Buying and selling a bastard vote

There's a new post on Public Reason about vote buying/selling. Jason Brennan argues: "So long as Alf is justified in voting a particular way for free, then it’s permissible for him to take money to vote that way and it’s permissible to pay him to vote that way."

I'm sure Brennan has written elsewhere about how a person can be justified in voting in the first place, but to me this issue seems like a lot of needless hand-wringing. A lot of the theorizing about vote buying/selling uses the caveat that the voting itself must be for the common good, but what does that mean? If the person intends the common good and believes that his vote contributes to it, that's commendable, but doesn't the voter also have a duty to see if his belief is justified? I gather that a lot of Obama's voters were anti-war, anti-torture, and anti-corporate welfare, but to the extent that their vote actually mattered, they ended up supporting all those things instead.

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The whole point of the

The whole point of the argument is stupid... It looks like Jason Brennan feels very clever for saying : "Ahah, but if you pay him to vote the way he would have voted anyway", everything's fine. Boring.

It's presented like an edgy and controversial argument about vote buying... Uh uh. I've heard people argue that voters should be shot, that's controversial and edgy.

Regulating the harmless as a means to regulating the harmful?

Arthur B's assessment struck me as pretty harsh -- until I read the post. Wow, we're heavily into angels-on-pinhead territory here. I'm guessing that the discussion makes sense within some larger academic context, and I'm not the intended audience.

That said, I think an interesting discussion can be salvaged from the wreckage:

When Alan takes money to vote or the clean the streets, no one is harmed. All parties to the transaction are benefited. Innocent third parties are benefited or at least not harmed. Everyone is a winner or at least no worse off. Given this, if you think Alan is acting wrongly, you bear the philosophical burden of proof. You need to produce a coherent, defensible principle that explains what makes his actions wrong. (In the coming sections, I will respond to a few arguments that attempt to show Alan is doing something wrong.) Until you produce such a good explanation of what makes Alan and Bob’s actions wrong, you should be skeptical of your belief that they are acting wrongly.

That’s a fine statement of philosophy. But I don’t know that it reflects either law or economics. To the contrary, I sense that governments often prohibit potentially harmless behavior as a means of warding off harmful behavior. Thus, the US regulates everyone’s access to nuclear weapons as a means to governing access by people who would mis-use the weapons. The Second Amendment notwithstanding, I am not aware of any court that has held that government bears the burden to show that any specific individual will do something harmful with a nuclear devise.

Similarly, there are large categories of “strict liability” crimes for which sanctions may be imposed without requiring any proof of harm or even wrongful intent. Arguably these crimes represent a social judgment that proving harm/intent would be more expensive than the social burden of imposing the liability on an occasional innocent party. Thus a state can prohibit all 14-yr-olds from driving without bearing the burden to show that every specific 14-yr-old is unqualified, and can ticket people driving at 75 MPH without bearing the burden to show that any specific speeder’s conduct was dangerous.

Similarly, there are classes of laws that limit people’s discretion as a means of keeping that discretion from being manipulated in a manner society finds wrongful. The 15th Amendment bars slavery, even of people who would voluntarily sell themselves into this status. The Hatch Act limits the rights of federal employees to participate in political campaigns, even if they protest that they want to participate. Child labor laws limit the rights of kids to work for pay, even if they protest that they want to do so. Anti-prostitution laws limit the rights of women to work as prostitutes, even if they protest that they want to. Minority laws (including statutory rape laws) typically bar minors from certain activities (contracts, having sex, getting married) even if they want to. Finally, because rape laws typically prohibit sex without consent, and certain developmentally delayed people may never achieve a developmental status in which they can consent, and guardians are not authorized to consent on their ward’s behalf, rape laws can be construed to force life-long celibacy on developmentally delayed people.

So, whatever you may think about the philosophical burden of proof, this strikes me as a practical answer: Legislators conclude that the good to come of permitting people to pay for votes, and to receive payments for votes, would be swamped by the bad, and the cost of distinguishing between the innocent and beneficial vote-buying and harmful vote-buying would be greater than the cost of simply barring all vote-buying.

To be sure, I expect some people will disagree factually. But the larger question is whether you disagree conceptually: may government regulate harmless conduct as a means of regulating harmful conduct?

Wow, we're heavily into

Wow, we're heavily into angels-on-pinhead territory here

Exactly my thought ^^

buying votes

Buying votes in the Philippines is common place. My wife was paid 5000 pesos (about $125 USD) in a recent election. Everyone loves election time because they make a bunch of cash - ranging from about 500 pesos in rural province areas to about 10k pesos in more prosperous cities. Unfortunately, almost all the cash that is dispensed this way comes from road repair funds from the current incumbent politician and as such, road maintenance suffers.

Though I think it mainly has the potential for abuse, there may be one instance in which it would be beneficial for voters to be paid to vote, in a real world application which would be beneficial to the one running for office (without their ability to verify whether someone actually voted for them, and considering that the act of payment isn't influencing the voter whatsoever).

Assume for a moment, that there are more democrats (60%) than republicans (40%). Also assume that (even there are fewer republicans) that republicans (60%) are more inclined to actually vote than democrats (40%).

This brings on a situation where, if voting across the board increased, it would be favorable to democrats because the pool of increased voters would benefit the democrats 6 to 4.

This, I think, is why MTV will run massive "get out the vote" campaigns, encouraging everyone and anyone to vote, without encouraging them to specifically vote democrat. It is certain that MTV's programming favors democrats, and the general viewership of MTV is mostly democrat, therefore encouraging all MTV viewers to vote would result in an increased democrat turnout (even though the ads themselves are unbiased).

An honest politician is one who stays bought

when you buy him.

Not being a politician and knowing that they are all crooks after their 2nd election, you could buy my vote for $125 cash.

Vote Buying is Bad

I think that vote buying should be illegal. It's bad enough that others get to confiscate earned money to non-earners via the vote but to pay them for this "service" is even worse since the diversion is direct, and with direct incentives.