Instrumental

Being a voter and someone who encourages others to vote (libertarian) if its not too much trouble, I'm in the minority amongst my Catallarchy fellows. And while my fellows' desire not to vote is understandable, their mockery of those who do is unfortunate. Its especially unfortunate when even partially assembled around a particular straw man argument that is a pet peeve of mine.

"Voting is not instrumentally rational."

Bollocks.

This statement presumes to know what it is that someone is trying to achieve when voting, and seems to invariably include vote tallies in the hundreds of thousands with an additional +1 added to various candidates, saying "see! you've achieved nothing! Cease your silly activity at once!!", when of course economists (especially Austrians, but also neoclassicals) know better than to presume to know other peoples' ends, desires, tastes, etc. The assumption is that one votes in order to "influence" the election directly, and thus if you do not do so then there is no point to voting.

Instrumental!

I call this a massive straw man because the only people making this argument about voting are the people who are against voting in general. I have yet to run into voters who believe that their vote, their particular vote, is the one that is going to push their candidate over the edge, nor have I come across the activist that encourages people to vote because their particular vote will be the one to push the candidate over the edge.

If Diana's (to continue Jonathan's example) goal is to increase her candidate's tally by one, then voting is instrumental (and has a high probability of success). If her goal is to signal to the general political class what type of candidate (in terms of personality & mix of policies) will win her legally relevant support in an election, then voting is instrumental. If her goal is long term and involves moving a party in one direction or another, then voting is instrumental. Pretty much, so long as her goal is anything other than "being the particular vote that is responsible for putting my candidate over the edge," it is instrumental to vote. In all of these cases your vote either directly achieves your goal or serves that end.

Of course, one could put all sorts of caveats and baroque exceptions on the the term 'instrumental' in an effort to salvage the position (such as saying "oh, well, you could gain psychic profit from voting, I suppose, but that's not really instrumental"), but that would tend to make the definition so idiosyncratic and particular as to be useless. It is true that the argument survives against sillier reasons for voting, such as the idea that your vote will directly determine policy (which is but a subset of the 'my vote will be the deciding vote' line), but aside from that its weak broth indeed.

And not even being a market anarchist/polycentric voluntarist need philosophically disqualify one from voting, as even Roderick Long is planning to vote, mostly for strategic reasons as well as from a sense of imperfect duty:

My argument is not intended as a criticism of those who think, not unreasonably, that the Prince President is so egregiously horrific that this election really is a case where preventing his re-election immediately is worth the setback to any longterm LP strategy (especially if they have doubts about the LP's longterm viability anyway). These are trade-offs that each individual must judge for herself. (I would note, however, that those who do not live in a swing state still have no good reason to vote for a major-party candidate.) It's also not intended as a criticism of those who are so disgusted with the electoral process that they prefer not to vote at all. While I don't buy the argument that voting is inherently immoral (see my counter-argument here), nor the argument that voting is pointless unless a single vote is likely to determine the outcome (I believe in an imperfect duty to contribute to public goods, so the fact that something would be good if lots of people did it is a reason, albeit a defeasible one, to do it), there is nothing inherently obligatory about voting (since the duty to contribute to public goods is imperfect, we can pick and choose which public goods we contribute to -- which is also why I'm not a vegetarian, but that's another story) and the whole process is pretty distasteful.

Dr. Long is right to say that those who don't want or care to vote are not in the wrong; there are many principled reasons not to vote, including the most important one, which is "I don't enjoy it; I don't want to do it; It is a cost to me if I went to vote and gives me no pleasure/benefit in excess of said cost." But there are plenty of reasons to vote as well, both strategic and defensive. A strategic view is that, ala David Friedman's point[1] in The Machinery of Freedom, one must generate enough votes to deny a major party victory, and thus cause them to position themselves to thwart your success. Quoting Dr. Long again (link to the original source):

In playing chess, a sure way to lose is to spend your first few moves capturing as many of the opponent's pieces as possible. It’s much more important to let those juicy-looking pieces go than to allow them to distract you from your main mission of building a strong presence at the center of the board.

I think the same lesson applies in politics. In crafting our strategy we need to plan several elections ahead, not just one. ... If we plan ahead only as far as the next election, then it's absolutely true that a vote for a candidate who loses is an ineffective vote.

But if we think ahead four years, or eight years, or twelve years, then a vote can do more than just elect a candidate. A vote can help to build a vote total which, even if it is a losing vote total, can, if it's big enough, draw more attention and support to the losing candidate and his party or cause.

This has two beneficial effects: First, it increases the good guys' chance of winning in the future. Second, it forces the major candidates to move in our direction in order to avoid precisely that.

