea Party motto -- no taxation without representation. They should reread their history; there they will discover a rather different lesson.
The good people of Boston were full-time residents of their communities. What they objected to were controls imposed on their lives by outsiders -- those who were not members of their communities, those who did not share their lives. An analogous situation today would be if the United Nations were to impose taxes on New Yorkers and dictate how much money should be spent on roads leading to the airports, as opposed to schools.
In vacation or weekend towns, however, it is the year-round residents who are the heirs of the Boston rebels; they fear that the summer outsiders, with little interest in supporting many local services, would use their votes to direct tax revenue and public policies in ways that conflicted with community needs.
Indeed, the locals ask little of summer visitors: they need only declare themselves permanent residents, and they can vote as they wish. The outsiders will also be relieved to discover that "permanent residency" does not necessarily entail indignity of living year-round in some boondock place like Southampton or Edgartown. Making the summer place one's official home for voting purposes often means simply giving up the right to vote somewhere else, though some places require minimum residency periods.
There is another reason summer residents may not wish to push their taxation-without-representation argument too far: the right to vote, in New York, as in the rest of the country, is based not on paying taxes but on being a citizen. Foreigners who work or invest in New York (or for that matter, any other place in the United States) must pay taxes there.
If these taxpaying aliens were all accorded the right to vote, they might well prefer candidates who would raise taxes on the superrich to levels common in many countries, make inheritance taxes stick, or expand the welfare state. They might even vote for national health insurance!
From the days of the ancient Greeks, citizenship has entailed much more than coughing up taxes or casting a ballot; it has meant being a member of the community. It has never been just about rights; it has been about responsibilities as well.
Members of a community may be willing, within limits, to back measures that are good for the whole, even if they do not immediately or directly serve their self-interest. They may be willing to support schools even if all their children have graduated. And in some cases they are willing to limit development to allow future generations to have some piece of nature left to enjoy, among all the mansions. (Admittedly, it is also true that once they have their own paradise, rich outsiders often become preservationists and try to block local businessmen from building anything else.)
Full-time citizens care about cultural markers like a statue of a whaler in front of the courthouse or a gigantic American flag, about the upkeep of the cemetery where the community's elders are buried, and about access to the beach for all the local residents.
The outsiders' argument that they feel unfairly treated ignores the costs they impose on the locals. Trips that take a few minutes during the winter on Cape Cod can turn into grueling hours in the summer. Stores, where one can visit with friends on snowy afternoons, become mobbed once the days grow longer. And the price of buying a larger home or one for the children is increasingly out of reach.
A community's culture and tradition are threatened, too, by people with different values and tastes, who do not care that Starbucks has driven out the neighborhood diner or that a Mercedes showroom has replaced the local used truck dealership.
To be fair, not all the summer people are superrich, and some locals no longer remember what a farmer or fisherman looks like. Still, the outsiders tend to disrupt whatever local culture -- whether artistic or intellectual or merely laid back -- has evolved. And they do not stick around to form a new one.
"Justice," the summer residents cry. It is a concept they should be leery of trumpeting. There is more to justice than merely a legal right to cast a ballot.
You do not have to be a socialist or even a liberal to wonder if those who make millions on Wall Street have an inalienable right to impose their lifestyles on places they basically just visit, to uproot communities of farmers and blue-collar workers simply to make room for a second or third residence. If they truly care about life in these communities, all they have to do is to make these communities their home.
Amitai Etzioni, a professor of sociology at George Washington University, is the author, most recently, of The Limits of Privacy.