Why vote?

In response to my post below about voting strategies for libertarians, John T. Kennedy says, by way of questioning, that "the utility (in terms of electoral outcome) [of a vote] ... is negligible," :

Groups do not evaluate arguments, nor do they vote. Any argument offered for the utility of voting a certain way is necessarily an argument put to individuals and evaluated by individuals. And since the utility of the individual vote in terms of electoral outcome is negligible there is no sound argument that can be offered based on such utility.

So yeah, there can be utility to the individual in swaying a number of other individuals to vote a given way. But that cannot be accomplished by any valid argument from such utility, it can only be accomplished by purveying nonsense.

(emphasis added)

The key to John's criticism of voting is an electoral-outcome utilitarian analysis. That is, if I understand correctly, an individual's vote is so unlikely to be the deciding vote (the single, unique one that puts a candidate at 50%+1, or to plurality), and thus any given vote is unlikely to sway the election, so there is little value in voting; its no better than playing the lottery as far as expected payoff (worse, probably).

If the argument to individuals for voting depended upon electoral outcome utility, then John would be correct- why vote when you have less of a chance to influence the election than winning $130 million in a lottery?

Thus even in the face of certitude of electoral failure, voting still 'has value' in the sense that a preference can be lodged, and if it so happens that the emergent property of such "wasted votes" is that one candidate loses who might have won had he appealed to the disaffected marginally more, then important data may be revealed to the candidate who normally commands greater support. Or, contrariwise, should the people "wasting" their vote realize that after years of effort in the political ring they can't get more than 2% of the voting populace to prefer them to the alternatives, maybe they ought to think of something else (quit politics, alter strategies, etc). In any case, its all about the info, not about trying to hit the "power lotto" and be the one deciding vote among millions.

Though I haven't elaborated on this position before, this belief informs my strategy for urging fellow libertarians to vote. As much as I've dissed Badnarik (and probably will continue to diss in the future), it is likely that I'll vote for him anyway[2], primarily to make libertarian voters seem worthwhile targets to either party[3], and thus perhaps tempt some of the major candidates to make political concessions to buy woo these 'splitters' back into a fold. That's why I hope libertarians, if they vote at all, vote Badnarik this time around rather than Kerry. Because as I explained above, the system only registers votes "for", not votes "against". If you vote for Kerry, Kerry will think you are for him, not simply anti-Bush. If you vote Badnarik, you are counted as "none of the above, with this set of preferences". A loony set, perhaps, but at least you're counted separately from the socialists and chickenshit interventionists who want Bushism but with different targets.

fn1. if that's what you want, go to the market, not the voting booth.

fn2. Unless the fool keeps being chummy with the Watermelon Green party because of the War issue. Damn, get another issue, man! Stop being chummy with socialists who represent the antithesis of 95% of your position! :wall:

fn3. In reality, only the GOP would probably care. Last year many prominent Donk hacks in the 'sphere arrogantly supposed that libertarians would/should vote for the Donks just because Bush is an asshat; of course, with not even the slightest concession to libertarian sensibilities or concerns, just 'ha ha, Bush is an asshat. Its your money or your life! We'll tax and regulate you mercilessly, but we'll let you have sex and an abortion!', etc. To quote Matthew Yglesias, "No, Fuck you."

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Just as your individual vote

Just as your individual vote has negligible utility in terms of influencing the outcome of the the election it equally has negligible utility in the observation of aggregate preferences. Aggregate preferences will be observed to be essentially the same regardless of how or whether you as an individual vote.

And I ask Jonathan, Patri, and Micha again: If you can't even convince your fellow bloggers of such a simple fact what prospect is there of persuading large numbers of people of more complex propositions by rational argument?

I agree with you wrt the

I agree with you wrt the effect of Brian's vote on the 'aggregate preference outcome'. It's not zero, but it's very, very, very small. But as far as I can tell, the subjective costs of voting for Brian are still below the subjective benefits of voting. If that subjective benefit of voting to express his preference and have a very, very, very small effect on the tally is greater than the effort expended to register and walk down to the voting booth, it is not irrational.

For me, the act of voting has high subjective costs (feeling like a dirty prostitute that just got bitch-slapped and thrown into a gutter) which outweigh any possible very, very, very small effect my vote would have on the final tally.

And I ask Jonathan, Patri, and Micha again: If you canâ??t even convince your fellow bloggers of such a simple fact what prospect is there of persuading large numbers of people of more complex propositions by rational argument?

