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February 8, 2008 | by  | in News |
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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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