Voting as defense stems from the responses to tyrannical, bad, or merely just profoundly irritating government that libertarians can take. If you don't like the system, you can drop 'off the grid' and live a minimalist lifestyle such that the state takes as little interest in you as possible; you could endure multiple petty incarcerations in the course of unrepentently resisting the state's edicts on small matters; you could move, essentially shopping among extant governments for one marginally more tolerable than the one you can't stand now, or you could roll your own, etc. The problem with this is that when those who love liberty drop out of the political system, all that are left are the hardcore tribalists who wish to take complete control over the machinery of coercion. The reason that libertarianish groups are able to keep government respecting property rights, contracts, civil rights, etc, are because the current government is constituted in a way that according to its own dictates, its activity is bound and circumscribed. Once the tribalists have no political opposition in their way (which is the intended outcome of exhortations not to vote), the dictates change, activity is unbound, and real coercion & violence can get underway (far worse than anything we've seen in the US to date). With the political solution off the table, the remaining options for libertarians who find the oppression intolerable are fight or flight. I don't particularly like either option, so to me its worth putting my $0.02 into the process to keep it political.

In the article linked by Micha, Jonathan David Morris agrees:

If there’s someone worth voting for this year, it’s probably the Libertarian Party’s Michael Badnarik. I had a chance to speak with him a couple of weeks ago for an interview for “The Aquarian" (on newsstands October 27, 2004). I asked him why, if he thought government was a problem, he was willing to be a part of it. He told me, “If Americans do not wake up and take charge of the government that they are responsible for, then, ultimately, the government will become so tyrannical that the only way to correct it will be through violent revolution.” This makes sense to me. I’ve heard it said that voting is an act of violence—the idea being that it perpetuates an abusive government—but I would suppose breaking out the Jiffy Pop and watching our infrastructure crumble is an act of violence, too. Revolution sounds romantic until you realize you might lose your brother in it. Then all of you sudden you start to realize you’re pro-change but anti-losing-your-family-in-an-unnecessary-war.

I agree with Micha that there are many different ways that people can make a difference without recourse to voting. But I don't believe that there is any reason to reject voting a priori. In the meantime of helping my friends convince others of political liberalism, encouraging those who'd help us circumvent, push back, or otherwise render moot the state (either by seasteading new territory, virtual worlds, private alternatives to public good provision, or by creating a new frontier in space for people to go), I also intend to use the process available to me to thwart those that would turn the state to greater evil.

Note:

fn1. Full quote:

I believe the answer is that we should learn from our enemies; we should imitate the strategy of the Socialist party of 60 years ago. Its presidential vote never reached a million, but it may have been the most successful political party in American history. It never gained control of anything larger than the city of Milwaukee but it succeeded in enacting into law virtually every economic proposal in its 1928 platform -- a list of radical proposals ranging from minimum wages to social security.

As Dr. Long points out, this didn't come about through Socialist academics or think tank lobbying, but by actually getting people to vote for them. Once they commanded enough votes to warrant capture by the Democrats, they gained access to the Machinery of Government, and not in any other way did they do so.

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The reason that I don't vote

The reason that I don't vote is that I feel that the effort it would take to become informed about the specfic propositions, constitutional amendments, and candidates I would be voting for or against exceeds any benefit I could possibly draw from voting. Add to this taking off from work early, getting my butt to the polling place, and then punching out holes on a gridded card with just numbers on it that I then have to compare to my sample ballot to make sure I did it right. Or maybe they use electronic machines in my county. Machines with no paper receipt to provide an auditable paper trail.

I agree with you that the argument that people shouldn't vote because their vote doesn't count is a straw man. Therefore, I'm here to tell you that your vote *does* count. Since you're willing to wastespend your time voting, you should also be willing to spend your money paying me to vote on your behalf! For the low, low price of $50, I will vote for the candidate of your choice! As an added one-time bonus I'll even vote how you like for state-level offices. I charge $1 for each proposition, however, and $1.50 for each constitutional amendment.

If nobody takes me up on my offer, I'll instead spend that time at work making money that I will then spend on things I want. Part of that money will be donated to the Humane Society. Part of it will be invested in companies working on low-cost access to space. Part of it will go to get me a new laptop. How I love being able to change the world just by sitting on my butt in front of the computer for a few hours!

It never fails to amuse me

It never fails to amuse me how people figure they can know what I "should" also spend my money/time on if I spend it on something they don't like.