I have never tried to convince Brian not to vote. I may yet convince him. I have convinced him of other things in the past, as he has convinced me of yet other things.

I generally agree with you. It's very hard to convince people of anything. If my goal was to create an anarchocapitalist society, by say, tomorrow night at six, that would be a tough sell. But I'm not. Somehow, progress did happen, and I live with more freedom today than any hunter-gatherer ever did. The ideas prevalent today, though downright depressing by libertarian standards, favor a positive-sum view of the world when taken in the long run.

Perhaps I am being overly optimistic because I underwent the meta-context change myself (as I'm sure you also did). I spent twelve of my formative years in detention centers being indoctrinated into thinking that the solution to every problem was the state. By the time they were finished with me, I was a pure ignoramus, having little ability to think about anything, let alone politics. (I'm sure many would claim that I still am.) But eventually I found the internet and slowly did become convinced by rational argumentation. If I worked with me, surely it can work with others.

How many others? I'm not sure, but I'm not as pessimistic as you. Not every single person needs to have the non-aggression principle tattoed on their forehead (as many libertarians think). Just enough need to be convinced that even by their own standards, a libertarian society would be a good thing.

I take as evidence the state of the world today over the long run of human history that enough are being convinced, even if that number is merely enough + 1 individual. (I know, I know, the world is going to hell with statism yadda yadda yadda...)

Believe me, if I could program computers, I would be working on integrating crypto into our everyday lives. If I had money, I'd be funding private space ventures. But right now, I am in significant debt from education loans, and I work about 80 hours a week on a job that has nothing to do with politics, philosophy, economics, etc and I choose to spend what little free time I have in efforts that I believe I have a compartive advantage in - writing and convincing. One day I will have some money and I'm sure my comparative advantage in spreading liberty will change. But until then, I do what I can (and I enjoy it, too).

I don't "expect" to succeed. Political incentives are skewed against us. The only thing I desire is for the ideas and worldviews to change (and despite most libertarians' belief to the contrary, they are changing for the better). Even if the inherent public-goods problem of monopolistic government creates more statism, I refuse to believe that there won't be some place left on earth where people create a society in which the ideas of liberty are applied. It happened before. It can happen again. Ideas by themselves are unlikely to change anything. But they are a prerequisite.

"If that subjective benefit

"If that subjective benefit of voting to express his preference and have a very, very, very small effect on the tally is greater than the effort expended to register and walk down to the voting booth, it is not irrational."

Take a look at this chart again. If either of you guys want to tell me that Brian really gets different utility out of the alternative tallies listed then I say 1) I don't believe it, and 2) even if true that's loopy. Brian is voting for irrational reasons and attempting to rationalize it after the fact.

"Somehow, progress did happen,..."

But not becuase great numbers of people were persuaded of anything by rational argument.

"Perhaps I am being overly optimistic because I underwent the meta-context change myself (as Iâ??m sure you also did). I spent twelve of my formative years in detention centers being indoctrinated into thinking that the solution to every problem was the state. By the time they were finished with me, I was a pure ignoramus, having little ability to think about anything, let alone politics. (Iâ??m sure many would claim that I still am.) But eventually I found the internet and slowly did become convinced by rational argumentation. If I worked with me, surely it can work with others."

That conclusion is plausible on it's face, but in fact I find that while everyone has the necessary rational faculty hardly any demonstrate epistemic rationality in matters like politics. Put people on a wild frontier and everyone has to ground their theory in reality or die. So they do. Not so in modern society where individuals can typically have others bear the costs of their irrationl decisions. There is only a tiny fraction of the population, I sometimes call them zero-percenters, who try to ground their models in reality in all circumstances. And those are the only people who are every reliably persuaded of anything by argument because they're they only one's who appreciate how reality is apprehended via reason. The rest only reason instrumentally about how to achieve the next end that strikes their fancy. It's not possible to rationally persuade instrumentally rational individuals to embrace epistemic rationality, they have no way of evaluating such an argument.

The overwhelming majority of individuals can only be reliably persuaded by concrete experience, they will only seek to ground their models in reality when they have no choice but to bear the costs of their own decisions.

"How many others? Iâ??m not sure, but Iâ??m not as pessimistic as you. "

I'm an incurable optimist, it's not pessimistic to recognize that certain approaches to a problem are bound to fail.

There are other approaches. I've said before that Patri's Dynamic Geography is the right kind of approach, it's the kind of approach that relies on simple self interest rather than rational persuasion.

