Nov 4, 2014
“Pay No Attention to the Man Who Won’t Stand Behind the Voting Curtain”
Removing yourself from the election process eliminates the largest incentive for politicians to care what you and those like you believe.
I already have made my personal reasons for voting clear.
However, my friend, colleague, and sometimes-editor Aaron Ross Powell has an essay up today about the moral case against voting. I understand where he’s coming from, and I’ll even concede the philosophical argument he makes in it.
But government and the elections that shape it are practical matters, not philosophy, so I respectfully disagree with its broader message.
There is a practical reason to vote, particularly for libertarians as a—gasp!—collective.
Representative government is responsive to social needs, norms, and change, albeit in a very limited way. Political parties evolve, and respond to those whom they feel most obligated. The math certainly justifies the individual’s decision not to vote, but collectively, voting is quite meaningful.
I don’t understand the libertarians—some of them among the most prominent in the nation—who insist on supporting presidential candidates like Mitt Romney because the alternative is so much worse. Even if that were so, it’s fundamentally absurd to dependably toe the party line in fear of the alternative and expect that party to become more libertarian at the same time.
The incentives for libertarian acquiescence to either party for fear of the other is a recipe for irrelevance.
I often vote for a libertarian not because I identify as a capital “L” libertarian—I don’t—but because I want to express my displeasure with both major parties and in a way that shows my preference for smaller government.
If you cast a vote today, there’s a pretty high chance that in morally significant ways you’re acting just like those friends mugging the old man. You may think there are good reasons for doing this, that a world where you vote for violations of basic human dignity and autonomy will be more livable—happier, freer, wealthier, more equal—than one where you don’t. But you’re still party to countless immoralities. You’re still expressing approval as politicians fail to live up to basic moral standards—and as they do so in your name.
By paying taxes on everything that I buy, and the income that I make, I’m already a party to these governmental immoralities. In many ways, I’m sure my money has gone to all sorts of terrible things both through taxation and participation in the market economy. My freely given or relinquished dollar does not sanction everything the recipient of that dollar does with or without my dollar.
Likewise, my marginal preference for one major candidate or another—or neither, as I’m primarily discussing here—expresses only a preference, not an endorsement. A vote in one election does not convey approval for everything that person does, and there are alternative means—writing, calling, petitioning, organizing—that can later influence the behavior of that recipient while in office.
And the more voters I can sway holds a lot more weight than a bunch of libertarians who are sitting-out on philosophical principle.
Whether or not we’re in a “libertarian moment” right now means less to me than communicating that the major parties will not, in fact, get my vote until they start paying more attention to civil liberties and reforming our criminal justice system.
By myself, it’s not saying much.
But in toss-up districts and states, enough people who vote libertarian can, by shifting the margin, change the outcome of an election. A party that is on the losing end of that would be wise to cater to libertarian issues in the future.
Yet, like clockwork, the libertarian corner of the Internet is riddled with arguments against voting today and, of course, is most likely to be read by people who agree with them. Effectively, libertarians are taking themselves out of political consideration.
Not my idea of effective policy change.
Philosophy has its place, as it informs our beliefs and ideals. However, removing yourself—and, more damning, those whom agree with you most—from the election process eliminates the largest incentive for politicians to care what you and those like you believe.
It shouldn’t be this hard to explain to libertarians that incentives matter.
This essay originally appeared on The Blanks Slate.