L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 339, October 2, 2005
Tenth Anniversary Edition, Part 1
Voting is Madness
The following text is from a discussion with my friend Gordon of The Phoenix Dollar. Gordon's text is in silver. Gordon has graciously assented to my use of his words on this page.
Hi. Thanks for your interesting question. Let me preface my comments by pointing out that Craig Spencer has it right, that a society of private property is organized so that you choose how your property gets allocated, I choose how mine goes, and so forth.
People who have very little property tend to be highly motivated workers, entrepreneurs, and capitalists. By and large, they work to gain a foothold, and within twenty or thirty years move up one or more quintiles from among the poorest toward being among the less poor or even the rich. People who have a lot of property, especially those who inherit property, very often move the other direction. There are endless studies to support these facts, and Forbes magazine and others have published such data in the past.
My view of very rich heirs is, they are often lazy. They don't want to work for a living, because they never had to. They very often don't even want to work at conserving wealth. So, they cook up schemes to redistribute wealth from those who are able to produce wealth into their hands. Sometimes they make noises about how doing so is all about helping the poor, but you shouldn't be taken in. Naturally, others see these programs as a way to get lots of money, or control a large budget, without having to work very hard or be especially creative. So, people from other walks of life join in to become tax fiends, regulators, bureau-rats, and similar filth.
Gordon: If voting is not an acceptable form of making a choice...
Here, I would suggest you consider a change in linguistic style. You write of making a choice. I think it is mistaken to say "he made a choice." Rather, if he had choices to take, we see he had an array of options, and then he took one of them. He took a choice. Choice taking behavior is something that economists have studied, and I think this way of describing what goes on is better. For one thing, if I take a choice, there is no reason for me not to take two or three or sixteen. I go to a grocery store and there are ten thousand objects in there I may choose from amongst. Then I haul the choices I've taken to the cash register and exchange value for value. I've made nothing in taking choices.
I also don't prefer the phrase, "making a decision." While it is clear that people do sometimes make decisions, I think it is very often an approach that firms up the etymological root of "cider"to kill. As in "suicider" for example, which is to kill oneself. A very French sort of term. In making decisions, what very often happens is that alternatives are killed off.
Voting as a way of taking choices has all kinds of things wrong with it. Let's consider some of these below.
Gordon: ... and degrades a society...
The evidence of democracies becoming the rule of the mob led by the demagogues and descending into tyranny is most compelling.
James Madison went on at considerable length on this idea.
Madison himself was a part of a society in which only property owners were voters. But, as you can see, this limitation very clearly failed to prevent the USA from descending into the madness of voting, and, thus, the madness of crowds. It was successful for a few decades in keeping things from going sour, but that isn't satisfying to me, as I tend to think of planning horizons in terms of what Aubrey de Grey says would be my likely lifespana thousand years or more.
Gordon: What is your solution to this problem?
My solution is to have no voting. Don't vote. Don't campaign. Don't encourage others to vote.
In the case of Hitler, or his ilk, I would be more than eager to train myself in the strategy, tactics, operations, and weapons of a sniper and go shoot such a person (with a tip of the hat to Wendy McElroy). But I would not vote against him. Voting has no place in a sensibly conceived free society.
Gordon: Why do you feel this way about voting besides the ability to rig an election?
Let's look at the problems in a candid and compelling way.
First, you have the problem of representation. Second, the problem of pre-qualified choices. Third, the problem of ignorance. Fourth, the problem of new data. Fifth, the problem of fraud. Other authors have written extensively on these problems, and some of their essays may be accessed at sites like rudeURL or http://www.voluntaryist.com/.
First, the problem of representation. Voters do not vote for and against everything, even in places like New England where town hall meetings still gather to vote on many things. Voters very often vote on representatives who are sent without contract and therefore with fraudulent portfolio to take all kinds of choices on behalf of all those who voted and those who did not in a given zone. The problem of representation is the classic agency problem and you can read endless texts on agency and why it presents difficulties. Agency assumes, mistakenly, that one person hired as an agent to represent the interest of another is able to do so just as well as the other guy.