But not becuase great

But not becuase great numbers of people were persuaded of anything by rational argument.

We'll just have to disagree on this. How did the Greeks decide to try to learn about this world instead of the next unlike all other civilizations before them? How exactly did the Magna Carta spring up on an otherwise unremarkable little island in the North Atlantic? How did liberal ideas begin to spread before the American Revolution? How did man ever rise above his animal roots?

It's because he used his ability to reason to realize that life can be a positive-sum game with the creation of rules that allowed the law of comparative advantage to create wealth by their own subjective assessments. Enough people, perhaps not "great numbers" were convinced of this fact. And more are being convinced every day.

That conclusion is plausible on itâ??s face, but in fact I find that while everyone has the necessary rational faculty hardly any demonstrate epistemic rationality in matters like politics. Put people on a wild frontier and everyone has to ground their theory in reality or die. So they do. Not so in modern society where individuals can typically have others bear the costs of their irrationl decisions. There is only a tiny fraction of the population, I sometimes call them zero-percenters, who try to ground their models in reality in all circumstances. And those are the only people who are every reliably persuaded of anything by argument because theyâ??re they only oneâ??s who appreciate how reality is apprehended via reason. The rest only reason instrumentally about how to achieve the next end that strikes their fancy. Itâ??s not possible to rationally persuade instrumentally rational individuals to embrace epistemic rationality, they have no way of evaluating such an argument.

I mostly agree with this. The only place I disagree is that I think there are enough 'zero-percenters' (I think it's probably more like at least 10%) for progress to happen. Otherwise there is no way progress would have taken place at all. The more people I reach with this blog, the greater will be chance that 'zero-percenters' will be reached. The 'zero-percenters' need to know the goal before they go out and create change. Right now, they are probably trying to recover from their public school fog.

"(I think itâ??s probably

"(I think itâ??s probably more like at least 10%)"

It should be no big trick then to rationally persuade those 10% of such a simple thing as the negligible utility of voting.

Try it for a while, and let me know your results.

It should be no big trick

It should be no big trick then to rationally persuade those 10% of such a simple thing as the negligible utility of voting.

Try it for a while, and let me know your results.

I don't need to try. Most people who don't vote know that their vote doesn't count. That's why politicians have to sell all this "civic duty" gibberish and driver's licence registration nonsense to get them to vote. The apathy does not merely reflect laziness, but rather an internal calculation of the odds of any single vote affecting an election.

Expressive voting, as

Expressive voting, as opposed to instrumental voting, is not irrational. It may silly, but it is a valid means to achieve desired ends. See "The Booth And Its Consequences."

"Most people who donâ??t

"Most people who donâ??t vote know that their vote doesnâ??t count. Thatâ??s why politicians have to sell all this â??civic dutyâ?? gibberish and driverâ??s licence registration nonsense to get them to vote. The apathy does not merely reflect laziness, but rather an internal calculation of the odds of any single vote affecting an election."

It's not something they were persuaded of by rational argument. And a great many of them would reject the argument that the utility of an indivudual vote is negligible. You're mistaken if you imagine non-voters are generally any more epistemically rational than voters.

Itâ??s not something they

Itâ??s not something they were persuaded of by rational argument. And a great many of them would reject the argument that the utility of an indivudual vote is negligible. Youâ??re mistaken if you imagine non-voters are generally any more epistemically rational than voters.

I don't know if either are being "epistemically" rational. I just know that most people around me realize that their individual vote does not make a difference. I disagree with the "Randian hero hypothesis of human nature". Rational people are rare, but they are not one in a million. Certainly, I don't think I am any sort of Hank Rearden, yet I was convinced. Most of my friends are the same way.

Itâ??s not something they

Itâ??s not something they were persuaded of by rational argument. And a great many of them would reject the argument that the utility of an indivudual vote is negligible. Youâ??re mistaken if you imagine non-voters are generally any more epistemically rational than voters.

Milton Friedman famously observed that people are not perfectly rational (that is, they don't have access to perfect information and often make mistakes and don't always act based on good reasons), but they act as if they were perfectly rational. This is especially true in markets. This also applies to animals, small children, and even plants. This pseudo-rationality is often a result of natural selection.

Point being, people may not think much about the fact that an individual vote is negligible and the benefits don't outweigh the costs, but they act as if they do know this. If these voters were offered $20 for voting, we would expect many more to vote.