by Gary North
Well, it's that time of the off-year again. It's election day. All across America, tens of millions of people will be thinking, "I've got to lose some weight," or "How am I going to pay these bills?" And then, about 7:30 this evening, millions of them will think, "I forgot to vote." But then they will watch "Frasier," and forget about how they feel guilty about not having voted.
It is my task today to make Lew Rockwell feel a little guilt for not feeling remotely guilty about not voting. This will not be easy.
Lew does not vote. He thinks voting only encourages politicians. I think of it as making half of them feel miserable, some of them for the rest of their lives. They will spend years thinking, "If only I had. . . ." The words "never bothered to run" will never occur to them. Today, people who have long yearned for the legal authority to impose their will on the public, thereby proving to their high school classmates that they really weren't losers, will have their dream thwarted, perhaps forever. They will also demonstrate to their high school classmates that they really are losers after all.
Voting isn't all bad.
YOUR VOTE COUNTS
These words fill 95% of the front page of a tabloid that introduces Arkansans to all of the candidates who are running for office in the state. "Your vote counts." This phrase is supposed to be motivational, even inspirational.
It doesn't do much for me. That's because I am old enough to remember the 1960 Presidential election, which the Democrats stole. (In American politics, whenever there has been a close race, the winner is invariably accused by some of the supporters of the loser as having stolen the election, an accusation which is of course true.) Above all, I can remember black comedian Dick Gregory's post-election comment regarding Cook County, Illinois, which gave Kennedy his margin of victory in Illinois and therefore the election. "I love Cook County. In Cook County, your vote really counts . . . and counts . . . and counts."
Free market economists who have had a lot of free time of their hands have studied the economics of voting. Why, I don't know. James Buchanan has already won a Nobel Prize for The Calculus of Consent (1962), so there probably won't be another major prize handed out for academic work on this topic. The personal payoff for conducting such studies seems low; the cost in lost time seems high. On the basis of Austrian economic theory, which is strictly deductivist, I conclude that if the economist's assumption of mankind's economic rationality is correct, then most academic papers on voting behavior that have been written by economists have been written by people who are seeking tenure, since tenure is granted merely for having been published, not for the relevance of the published findings. If such a study were to find that these papers have actually been written by tenured economists on a disproportionate basis, i.e., disproportionate compared to statistical randomness (a phenomenon known to students as "grading"), then this discovery will serve as evidence that economists are not altogether rational. I predict that most people would accept both the accuracy and relevance of this finding.
What economists have concluded is that voting is economically irrational. It takes a lot of effort to learn about the candidates, and even more effort to learn the meaning of the propositions on the ballots, the outcome of which, if politically relevant to influential special-interest groups, will probably be reversed in court within a year of the election. It takes valuable time to go to the polling place, stand in line, and cast your ballot. Why do people do this? Enquiring academic economists want to know.
Does your vote count in the grand scheme of things? Maybe on some closely contested issue in a very small town. Maybe it will end the career of some obscure would-be politician who loses by one vote in a local contest, discouraging him forever from running again. But on a cost-benefit analysis, voting is far more of a cost than a benefit. There is no meaningful payoff for the individual, who bears the costs, even though the hoped-for benefits are dispersed, especially if his candidate loses. Nevertheless, people continue to vote. This can be explained only by their irrationality or their ignorance of basic economics.
So, the persistence of voting drives academic economists nuts, so to speak, especially Chicago School economists, who start their investigations with the presupposition of rational men (and possibly even women). Every two years, millions of people go out and do this irrational thing again. It is as if they are wilfully paying no attention to academic economists. It is as if the work of academic economists, even with all those equations, has no visible effect on the real world. (As a matter of fact, there is no "as if" about it.)
I say this: "As a matter of principle, anything that bothers a Chicago School economist is worth doing, at least occasionally."
THEIR WORD IS THEIR BOND
Then there are bonds. I love any election in which there is a bond issue on the ballot. I get to vote "no." The more worthy the cause appears to be in the minds of its supporters, the more I enjoy voting "no."
This is relevant only for state and local ballots. The United States government can sell all of its bonds that it has to sell. It sells to investors who believe that a national government's debt certificate is the closest thing there is to risk-free debt. It sells short-term debt to the Federal Reserve System, which creates money out of nothing to buy it. The Treasury issues non-marketable bonds to the Social Security Trust Fund, loots the tax money that has come in, and then counts revenue above Social Security pay-outs to old people as not counting as an increase in the U.S. debt.
But state and local governments are not so blessed. They must actually find buyers for their bonds. Bureaucrats must first persuade voters to authorize the sale of new bonds. This restriction makes them squirm. I love to see them squirm.
Of course, governments don't need to sell bonds to finance their boondoggles. They can always save money out of net revenues and then pay cash for whatever the boondoggle costs. As George Gobel used to say, "Suuuuuuure they can." A politician saves public money with the same degree of future-orientation that a five-year-old exercises in a candy shop five minutes after he has been given this week's allowance.
Bond issues are basic to American politics. If it were not for bond issues, all but the most politically marketable boondoggles would have to be funded out of current income and savings. Whatever money comes in usually dribbles out to fund existing projects that have developed their own special-interest voting groups that are now on the dole. When it comes to the budgeting ability of politicians, the words of the prophet Haggai come to mind:
Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes (Haggai 1:6).
So, every other year, I get to go into a voting booth, close the curtains, pick up the hole-puncher, and punch chad-free holes into the "no" slots of every bond issue. Pop, pop, pop: I love that sound!
Academic economists say there are few positive returns for voting. They have no understanding of the personal joy of getting even — not necessarily winning, but just getting even. Every time I punch the "no" slot of a bond issue, I know that I have just thrown a small but statistically relevant monkey wrench into the plans of some boondoggle-loving voter who came in to vote "yes." I think to myself, "Take that, you immoral scum-bag! And that. . . ." If economists thought of voting in the same way that they think about sticking in an obscure footnote reference in an even more obscure academic journal, in order to publicly embarrass one of their academic peers — a footnote that will be remembered by no one except its intended target — they might better understand the joy of voting. "It's a waste of time, but I love to do it!"
This year, I may not vote. Again. There are no bond issues on the ballot. The only race that matters is the race for the U.S. Senate. It is being waged by a pair of nonentities who both claim that they are going to make sure that seniors get their Social Security checks and Bush will get his weapons.
My wife says she will vote for the Republican because, in a recent press release, the Democrat accused the Republican of wanting to abolish the U.S. Department of Education. The Republican didn't actually admit to this, but my wife thinks that the mere accusation is enough to get her vote for him. It's the thought that counts, she says.
I had planned to vote for the Democrat. Here is my thinking. They both stand for the same thing: getting elected by promising special-interest groups money. The new man will have less seniority than the incumbent. My strategy is to keep incumbents guessing. Keep them fearful of being replaced. Let them spend their time planning for the next campaign, not attending to business. We should replace them whenever we can. We can't stop them from voting our economic futures into the oblivion of government debt, but at least we can make their lives miserable. They deserve that much from us.
So, I will probably stay home. Again. I don't like to vote against my wife and then have to keep explaining myself afterwards. If some Chicago School economist wants to do some theoretical work in this unexplored area of voting behavior, more power to him. I look at it this way: the project will keep him from writing another equation-filled paper proposing some minor reform of the Federal Reserve System to make it more efficient.
November 5, 2002
Copyright © 2002 LewRockwell.com