Why Good People Vote For Evil

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It is easy
to be disheartened with the American public in light of the Ron
Paul campaign. Past elections presented only various shades of evil
to choose from; who can blame the people for choosing evil in such
circumstances? But this year there was a real choice. For once,
we had a candidate who was serious in his rhetoric of adhering to
the Constitution, and he had the record to prove it. For once, we
had a candidate whose election would immediately end the government’s
quest for global hegemony and empire. For once, we had a choice
that was not evil.

And the people
blew it.

We might blame
the media blackout, or we might point out campaign strategy flaws.
But more likely, we will blame the voters. It would appear, after
all, that they have made their preferences clear: more war, more
welfare, more inflation, and more police state.

But is it really
fair to castigate the voters in this way? Does this election really
prove a mandate for the horrible policies of big government?

The problem
with claiming mandates for specific policies from a general election
is that the act of voting demonstrates remarkably little in the
way of true preference. For in order for an act to demonstrate preference,
there must be a cost associated with the act. For example, in free
market exchanges, there is always a preference revealed at the time
of an exchange: each actor prefers the item received to the item
proffered. However, a preference is only revealed because each actor
must give something up (the cost) to gain something else.

But what cost
is associated with voting for a particular candidate? A common critique
of voting is to point out that a single vote has a negligible chance
of affecting an election, so there is no cost when an individual
makes the “wrong” choice. As a result, there is little incentive
to make an informed vote. While this may help explain the number
of ignorant voters who cast ballots on seeming whim, the fact remains
that there are still many passionate people who research candidates
to make an informed decision.

However, even
in the case of the informed voter who has researched all of the
preferred policies of the candidates, voting still reveals little
preference. The reason is that those voters do not directly pay
for the policies of their preferred candidates. The costs of the
federal government’s policies are spread throughout all of the people
(including those in other countries). How then can we state that
a voter for John McCain truly prefers war to peace, when the war
has no perceptible marginal cost to that voter?

To make this
clearer, consider our state if there was no forced collection of
taxes. Instead, the government had to appeal directly to the people
for voluntary contributions for its services and policies. There
would be a welfare fund, for example, that charitable minded people
might pay into. Now imagine that the President wishes to invade
a foreign country. To raise funds, he sends out a direct mail advertisement:

“Hey honey,
looks like they want to invade Iran.”

“So what do
they want from us?”

“Money. They
want $1000, but any amount is appreciated. The troops would appreciate
it.”

“Hmmm, don’t
we still have some credit card debt left over from Christmas?”

“Yeah. And
we’ve also been saving up for a vacation to Europe.”

“Tell them
to write us again next year.”

In a system
where government activities are only funded voluntarily and at direct
cost to those contributing, we would find the true mandate of the
people for financing specific policies of the government. Likely,
we would find an end to the welfare/warfare state and an army of
bureaucrats seeking other employment.

So given that
a voter does not pay for the policies of his preferred candidate,
what can we say about the preference revealed in a vote? If we assume
the voter understood all of the candidates’ policies, then we might
say that he has a preference of being given certain policies over
others. For example, a John McCain voter motivated to support the
100-year war in Iraq is revealing a preference for having free war
over free peace. However, we know nothing about what the true value
of the war is to him.

In no way does
the outcome of an election demonstrate a mandate for devoting resources
to the policies of the victor. Only voluntary contribution towards
those policies could do that. Instead, the preference indicated
(among the sample of informed voters) was for being given certain
policies, at little or no personal cost, over other policies.

Good people
can vote for evil because the political process spreads the cost
of evil to everyone. This serves to both obscure specific evils
within the grand scope and faade of government, and also to allow
for the devotion of resources to evil in huge disproportion to what
people really want to give it. As long as people recognize the authority
of government to fund itself on their behalf, the regime will continue.
For a lasting reduction in government evil to occur, we must transition
from the authoritarian model of government to one where government
is truly entered into, and financed, by the consent of the governed.

February
22, 2008

Jacob Halbrooks
[send him mail] works as
a software quality engineer and lives in Hudson, MA.

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