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February 8, 2008 | by  | in Online Only |
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Why do we bother voting?

This is my first post of the year; I cannot wait for all the politics that lie ahead in 2008. Unlike Conrad and Jackson however, I am not going to make predictions for this year. First because I feel no compunction to; second it will be more of a surprise when the events occur, and I didn’t predict them.

I do, however, want to pick up on what was mentioned in passing in two previous posts by Conrad and Jackson. We were told that “[Our] vote is a precious thing, use it wisely” by Jackson; and, “an educated and informed populace” is essential by Conrad (but given that our society is besotted with Britney Spears and not Chad we should chuck it in and have a “Philosopher King”).

Now I don’t believe either of these statements to be true. There were 2,286,190 votes case in the 2005 election (that is only 80.1% of eligible voters) given that 2 million or so have a vote, is your vote really that precious in the wider scheme of a general election? In fact it is far from precious; your contribution is almost negligible. This highlights a serious principle. There is no incentive for the individual to be highly informed about politics because his or her vote is worth 1 / 2,000,000-ish; therefore the opposite of Jackson’s statement is surely true – votes are not precious and that is why people do not use them wisely.

Rational ignorance” is prolific because, what incentive is there for me to spend all my time researching, typing (walking to the polling booth) when my vote is worth 1 / 2millionth. This is why elections usually focus around one or two issues. Of what consequence is it to me what youth offenders’ policy the Greens want to pursue if the were in Government? I am neither youth nor an offender. Do the Greens even have a youth offenders’ policy? I don’t know, and I am not that bothered either.

Given this I am not sure then that a more educated populace will make individuals want to be informed. I am not saying that an educated populace is not a desirable end. The effect however, on voting in NZ, would be negligible if the were just generally more educated. “Buying” voters will always occur through “interest free” student loans, tax cuts or “free” accident compensation, because those individuals will pursue their self-interest.

Lastly to turn to the philosopher king (or queen); I am not sure where one will find this angel to organise life for everybody. The problem is self evident, the more concentrated the power the more adverse the consequences.

So what is the answer? “NZ needs ingenuity…Argument leads to synthesis and antithesis and then something better” Jackson is entirely right on this point, the status quo needs to change. The conclusion, however, in my opinion is wrong. Neither “Ingenuity” nor true “argument” comes out of people believing their vote is precious. It is absurd to think just because a person values their vote more, that this would change the status quo. People will still continue to think (rightly or wrongly) that peaking oil doesn’t exist or abortion is right or wrong etcetera. A person thinking their vote is precious does not stop others using the very tangible truncheon of the state to enforce their beliefs.

Synthesis and antithesis is a pseudonym for the market place. The greatest innovations, the greatest ingenuity and the greatest peace have all come from individuals pursuing their own self-interest. Neither Einstein nor Ford revolutionised their respective industries by Government direction. The other side to the coin is also true. No greater harm has been done by people using the state to do good by others (whether this being enforcing their moral beliefs about abortion or drugs).

There is a role for Government in our lives, but it is no more than to ensure a field is created in which human freedom and thereby human dignity is upheld. If you want change, ingenuity and argument it seems very clear which path we must pursue.

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  1. Just a heads up on the science point Hugh – most western science is government funded, and as funding dictates which projects scientists can or can not work on, then it is in essence directed by government.

    I find it interesting that the libertarians uphold personal freedom as so worthy. I don’t think some people are worthy of total freedom – they signify this to me through their use of total freedom at the moment.

  2. Ewok says:

    you do not know what the word compunction means ha ha

  3. In Hugh’s defence, I think his use of the word (while not in its traditional context) is still apt…

    Perhaps it is Ewok who doesn’t have a grasp of the English language. His capitalisation sure needs work…

  4. Stephen Whittington says:

    I agree with you in general Hugh, although a recent book by Bryan Caplan, The Myth of the Rational Voter, added nuance to my thoughts.

    If we were rationally ignorant, then we should also be apathetic. “I’m not sure who’s best” “I don’t know what policies are good.” But we’re not. We’re vociferous in our political support. This is because we are ‘rationally irrational’ – we are more likely to indulge our prejudices when it is cheap to do so. The chance of our vote changing an election is an example of where prejudice is cheap.

    Caplan highlights four prejudices, which he draws from different answers to a survey on economic understanding which asked both ordinary citizens and economics PhDs. They were:

    Anti-foreign bias – people do not like foreigners, and care more about domestic citizens than foreign ones. Jobs are described as “our jobs,” etc.
    Anti-market bias – people do not like the intention behind the market – self interest, or greed. Despite economists saying that self-interest is a given, it’s a matter of harnessing it for social good (Smith’s invisible hand), people think intentions matter.
    Pessimistic bias – people think the economy’s going to shit, that it’s stagnating, and that capitalism isn’t working as it should.
    Make-work bias – people think that wealth comes from jobs, and therefore want to ‘create jobs.’

  5. Nic says:

    Nice protest, matey.

    It’d be even nicer if you kept the tape over your mouth for the rest of the year – maybe even move on to taping your hands together, too.

    Bet you felt cool being asked to leave.

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