Friday, October 10, 2008

Not everyone should vote!

Tibor R. Machan

Back in 1992 I wrote a column for The Chicago Tribune that is even more pertinent now, with the recent publication of George Mason University economist Professor Bryan Caplan's book, The Myth of the Rational Voter (Princeton University Press, 2007). Here is the gist of it, only slightly edited.

From various celebrities to the radio announcer at the station to which I listen, everyone urged me to vote this coming November. But, in fact, it isn't always such a good idea to vote.

I did, actually, fill out my absentee ballot but decided not to vote in a bunch of the races I had a chance to make a choice. I did record my choices on most of the ballot measures. When it came, however, to the folks who wanted to be judges and members of city council and such, I decided I had no idea what they stood for and voting for them would just be irresponsible.

And I bet that is so with nearly all of us--many of the people we have a chance to vote for or against are unknown to us. This is especially so when it comes to their ideas on the various issues they will have to address once in office. That is very troubling, since these days politicians address nearly every issue under the sun. Government isn't limited to keeping the peace so one could keep abreast of its activities fairly simply. No, in Congress the men and women serving must decide about everything from how many tanks should go to NATO forces to what percentage of alcohol must be in imported beer. Municipal, county, state and federal authorities have their noses into millions of issues and very few citizens they serve have even a clue as to how they will decide on them. It would take innumerable full time jobs to keep tabs on today's issues facing Congress, the state assembly, the county supervisors, and the city council.

So those who urge us all to vote need to temper their enthusiasm with a little dosage of reality. Most of us are ignorant about the issues and, moreover, this is unavoidable. We cannot possible keep up and still have a life of our own. As a result, if we were to listen to the counsel of all those celebrities, it would guarantee that our representatives would get elected by a bunch of ignoramuses. Come to think of it, isn't that just what we witness in the various centers of power? Isn't that one of the reasons political discourse is so inept, sinks so low, is so full of character assassination and void of substance in most regions?

It is plainly impossible these days to educate the public about all of what politicians and their appointed bureaucrats need to know to do the right thing. When folks must make decisions for so many people, on so many issues, there is no way to do the right thing--one will necessarily wrong many of the people affected. Even having a general political vision is insufficient, mainly because those who hold office vote not so much in line with some political philosophy but as they believe the various vested interests in their districts would like them to.

One reason the American Founders wanted a limited government is that they were aware of how much of a war of all against all the politics of a democracy could become unless democracy is severely checked. Government was supposed to secure our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and elections were to decide only who we hire to do this job. By now, however, the job has gotten way out of hand -- politicians and bureaucrats have taken over supervision of nearly all parts of our lives. And the people are completely divided as to what they want from them. It all depends where their vested interest lies and what kind of coalitions they can arrange.

Yet, there is no way they can actually learn which proposal their politicians can vote for or against will do them the most good. So what is left? To vote ignorantly, based on vague impressions, style, feel, sex appeal, etc. Or to refrain from voting.

In such a climate it is no wonder that people begin to yearn for a simplified process, one whereby perhaps a great leader provides us with political guidance. In some areas the only virtue left to democracy is how it slows down political power. Even that is unappreciated by many people (consider how when a bunch of "world leaders" come together to sign some treaty they need to face the agony of selling the deal to their people; and then they are badgered about it by the less democratic of the parties).
I say, vote only if you have a clue. Otherwise do not vote and then, perhaps, the selection process will gain from the fact that the few who vote do have a clue. But, of course, the real answer is to reduce the scope of what politicians can vote on and keep them worried about just a few matters, mostly how best to defend our individual rights

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