Fundamentally, people should vote their self-interest. Charity should be a separate matter, and not be part of the government. That charity, or at least some form of pseudo-charity, IS part of the government tends to be a complicating factor, of course, but let us ignore it for just a moment.
In the vast majority of cases, any election is about how to spend money. Thus, it all comes down to which candidate or policy will produce the lowest taxes, as long as essential services are provided. Naturally, this begs the question as to what constitutes an “essential service,” so we should consider that point next.
Most voters would agree that local security, including police and fire services, is essential and is a legitimate use of tax dollars. A judicial system, properly constituted, and limited in scope, follows from this and is worthy of support. Mobility, involving a good system of roads and public transit, as free from petty politics as possible, would also be essential. On the communications side, private enterprise has shown that it can take up the challenge. What to do with the outmoded postal service is a big issue, with a viable solution being phasing in full privatization, along with solid business practices, that absolutely eschew politics.
Building on the security theme, national defense is of course a legitimate expense, but is fraught with opportunities for graft, incompetence, and misadventure. For example, the US will always win big wars; unfortunately, no one fights big wars anymore. Ever since Vietnam, conflicts have been via guerrilla movements, and World War II tactics have proven ineffective. Sadly, even these old tactics could have had greater efficacy if wars had not also become greatly politicized, politically correct, and poorly prosecuted.
While it might be a good strategy to engage Islamist forces in the Middle East rather than Main Street, USA, absurdly lax immigration policies, and effete attitudes of diversity and cultural equality have undermined counterterrorism efforts. Thus, your tax dollars are not being spent wisely, in an effort that is otherwise essential. It gives me no pleasure to say that it will take several more 9/11 style events to reverse these foolish policies, since the forces against common sense are far too well entrenched—and pervade both political parties.
Still, the greatest waste of tax dollars, by far, occurs with government-subsided charitable pursuits. That injustice, poverty, and suffering exist in this world is hardly news. Many individuals—some of good will—advocate the government taking more of your money to solve these problems. Even though the problems are rarely solved, the mere existence of social programs is enough to make people feel good about themselves. More than that, government advocacy of any number of false populist schemes to save the world, as long as someone else is paying for it, provides an endless number of reasons to increase your taxes.
Surely, if everyone paid less in taxes, they would have more money available to engage in voluntary charity. And, when you think about it, charity can really only be voluntary. Otherwise it is extortion.
One more area ripe for abuse is the minefield of non-elected/meta-constitutional regulatory agencies. While technically under the auspices of the Executive branch, in practice these agencies have few limits placed on them, and have great opportunity to do mischief, even if they occasionally do good. Far more oversight is needed here, but little is forthcoming.
What prevents people from simply voting their self-interest? One huge factor is a pervasive educational system and antique media, that conflate faux moral issues into discussions of programs which are simply voter extortion schemes. Katrina, mishaps in the automotive and health care industries, and consumer credit fiascoes are just three areas whereby regulatory malfeasance, under the guise of protecting the hapless consumer, actually hurt him in the long run.
If we are to get this country back on the right track, all current assumptions of government should be on the table, and any candidate who does not have a method for reducing taxes should be voted out.