:razz:

But surely Sean's suggestion

But surely Sean's suggestion of how you should spend your money is a logical implication of the preferences you stated above? Compare with this:

"I can earn £15/hour, but I'm willing to give up an hour of my time to bake myself a chocolate cake because I like the taste of it."

"In that case, you should also be willing to spend that hour earning £15 and pay £5 to your local baker to bake the cake for you."

"It never fails to amuse me etc. ..."

In your example, Andy, I

In your example, Andy, I clearly value the act of making my own chocolate cake in an hour more than working an hour to make £15.

It doesn't follow from that that I should thus work an hour and pay £5 for a chef-made cake.

That there is a £5 cake available means that, if I don't want to make my own but still desire a cake, I can purchase it and have resources left for other purposes. But so long as "making my own cake" is at the top of my personal rank scale for that particular point in time, I'm going to make my own cake, not buy one. I'm not a minimax robot looking for any good at the lowest price, after all.

If Dianaâ??s (to continue

If Dianaâ??s (to continue Jonathanâ??s example) goal is to increase her candidateâ??s tally by one, then voting is instrumental (and has a high probability of success). If her goal is to signal to the general political class what type of candidate (in terms of personality & mix of policies) will win her legally relevant support in an election, then voting is instrumental. If her goal is long term and involves moving a party in one direction or another, then voting is instrumental. Pretty much, so long as her goal is anything other than â??being the particular vote that is responsible for putting my candidate over the edge,â?? it is instrumental to vote. In all of these cases your vote either directly achieves your goal or serves that end.

I think this is pretty clearly wrong, for the reasons Jonathan and I laid out in the previous thread.

Does a single act of voting increase the candidate's vote total by one? Yes, but this is trivial and obvious. Why is that a reason to vote?

Does a single act of voting send a signal to anyone? No, it doesn't, because your infinitesimally tiny signal gets drowned out in a sea of cacophonous voices. This is hashed out in detail in the previous thread. The act of sending a signal may be pleasurable, but it is nonsense to believe that your message is being heard by someone.

Does a single act of voting move a party in one direction or another, long-term or otherwise? No, for the same reason mentioned above - in the ballot box, no one can hear you scream.

I stand behind my original claim: voting is not instrumentally rational. The only rational reason to vote is for the pleasure of expressing your opinion through the act itself, and not as a means of bringing about any other ends.

In your example, Andy, I

In your example, Andy, I clearly value the act of making my own chocolate cake in an hour more than working an hour to make Ã?£15. It doesnâ??t follow from that that I should thus work an hour and pay Ã?£5 for a chef-made cake.

Actually, this does follow, if you believe that voting is instrumentally rational; that is, if you believe that the act of voting is valuable as a means to further some other desired ends. Granted, if the act of voting is valuable only as a form of self-expression, then it would be foolish to pay someone else to vote, for the same reason it would be foolish to pay someone else to cheer for your favorite football team. But if voting is instrumental rational, as you claim it is, then you should be willing to pay other people to vote in order to increase the vote totals by an additional one, send an additional message to the powers that be (and have that message be heard), more a party marginally closer in the direction you want it to go, etc.

You can't have it both ways: either voting is instrumental, in which case it is worth paying others to vote, or it is not instrumental, in which case it isn't worth paying others to vote.

Well all, I voted today.

Well all, I voted today. However, what I participated in only vaguely resembled an election in a democracy. I believe the challenger/attorneys outnumbered the voters. I saw frail elderly people treated so badly that I'm quite surprised they toughed it out and stayed to vote[only to have the attorneys put in phone calls reporting them after.].

I've heard other people say they voted in their State with no problems, and that it was quick and painless.

If my candidate wins, I'm not quite sure yet if I'll feel like celebrating it now.:cry2:

A regrettable, but entirely

A regrettable, but entirely predictable result of Democracy, Diane. When was the last time you walked into a 7-11 and a cadre of lawyers tried to prevent you from purchasing a stick of beef jerky? Not too recently, I gather. Civil society vs. uncivil politics, at its finest.

In your example, Andy, I

In your example, Andy, I clearly value the act of making my own chocolate cake in an hour more than working an hour to make £15.

No. I deliberately said that it was the taste of the chocolate cake that you valued, not the act of baking it, so that the act is only valuable as a means of achieving some other goal, but has no value by itself.

I presume that's what is meant by instrumentally rational?

Well, of course, if I were

Well, of course, if I were George Soros and vote buying were (a) legal and (b) enforceable, then sure, I'd do it.

But then immediately the circumstances of the "election" would change to being more akin to a stock market rather than, well, an election.

