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Most
readers of lewrockwell.com and Mises Institute publications are
pretty critical of the state. They probably agree with one or all
of the following statements:

  1. The state
    is too big.
  2. The state
    is too powerful.
  3. The state
    is too warlike.
  4. The state
    is an illegitimate, unethical organization.
  5. The state
    is a parasite on the structure of production and an enemy of civil
    society.

Regardless
of our particular views – be we minarchists, anarchists, anarcho-capitalists,
objectivists, et cetera – the important fact of the matter
is that “the state is," whether we like it or not. In
this light, we may be well served to consider practical matters
regarding the state's operation and prospects rather than the theoretical
workings of a stateless society.1

We
can say two practical things that LvMI readers can say about the
state: it is, and most of us don't care for its current size
and scope. So what are we to do about it?

There
are many, many proposed solutions, but I want to discuss one in
particular: voting. I'm surprised at the number of conservatives
and libertarians who don't vote. Voting is relatively costless,
you don't have to surrender any information that the state doesn't
have already, and it provides a convenient way in which you can
signal your preferences in a forum where legislators actually pay
attention. And yet so few people take the time to do it.

I've
heard a number of curious arguments both for and against the practice.
I've been told that to refrain from voting is to neglect my "civic
duty" and to forfeit my right to disagree with the outcome.
I've been told that voting to influence the outcome of an election
is pointless. I've also been told that to vote is to acquiesce to
(at best) or heartily endorse (at worst) the evils of the state.

The
first contention can be disposed of handily. Nowhere in the body
of natural law theory (or in the US Constitution, for that matter)
does it say that one forfeits his right to disagree with the outcome
of an election if he doesn't vote. The non-voter retains the right
to complain, and to complain loudly.

The
second argument is spot-on. Most LRC readers know that, at the margin,
one vote doesn't matter. George W. Bush will win Alabama whether
Lew Rockwell votes for him or not. Since others have elaborated
on the pointlessness of voting to influence the outcome of elections
extensively, I won't do so here.

This
overlooks the signaling quality of voting, though, and that's an
aspect of the vote to which policymakers pay critical attention.
Indeed, "who did you vote for?" is a great way to elicit
low-cost information about somebody at a cocktail party.

The
third argument usually proceeds as follows: the state is a monopolist
on allegedly "legitimate" violence (it is). Michael Badnarik,
for example, is running on a platform that condones the use of the
state to tax and regulate to some degree (undoubtedly). Therefore,
to vote for Michael Badnarik is to condone the use of the state
to tax and regulate (hmm…). Taxation and regulation are illegitimate,
so voting is immoral.

I
disagree on two counts. First, voting for Badnarik does not necessarily
require that the voter endorse his platform. It merely signals that
the voter prefers Michael Badnarik's platform to the other available
options.

My
second disagreement is more practical. It addresses a slogan that
was popular among some of my libertarian friends in the 2000 election:
"I vote by not voting." I think of elections using the
following analogy. Imagine an array of people who are vying, via
democratic election, for the privilege of kicking you in the stomach
and taking money out of your wallet. You know with absolute certainty
that you will be kicked and robbed. For what it's worth,
I'm grateful for the opportunity to vote for the guy who will kick
the softest and take the least.

The
same friends were also fond of the slogan "what if they gave
an election and no one showed up?" I think the answer is pretty
clear: first, someone will always show up because the state
can, by its very existence, enrich him. Second, the state would
probably go on its authoritarian merry way – indeed, the state
has grown faster in recent decades despite declining voter turnout.

Beyond
even this, how are we – or more importantly, policymakers –
to interpret the non-voter's signal? A non-vote is ambiguous: not
everyone who abstains from voting is an anti-statist, and very few
politicians are going to read the 23 articles in the LRC non-voting
archive to discover why some principled libertarians aren't voting.
Non-voting sends an ambiguous signal. On the other, voting sends
a clear, cheap signal that everyone can understand, and that signal
is as follows: "given that we're going to be kicked and robbed,
I would rather Larry Liberty do the kicking and robbing than any
of the other guys because he will do less of it."

One
of the problems of democratic government (or the state in general)
is that policymakers are often beholden to (or "captured"
by) special interests who can accumulate power and wealth by a variety
of taxes, spending measures, and regulations. It stands to reason
that fiscal conservatives and libertarians can accumulate power
and wealth by the same measures: power in the sense that we can
regain control of our day-to-day affairs by reducing state interference,
and wealth by reducing the burden of the state's fiscal and regulatory
behemoth.

This
gets at the heart of a question that invariably comes up at any
Mises Institute event – Mises University, the Rothbard Graduate
Seminar, or something else – is some variant of "how can
we make Mises' & Rothbard's vision operational?" In other
words, "how can we get u2018less' government?" I think part
of the answer is pretty simple: by voting for it.

Note

  1. This isn’t
    to say that there is no place for theoretical discussion-however,
    many libertarians have argued that the movement should focus less
    on theory and more on strategy.

October
12, 2004

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