Selective Contraction of the Voter Supply

Steven Landsburg offers some advice to the altruist:

Every now and then, some eccentric altruist gathers up his assets and donates them to the United States Treasury. As a result, our current or future tax bills must fall. The beneficiaries are the many millions of U.S. taxpayers, each of whom experiences a tiny reduction in his tax burden. But we do not all benefit equally. Those of us in the highest tax brackets—by and large, the richest Americans—collect disproportionate shares of the gift.

An alternative strategy for the altruist would be to convert his assets to cash and, instead of giving them to the Treasury, hold a bonfire. The result is essentially the same… your share of the benefits is proportional not to your tax bill but to the quantity of cash you happen to be holding at the moment of the bonfire.

There has been some discussion about whether or not to vote. The argument in stages can be read in the pages above.

I am of the I-don’t-vote camp. That has afforded me certain ethical peace over the last year, especially when I found myself offering policy advice to hopeful politicians. I felt I could be more objective and more bold in my presentation of advice than I likely would have been had I had a dog in the fight.

I continue to dwell in my I-don’t-vote position for a few reasons. First, my vote is probabilistically indecisive. Second, the space between available platforms is not really all that big. Third, who is elected does not matter all that much, and should not matter at all.

I will add a new justification momentarily.

I am on record decrying that “all reform is a fail.”

I am utterly pessimistic about the capacity for an organization founded upon the monopoly of force to be capable of positive action, or reform that justly compensates those harmed by a change in policy. In Landsburg’s model above, I would expect the Treasury to leverage any bequeathment through some sort of multiplier into further indebting the remaining taxpayers. I agree, the bonfire is a much better idea.

And here is where I part from the bleeding heart libertarians who believe in reform. They have not as of yet been sufficiently disappointed by past reforms. It has been too easy to allow one’s perspective to be biased by only observing the survivors of past reforms. The uncompensated and other losers fall out of the data.

Similarly, I part with many religious economists. There are those who attempt to justify markets as moral from a particular theological point of view. They are really interested in defending the status quo. Those positions tend to privilege their own theological priors because the advocate is an ultimate beneficiary. I cannot remember ever having read a free-market-Anabaptist point of view other than my own. I should suspect that I am wrong.

Both parties can point to peaceful and beneficial resolution of collective action problems through private agencies and local levels of governance. They think those processes can be transferred to higher levels of governance. Often a wise or benevolent executive is presumed. Among the doctrinaire, dominionism (the idea that God’s Chosen should seek to fill every public office, and the eschaton will obtain once they do) is not uncommon.

My contention is that collective action problems resolved outside institutions founded on violence are different in kind from collective action problems resolved through voting.

My new justification for not voting is that in stark comparison to some who advocate the exclusion of particular voices from the ballot box, my abdication from that platform amplifies the voices of others. As a married white male protestant with education, it may behoove me more than anyone else not to vote.

It should be clear that when some urge libertarians to vote, they really mean libertarians like themselves, libertarians like me (though with a different attitude). They really want to amplify their own voices, and are demonstrably unwilling and uninterested in learning from other voices. They want to be libertarian dominionists.

They miss the idea that democracy is about deliberation and skip straight to decision, in the same way that mainstream economists skip straight over choice and jump to optimization, in the same way that I am prone to mansplaining, and in the same way that white churches like to be in control of racial reconciliation efforts with black churches.

5 thoughts on “Selective Contraction of the Voter Supply

  1. I am at a loss to understand this: “They miss the idea that democracy is about deliberation and skip straight to decision.”

    Democracy does not encompass decision? It’s just endless deliberation? In the spirit of mansplaining: #Actually, Congress deliberates, then votes. #Actually, there’s a campaign for office, debates between candidates, etc., then a vote.

    It seems too obvious a retort, but: Not voting is simply not deciding.