As we at Catallarchy point out on a regular basis, Andy, democracy is not a market and politics does not act like a market. Apples and Oranges.

And no, it still doesn't follow either way (Andy or Micha).

(A) if I do like the taste and not making the cake, then yes I'll buy it. Of course, that is completely non-analogous to voting (since democracy doesn't work the way the market does).

(B) if I like the taste of chocolate cake and take off an hour and then see that I can get it for $5 instead of an hour of time, THEN it will be seen whether I truly like the cake just for the taste or that I actually enjoy working on the cake.

(c) Also, it is unknown in your analogy where I am on my labor curve and how I value a marginal hour of doing "something other than work" vs. work. Sure I could get $15 for another hour, but what if I value "Everything/Anything Else" at $20/hr?

If the system is set up as

If the system is set up as "one person, one vote" and the integrity of the system depends on aggregating preference via ballot, then engaging in the kind of "vote maximization" via payment of goods and/or services would assail the integrity of the system. Thus it would not follow that if it is instrumentally rational to vote in accordance with the system as laid out, that it would necessarily be rational to do whatever it takes to maximize the first instance.

If the first vote has value only when or dependent upon the system hav a threshold level of integrity, then you'd either defect only a bit or not at all. The upshot of this, though, is that as the vast amount of simple fraud that goes on across the US in elections is revealed, fewer people will want to vote.

Does a single act of voting increase the candidateâ??s vote total by one? Yes, but this is trivial and obvious. Why is that a reason to vote?

Why not? A person's ends and values are subjective, not objective.

Does a single act of voting send a signal to anyone? No, it doesnâ??t, because your infinitesimally tiny signal gets drowned out in a sea of cacophonous voices. This is hashed out in detail in the previous thread. The act of sending a signal may be pleasurable, but it is nonsense to believe that your message is being heard by someone.

Sure it does, as Randall attested. For his purposes his vote isn't drowned out by anyone at all. And regardless of whether the act is pleasurable or not, if the end valued is to either vote, or to get other people to vote by showing an example, it is a means to an end- and thus instrumental rather than expressive. Or, rather, the two cannot be meaningfully separated if the voter proceeds to tell others that they voted and that they'll vote again in a similar manner, etc.

Does a single act of voting move a party in one direction or another, long-term or otherwise? No, for the same reason mentioned above - in the ballot box, no one can hear you scream.

Sorites. There is no beach, only grains of sand. You are correct if an individual voter's planning horizon is 5 seconds, as nothing will immediately happen after flipping the switch. Your objection becomes less correct as the time scale stretches out, until such point that it becomes incorrect (and perhaps regaining correctness at a sufficiently far off point in time- a person whose planning horizon is 1 million years is either insane or very powerful, for an extreme example). Executed as a strategy with an appropriate time horizon, it is instrumentally rational to vote.

By the way, I fully endorse

By the way, I fully endorse Micha's position that Civil Society > uncivil politics.

"Does a single act of voting

"Does a single act of voting increase the candidateâ??s vote total by one? Yes, but this is trivial and obvious. Why is that a reason to vote?"

Why not? A personâ??s ends and values are subjective, not objective.

Well, sure, ends are subjective, but what is the desired end here? Is it that one more vote for candidate X creates happiness? How is this possible? Is anyone honestly happier if candidate X gets 1 million and one votes as opposed to 1 million? I don't think so. Someone may claim this makes them happier, but I don't believe them, because it is really, really silly.

I can understand strange preferences. But not when they're that strange.

Sure it does, as Randall attested. For his purposes his vote isnâ??t drowned out by anyone at all. And regardless of whether the act is pleasurable or not, if the end valued is to either vote, or to get other people to vote by showing an example, it is a means to an end- and thus instrumental rather than expressive. Or, rather, the two cannot be meaningfully separated if the voter proceeds to tell others that they voted and that theyâ??ll vote again in a similar manner, etc.

But the end Randall is trying to achieve is the ability to tell people he voted in order to have them take his arguments more seriously. But he can achieve this end without voting! Nothing is stopping Randall from making this claim when he is involved in a political discussion. Actually voting as opposed to just claiming that he voted doesn't help make his claim stronger or weaker, so long as no one can check up on him.

Sorites. There is no beach, only grains of sand. You are correct if an individual voterâ??s planning horizon is 5 seconds, as nothing will immediately happen after flipping the switch. Your objection becomes less correct as the time scale stretches out, until such point that it becomes incorrect (and perhaps regaining correctness at a sufficiently far off point in time- a person whose planning horizon is 1 million years is either insane or very powerful, for an extreme example). Executed as a strategy with an appropriate time horizon, it is instrumentally rational to vote.