In fact, there are endless examples of agents representing their own self-interest first, and failing to represent the interests of those they allegedly represent. Some of the more notorious instances occurred in the Old West when "Indian agents" were supposedly representing the best interests of Native American Indians and utterly failed to do so.
The same thing occurs with Congressional and State legislative representatives. Only, it is worse, because in contract agency, one has an agreement and presumably some recourse against the agent who fails in his fiduciary responsibilities. In the case of a Congress critter or State legislator, there is no contract, there is no way of knowing who voted for these guys, so there is nobody responsible to hold their feet to the fire. And, secret balloting makes this problem worse, since one cannot hold the voters responsible for the poor choice they took. We'll look at secret balloting again below under fraud.
Politicians inevitably take all kinds of choices. For example, you might send them there to choose to vote against gun control laws. Great. But, while there, they are going to also choose to support, say, the budget for the military, or the budget for other government agencies. Which means they are supporting the budget process, which includes taxation, often at gunpoint, of people who are coerced or defrauded of money to feed the state.
Politicians very often lie. In 1980, Ronald Reagan promised to abolish the Selective Service System because, he said, conscription had no place in the defense of freedom. He also promised to abolish the nationalist socialist Department of Education and the Department of Energy. He did not do these things. How does anyone have recourse against him, or against his estate, for failing to uphold his agreement to do these things? He didn't even make an effort to abolish these agencies. So, he was a fraud from the get go.
The problem of representation is also a problem of who is being represented. Let's look at a typical election. All the people of the 14th Congressional District of Texas are represented by, I think it is Ron Paul. Somewhere around half of those people are qualified to vote, what with children under 18 being given short shrift, people previously convicted of sundry felonies (and there are a lot of these), and people incarcerated, in mental hospitals, etc. Somewhere around half of the people who are qualified to vote actually register to do so. Somewhere around half of those who register to vote show up at most elections, especially when the president isn't being chosen as in 2006. (We're down to an eighth here.) Then, in the case of the most recent election, in 2004, something like 51% of the vote was won by Dr. Paul. So, something like one-sixteenth of the people in his district chose to have him represent them, but he allegedly represents all of them. Who would believe it?
There is also something inherently unfair and unreasonable about all the people in a given county voting on the property taxes for that subset of those people who actually own any property. Let's say that John Doe owns 100 acres of land. He'd like to see his property taxes go down, not up. So, he dutifully votes against all politicians who ever raise taxes, he votes against all bond issues to raise taxes, he votes against all issues relating to spending more money on anything. But, he's endlessly outvoted by the other people in his county, a very great many of whom do not own property. If they don't own land, why should they get to vote on how the land is taxed?
Second, the problem of pre-qualified choices. You don't get to take from among all possible choices. You only get to choose from among those who were able to get onto the ballot. Some of these qualifications are incredibly stupid.
For example, it is well known that mathematicians and physicists often do their best thinking before age 30. So, why is it that no Senators are allowed to be younger than 30? Why is it that a magic number of 35 is imposed on the presidency? Why a magic number of 25 for Congress? Why a magic number of 21 for drinking? (It turns out that raising the drinking age did not end drunk driving, nor even reduce it significantly.) Magic numbers are idiocy. There is nothing magic about 18. I've known a great many sixteen-year-olds over the years who were as qualified and as mature and as sensible as 18 year olds. Why are these people not allowed to vote? Their lives are at stake, too. Their futures are at stake. They are just as badly screwed if the government gets things so messed up that the city in which they live gets destroyed by a nuclear weapon. And I've met people of three and four decades who were mentally retarded, or mentally handicapped, or "special" or whatever it is we are expected to say about such folks. Why should they be qualified to vote in elections? How can they even be expected to know what they are choosing?
But, in addition to age restrictions, all kinds of ballot access games are played. Ballots are often provided with issues for local matters. In Houston, there was a tax relief resolution that some intrepid voters got onto the ballot. The Houston government got another similarly worded resolution on the ballot, as well. Both resolutions passed, but the government only implemented the one that it wanted to implement. There are lawsuits on the other, and who knows when that'll get settled. My point to take with you from here is simply that those who control the ballot get to add things to it, as well as keep things off it, to coerce the outcome.
