TeeJaw Blog

Does It Make Sense to Vote?

Posted in Government and Politics by TeeJaw on Monday, April 5, 2010, 2: 11 PM

Some of the most eloquent advocates of the libertarian philosophy of life and politics have an idea that seems screwy to me. It is that it makes no sense to vote. Or it makes so little sense that only a fool would do it. Of course, they don’t purport to tell you what you should do. Libertarians generally don’t do that, libertarianism is about liberty, not bossing people around.

But they make it a point to let you know that they don’t vote and while not necessarily telling you not to vote, they do try to make their refusal to vote seem like some sort of noble cause. Voting is OK if that’s your thing, but they can show you why it makes no sense and is a waste of your time. Your vote can’t possibly count one way or the other, so why perform a useless act.

I’ve been trying to think of a counter-argument and haven’t had much luck. Or much inspired insight. I can’t argue that my vote will make a difference. My one vote? Of course it makes no difference. Why should I stop what I would otherwise be doing to waste my time voting?

The heart of the argument against voting is that the cost of informing one’s self on the issues and candidates in order to cast an intelligent vote outweighs the benefit of voting if your vote cannot possibly change the outcome of the election. A rational person does not make that investment. So if you vote, you are voting blind, in the dark, and without any idea what you’re doing. You’re being irrational if you inform yourself and then vote because you spent time and energy for nothing, but you’re equally irrational if you don’t inform yourself and vote because you are casting an ignorant vote. The only rational thing you do is, nothing. Don’t inform yourself, and don’t vote. That makes you rational.

But then I looked at these two videos posted at Cafe Hayek by George Mason University Economics Professor Donald Boudreaux, a leading libertarian advocate of not voting.

Professor Boudreaux offers the following comment on the videos:

    The point of my posting these brief clips is to expose the typical politican for what he or she is: a sorry joke; not a “leader”; not a “lawmaker”; an ordinary human being, with much more than his or her share of arrogance and power-lust, unworthy to exercise power over other human beings.

We can all agree with that, can’t we?

I think Professor Boudreaux’s argument would be that these two politicians would have been elected no matter what any one of us did with our single vote, so why should we participate in the charade?

My answer is that all one need do to prepare to cast an intelligent vote is to listen to these two morons for 30 seconds and vote for anybody running against them. That’s not too much of an investment to make to find out which of two choices would be better. How hard can that be?

The argument of libertarians such as Professor Boudreaux and Bryan Caplan, author of The Myth of The Rational Voter breaks down to the extent it relies upon a cost benefit analysis of being an informed voter. It turns out that while voting takes very little effort, being informed hardly takes much more.

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5 Responses

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  1. TetonBill said, on Monday, April 5, 2010, 5: 09 PM at 5:09 PM

    The decision whether to vote should be not be based on whether the benefits to the voter outweigh the costs. Rather, the decision to vote arises from DUTY. This country bestows upon its citizens the priceless gift of American citizenship. And what does America ask in return? Not very much: obey the law, pay your taxes, serve in the military if drafted – and vote. Not much else. I suppose that those who insist on finding a personal benefit before they’ll vote would also refuse to defend this country unless they saw some personal benefit in military service. Professor Boudreaux’s argument makes me want to slap him.

  2. Don Boudreaux said, on Tuesday, April 6, 2010, 5: 36 AM at 5:36 AM

    Thoughtful post!

    One point, though; I do NOT advocate that people not vote. I explain why no single vote matters and, hence, why most voters are poorly informed and make poor choices while in the voting booth. I also explain why I – me, Don Boudreaux – don’t vote.

    But while I certainly don’t advocate not voting, I also – contrary to TetonBill – do not believe that anyone has a duty to vote.

    The benefits of living in America are bestowed by the society, which is not the same thing as Uncle Sam. In fact, most of what Uncle Sam does, I believe, undermines society.

  3. TetonBill said, on Tuesday, April 6, 2010, 8: 42 AM at 8:42 AM

    Professor Boudreaux: I would be curious to know what you believe to be your obligations of US citizenship.

  4. TeeJaw said, on Tuesday, April 6, 2010, 4: 57 PM at 4:57 PM

    I will have to agree with Professor Boudreaux on whether there is a duty to vote. A duty to vote is usually an aspect of totalitarian government where the winner of every election wins with 98% of the vote and each citizen’s vote means even less than it does here.

    When there is a duty to vote there might also be a severe penalty for not voting, or for not voting the right way. Totalitarian regimes always want to present a facade of democracy by making it appear that their “presidents for life” enjoy the support of all the people.

    Another reason a duty to vote, whether it be a moral or legal duty, would bother me is that a good number of the people who don’t vote might be doing us a tremendous favor by not voting. I doubt I would want the sort of politicians they would vote for. The willfully ignorant will just vote for the politician who promises them the most goodies for free.

  5. Thoughts on “Stossel” on Fox Business « TeeJaw said, on Sunday, April 11, 2010, 11: 40 PM at 11:40 PM

    […] me look with favor on those libertarians who think it is stupid to vote, and which I spoke about here. If libertarians will all agree not to vote, or at least not to vote for the Libertarian candidate, […]

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