    I understand that to a Rothbardian libertarian that this is a good thing, because to Rothbardians any instance of political decisionmaking is indistinguishable from stabbing someone in the eye with a fork. Rothbard thought government could Just Not Do It. He literally had a fantasy that there is something called The Government that could quit and go home and there would be no more The Government.

    It doesn’t work that way. Political decisionmaking is inevitable, necessary. In the context of my game theory paper on ‘anarchy,’ you might say I think it is inevitable that some people ‘move Impose.’ And that leaves everyone else in the position of doing political things, because you inevitably will mount some resistance to imposition.

    If you see the choice as being an impositionist (dominionist?) or being imposed upon, then I can see why one might choose being imposed upon. But again I see the choice as one of how to act politically, not whether to act politically. And voting, since we’re on that topic, is #actually extremely nonviolent as far as acts of political resistance go.

    As for a specifically libertarian angle on the foregoing I would say that we good liberals must make it the government’s job to undo the government’s badness. How else can it be done? ‘Anarchism’ is a mirage, vigilantism is wrong, and throwing up your hands and building a basement stockpile so you can survive the apocalypse for three extra days is super anti-social, yo. #Actually, reform does not always fail, and staving off ill policy alone can help get society at large to very good places in the long run.

    1. Politcal Enslavement

      I’m going to read your game theory paper on anarchy, but as far as your comment to this article, you don’t make any arguments against anarchy. Calling anarchy a “mirage” is not an argument. Put simply, anarchist believe in a society without the coercive actions of a “state.” As I’m sure you’re aware, this can also be called volunteerism. Don’t use force against others and others shouldn’t use force against you – this is the Golden Rule.

      Anarchy is moral, force is not. Voting is a form of violence against those who wish not to participate in the state’s system.

      1. @PE

        ‘Anarchy’ is a mirage because it pretends to have defined something called ‘government’ and pretends that we can get rid of that thing. What is that thing? It is whatever takes ‘coercive actions.’ Or, wait, it’s whatever it is that ‘monopolizes’ ‘coercive actions.’ What are coercive actions? What is a monopoly? Every one of us decides what a term means. We can agree, sometimes, but sometimes there are conflicts. Someone in the anarchist society will decide that yelling too loud in the middle of the night constitutes coercion. What happens next involves, at first, each side yelling “Coercer! Aggressor! Monopolist of force!” at the other. The process of resolving this problem is going to be something I’d count as government, and that’s why I say anarchy is a mirage.

  2. “My new justification for not voting is that in stark comparison to some who advocate the exclusion of particular voices from the ballot box, my abdication from that platform amplifies the voices of others.”

    This is a good argument for those who aren’t yet convinced that voting is a violent act in and of itself. Deferring to others is a selfless recognition of our privileged position, and that concept will appeal to many.

    On the other hand, I was challenged that my abstention was only possible “because” i’m in a position of power and privilege. I understand that counter argument, but it assumes that I can set aside my prejudices. It also assumes that government force is the proper and moral response to injustice. I don’t agree with either assumption.

    Thanks for the blog. If you’re interested you can read mine. Nothing new under the sun. My reasons for not voting: 1) I don’t consent. 2) Voting is theft and violence. 3) My time and money is better spent elsewhere.

    1. I deeply appreciate this perspective, and I have been looking for a thoughtful reason why white males can justify deliberately not voting. You have provided one, but Bryan, you’ve hit on the impasse I feel about willfully forfeiting my voice, that others do not have that same ability. Ergo, abstention is still white/male privilege.

      However, I think the ‘being silent so the voiceless can speak,’ is legitimately appealing to allies of marginalized people. In that tension, I wonder if pragmatism should carry the day, and we (white male privilege holders) just vote based on the ‘lesser of two evils’ mentality, which assumes we are all already complicit in the evils of the society we have inherited and from which we still benefit, in the hopes that we can use our privilege loosen the grip a bit.

      Nathaniel, your thoughts?

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