If you want to vote for the Libertarian Party, you'll find it isn't easy in every state. Some states, such as Texas, require endless petition signature gathering in order for people to "qualify" to get on the ballot. Michael Badnarik wasn't on the ballot in every state.
There are also, now, endless limitations on how individual candidates are allowed to spend their own money, and how other individuals, groups, and corporations are allowed to contribute to campaigns, as well as, very recently, a terrible law, McCain Feingold which restricts how issue advocates are allowed to spend their own money advocating political issues, especially as they object to the vicious, evil behavior of certain candidates. These laws are designed to protect incumbents, so, naturally, incumbents frequently pass such laws. Yet, again, they pre-qualify the choices so that voters won't even be aware of the horrid records of some of these truly evil people.
Third, the problem of ignorance. Ignorance is a very, very general problem, and quite widespread. Not only are voters constantly kept in the dark by seasoned politicians and by sundry legal processes, but they are also generally quite busy with other affairs in their lives. To resolve these difficulties easily, without much effort, many voters join political parties and simply give in to the party leadership the choice-taking challenges and difficulties. So, it becomes an "our team" sort of enthusiasm, without regard to what any particular Democrat or Republican does, says, or thinks. Yellow dog Democrats would vote for a yellow dog if the dog were running against a Republican.
Ignorance of this sort very often leads to machine politics and corruption. Tammany Hall is an example, and the politics of Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago, especially the elder whose rule culminated in the 1968 Chicago Democratic National conventiona fun time to be a cop if one liked to beat up demonstratorswould be another example. There are endless examples.
Ignorance is a problem for property owners. Why should you have to put up with someone who is ignorant of your interests vote on how your property is allocated? Why should voters who are too stupid to take their children out of the public schools get to vote on a bond issue to raise the property taxes in your neighborhood?
Fourth, the problem of new data. Scientists who actually engage in scientific inquiries do not take votes. They evaluate a theory based on the available data. If a theory comes forth that explains the data better, they accept it. Then, when new data comes up, they may reject that theory and accept a new one. Theories which explain the data even better and suggest new experiments which could gather data to confirm or deny the superiority of the new theory are sometimes proposed, and new data is gathered to good effect. Sometimes new theories are confirmed, and sometimes not.
But, if science is to become political, then madness like the Nazi sciences would be forced upon the scene. People with "Jewish blood" would be forced into concentration camps, etc. "Jew sciences," so-called, such as nuclear physics, would be derided. Environmentalists would claim that a majority of scientists agree that human activities contribute significantly to global warming, even though a great many learned climatologists who actually look at the data do not agree.
The problem of new data is particularly keenly felt when it comes in between elections. Now there is new data that a bad choice had been taken in, say, sending 135,000 men and women to invade Iraq and get stuck in the tar pit there. Or, there is new data revealing that stem cells may be cloned from living human tissue and not involve the massacre of embryos, or new data about how embryos from fertilization clinics that aren't needed for in vitro fertilization are often destroyed anyway, so why not use their stem cells, etc., etc. But, an earlier election generated a law that made no sense in light of the new data, and the choice has already been taken, and it would be "wrong to abandon Iraq" or whatever. So, the choices aren't available to be revisited at all times. (One could go into considerable detail about how wars are chosen largely for the benefit of the corrupt allocation of defense contracts, which I did at some length in my essay "USA:RIP".)
Why should ignorant people get to vote on learned matters? Why should learned people who are ignorant in some particular specialty get to vote on matters pertaining to that specialty? What has voting ever done for us in the first place?
Jonathan Swift pointed out that voting was about counting noses. But, on the whole, it isn't noses that the issues are about. Let's say the issue is about whether or not to have a war. Noses don't fight in wars. Noses don't kill or die. Noses don't send their parents, sons or daughters off to die. Noses don't have to bury their loved ones. So, why count the noses?
There is a mythos about voting that it is a "better" way to take choices than, say, combat. "If we didn't have a vote, we'd have a fight, so let's settle it by counting up sides. Whichever side has the most people would win the fight, so let's just use that number to choose which side wins, and not have the fight." But, of course, there are endless examples from the Battle of Thermopylae to the Battle of Agincourt of battles which were decided, and even sometimes won, by numerically inferior armies.
