In the upcoming presidential election, I am voting for Harry Browne. When I tell this to friends (both of them) or acquaintances, they usually reply with one of the following familiar arguments:
"You're throwing your vote away. A vote for Browne is a vote for Gore."
This one's easy. My vote for Browne will only "elect Gore" if the election is decided by one vote. (Well, the electoral college complicates things, but you get the idea.) If I vote for a third party candidate, I (ever so slightly) increase the plausibility of such candidates in everyone's eyes, making it harder for people next cycle to say, "Yes, we agree that Browne (or Ventura or Buchanan) would be better, but he can't win."
In contrast, if I vote for George W. Bush, then I really am "throwing away" my vote. If Bush wins, he will certainly not have needed my vote, and if he loses, then all the people who voted for him must then kick themselves for wasting their time on a loser.
And please don't object to my "selfish" cost-benefit calculation; if "everyone acted like me," then Browne would win. So there.
"If you vote, you legitimize the governmental system."
This objection concerns my self-proclaimed anarchism; the idea is that I'm inconsistent if I vote at all. While I certainly sympathize with and do not criticize those anarchists who choose not to vote as a matter of principle, they cannot fault me for my choice to vote for a third party longshot. We are all trapped in a vicious system in which 51% of our neighbors can decide to steal our money, take away our guns, and send us off to die in foreign lands. If this evil machine contains an off-button namely, that we can decide to not use its tyrannical powers then I'm all for exercising this option. If I were in a Nazi concentration camp, about to be shot for my alleged Jewish background, I would not hesitate to point out that I am from Irish Catholic stock. This certainly wouldn't mean that I agreed with the Nazi system.
"Harry Browne is not a true libertarian. He's for taxes."
It's true, Harry Browne isn't the ideal candidate. But he does provide a very good focal point for liberty-minded dissenters. As everyone repeatedly tells me, Browne is not going to win, so his impurities are irrelevant. No one is going to mistake my vote for Browne as a disgruntled plea for taxation.
If my listener allows me to elaborate, I explain that I will continue to vote for Browne (or whomever the Libertarian Party nominates) until that point at which I think he might actually win. Then I'll switch to a new, even more radical candidate, who doesn't stand a chance of winning. Like Lew Rockwell.
But by this point, my listener has already walked away, sorry he even asked.
July 14, 2000
Bob Murphy is a graduate student in New York City.