Time and Sorites paradox have nothing to do with this. Does my adding or taking away a single grain of sand change anything important about the beach? No. Does my adding or taking away a single grain of sand every single year for the rest of eternity change anything important about the beach? Yes, but that is not what voting does. A single voter doesn't live for eternity, and the results of one election do not carry over to effect the results of the next election, insofar as my one vote is concerned.

And while my fellowsâ??

And while my fellowsâ?? desire not to vote is understandable, their mockery of those who do is unfortunate.

Where did I mock?

I don't disagree with much of what you wrote. The rest is likely semantic quibbles so I won't argue too much. However, there are some people who do believe that their vote will make a diffrernce in the election. They're not doing it to 'signal' anything or build for the future.

The signalling mechanism is one reason why I choose not to vote. It's a signal intended to demonstrate my view that civil society > uncivil politics. Imperfect, sure. It gets degraded by other non-voting signals. Would a vote for the LP be better? My opinion is no - it still signals that civil society is up for vote. Your opinion is likely different.

A vote is but one lone voice

A vote is but one lone voice in a screeching mob, looking
for a glorious leader to lead them to The Promised Land
on someone else's tab.

Why do you need a leader? Aren't you self-contained?
Can't you manage your own affairs?

Avoid all crowds and other non-profit organizations.

Jonathan- I started writing

Jonathan-

I started writing peeved, but cooled off later. I probably should have taken that line out, or modified it.

For the special case of those who do believe that their votes directly matter in terms of policy or deciding the president in the here and now, they probably should be dissuaded from voting, as their votes reduce the integrity of the system in my opinion (assuming, arguendo, that the system has integrity to begin with).

I agree with the negative signalling- but the negative signalling would be better if there were institutional consequences for candidates failing to get votes- such as a "quorum" rule or provisional election (one year term until another election, repeat until critical mass achieved, etc).

As we at Catallarchy point

As we at Catallarchy point out on a regular basis, Andy, democracy is not a market and politics does not act like a market. Apples and Oranges.

I don't see how that changes anything. The only reason that votes aren't traded is because vote buying is illegal, as you remarked. A black market in votes is not beyond anyone's imagination. Nor is paying a friend, whom you trust, to vote for your preferred candidate. Perhaps the fact that we don't observe much of this is evidence that a vote is less valuable than, say, a gram of cocaine.

(A) if I do like the taste and not making the cake, then yes Iâ??ll buy it. Of course, that is completely non-analogous to voting (since democracy doesnâ??t work the way the market does).

But it is analogous to paying someone else to vote for your preferred candidate. And there's nothing stopping you from buying a vote from a friend whom you trust.

(B) if I like the taste of chocolate cake and take off an hour and then see that I can get it for $5 instead of an hour of time, THEN it will be seen whether I truly like the cake just for the taste or that I actually enjoy working on the cake.

But this is really the point. If baking a cake/voting is instrumentally rational, (ie. is a means of achieving some other goal, the act having no value itself - assuming I've understood your terminology correctly) then, when you are presented with an opportunity to achieve the same goal at a lower cost by some other means, you should take it. The fact that you don't implies either that you are being irrational, or that the act itself has value, independent of the goal it is supposed to promote.

(C) Also, it is unknown in your analogy where I am on my labor curve and how I value a marginal hour of doing â??something other than workâ?? vs. work.

Baking a cake is labour, and if it instrumentally rational, you will be indifferent between an hour of work and an hour in the kitchen, if the rewards for those hours are the same.

Sure I could get $15 for another hour, but what if I value â??Everything/Anything Elseâ?? at $20/hr?

If working is merely a means of earning cash, then the value of an hour's leisure time should equal an hour's pay. If you value an hour's worth of leisure more than an hour's pay, you are either working irrationally hard, or you regard work as a reward in itself, to the tune of $5/hr in your example.

For the special case of

For the special case of those who do believe that their votes directly matter in terms of policy or deciding the president in the here and now, they probably should be dissuaded from voting, as their votes reduce the integrity of the system

This is the reason the vast majority of people vote. Even the vast majority of libertarians. The only groups which largely recognize the futility of instrumental voting are economists and political scientists.

This is the reason the vast

This is the reason the vast majority of people vote. Even the vast majority of libertarians. The only groups which largely recognize the futility of instrumental voting are economists and political scientists.

Disagree. When I press most people I know, they admit that their vote won't sway the election. Most of them don't actually believe that their votes will make the difference between a candidate winning and losing. They vote for expressive reasons - they identify with a Party or politician.