(Thermopylae was the battle, c. 480 BC in which King Leonidas of Sparta took his 300 men to the narrow pass at Thermopylae and confronted at least 100,000 soldiers and perhaps a million camp followers of the Persians. The Persian commander demanded that the Spartans throw down their arms, to which Leonidas replied the Persians would have to "come and take them." The Persians won the battle, but it took so long to do so, that the Greek messengers got through to raise the Greek navy, which destroyed the supply line of the Persians. And the Greeks won the war.)
(Agincourt has previously been discussed here. Some 400 English knights and perhaps 4,000 yeomen archers under Henry V fought against some 35,000 French knights and perhaps 65,000 peasants and camp followers. Henry won the battle by choosing the time and place of battle and hiding his archers in trees so that the rules of engagement did not involve his archers being massacred. There is a tradition, though perhaps we'll never know the truth of it, that the French commander sent word that all English archers would have their middle fingers removed after the battle, as a French victory was certain, and the archers would not, thereafter, be able to properly draw a bow. After the battle, the archers held up their middle fingers as the French parley came to offer surrender, as a gesture of defiance. This gesture is another one of those enduring things about Agincourt.)
Voltaire once wrote that God is on the side which has the bigger battalions. But, that's not true. The Bible is again full of stories of numerically inferior groups who won great victories against their enemies. Some of these victories are regarded by Biblical scholars as miraculous.
Fifth, the problem of fraud. Yes, Stalin said that those who vote are important, but not as important as those who count the votes. I have endless examples of vote fraud and abuse. In Texas, in 1998, the Republican Party complained of 206 instances of vote fraud and abuse. Exactly zero of those complaints were ever resolved. Now, today, the Republicans are the majority party, and it is the Democrats who complain.
At one point shortly after the decennial census of 2000, the Republican-controlled legislature proposed re-districting of Texas. As I understand the constitutions involved, it is actually an obligation on the state legislature to draw the district lines for Congressional districts when the population officially changes at the decennial census. I happen to be against the enumeration of the people, taking this lesson from the error of King Davidfor which a great many Israelites had to dieand I should wish to point out that without voting there would be no need for re-districting nor would there be any need to enumerate the people.
However, the Democrats in the Texas legislature decided to "take it on the lam." They fled the state in some cases to avoid being in Texas and being compelled to appear in the legislature to show a quorum that would be able to vote on the new districts, because they knew they would lose the vote. If there were not voting, there would be no need for such machinations.
Voting also typically takes place in an environment of concealment, as though the act of voting were somehow too filthy to be done in the light of day. Secret balloting is supposed to prevent intimidation of voterswhich is yet another reason not to have important things chosen by voters. But, secret balloting itself makes the verification of the outcome of elections dependent not on what people actually did in the voting booth, but on what the vote counters say they did. We all saw endless examples of the vote in Florida where ballots were held up to the light, or ignored, or forged. One LP poll watcher came back to the sign-in list for his polling station after the allegations of fraud and found dozens of new names added below the mark he had carefully made after the last voter signed in, all in the same ink, all in the same hand, in alphabetical order by last name.
Secret balloting means that the dead get to vote, though living children do not. The dead rose in 1948 and again in 1954 in South Texas to vote in LBJ as Senator, according to a tale told by William F. Buckley years ago on "Firing Line" about an uncle who was a sheriff in South Texas who had been such a good Democrat that he voted for LBJ posthumously, twice. I've met a man who was paid by the Daley machine to vote six times in Chicago in 1960, straight Democratic ticket, and got six dollars for his trouble. He stopped voting at that point because he had enough money for half a case of beer, which was the extent of his ambition.
If one were to reform voting, which is not a thing that is broken and therefore I am doubtful it can be fixed (it is designed to produce bad results, so it is working in the sense that it continually produces bad results, and keeps a certain sort of ruffian in power) then one thing to consider is whether secret balloting is a source of difficulty. If every voter were able to see the votes published, they would be able to confirm whether their vote was published correctly, and whether anyone they know is dead has been shown as a voter. But, of course, such incrementalism doesn't address the broad array of things wrong with voting.
Voting is madness. It is not difficult to arrange one's affairs so that no votes need be taken.
Here's a thought: What choice do you regard as so vital that it ought to be taken based upon a vote, rather than based on careful and rational evaluation of the issue?
It seems to me that no good ever came of voting, and no good ever would.
Unlike others in the libertarian community, I am not one who says that violence never solves anything. I believe that it is a mistake to think that violence never solves anything, but it is a far greater mistake to think that violence always solves everything. I am reminded quite often that the outcome of the War for Southern Independence did not solve the issues of that great conflict. In some ways, those issues remain largely unresolved, but have been repressed and in some cases buried. They shall be addressed in the future, whether vile Yankee scum like it or not.
I remain committed to non-aggression, which I believe is a different policy from non-violence. (Ghandi and the Dalai Lama have both argued for violence in self-defense, which many pacifists don't wish to admit.) I am for unanimous consent. I don't believe that if you refuse to consent to a tax or a regulation that there is any proper authority that should force you to comply. I don't think that aggression or "initiatory force" as it is sometimes called, has any proper place in a free society.
Coercion is a bad idea. Voting is simply a way of coloring coercion with the guise, sometimes a very thin veneer disguise, of majority rule. But, why should the majority ever rule?
Are the majority more moral? Are they more sensible? Are they better informed? History gives endless examples of the opposites being true. The majority are more numerous, and in some cultures, the majority have control of the state, or those who run the state pretend that they do.
I am against coercion, and I think it is madness to raise up more generations of children in the ways of coercion. That's one of the reasons I am often pleased to mention the work of Sarah Fitz-Claridge and Taking Children Seriously, which I regard as perhaps the most important work now being pursued.
Gordon: I think you may have overlooked one point that should be addressed. It is apparent that the basis of a bill should be the bill itself. If you are going to vote on a bill, one should not be allowed to attach other, unrelated issues into a bill. When this happens, people vote things thorugh that they otherwise would not vote through if it were on its own bill. No one likes the attachments, but they vote "yes," anyway to carry the main bill through. This approach is voting corruption plain and simple, and another reason why voting does not work.
Postscript: Yes, that's certainly true. There's also the old chestnut that if the people who run the state actually thought voting were going to change anything, they would make it illegal. In that same vein, there is the idea of Machiavelli in The Prince that one should expect those who take over a republic to keep the forms and appearances of the old type of government. Much of modern American politics is just a vague shadow of the old forms.
What evidence now exists that the USA is now a tyranny? Seven dozen Texans were brutally massacred in their church near Waco in 1993. Seventeen thousand young men and women have been killed or injured in Afghanistan and Iraq, without a Congressional declaration of war against either country. Guns were seized in door to door raids in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina in spite of the fact that the constitution for the United States says "the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed," and has no provision whatsoever for suspending any freedoms during an emergency. The word "emergency" doesn't even appear in the constitution. The only thing that may be suspended by Congress is the great writ of habeas corpus and then only in the case of rebellion or invasion. I submit that the hurricane coming ashore does not satisfy the invasion requirement.
Ramming tanks into a church occupied by men, women, and children, inserting CS gas that was outlawed by treaty as a war crime, breaking the backs of infants choking on the cyanide gas, ventilating the building, firing incendiary devices into the building until a roaring fire starts, and putting explosives on the church vault where unarmed women and children are huddling, to brutally eradicate their lives are things that the United States Government's Federal Bureau of Investigation Hostage Rescue Team did in coordination with the Combat Applications Group "Delta Force" in 1993. Sniper Lon Horiuchi, fresh from murdering Vicky Weaver for holding her infant daughter in her arms, was at Mount Carmel and received a medal and a promotion for his roles in these atrocities.
Does law and order require such brutality, such viciousness, such genocidal massacres of minority religious views? No. The merchant who seeks a bit of order, who wants private property protected, is in no way helped by such behavior. Who benefits? Only those who run the state. Alvin and Heidi Toffler call this problem "surplus order," in their excellent book Powershift: Wealth, Violence, and Knowledge on the Edge of the 21st Century, 1990.
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