Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Principled Libertarian Non-Voters

Much as I may disagree with the portion of libertarians voting for Obama (some of whom may well be at our non-partisan Lolita Bar event tomorrow, with a strange, unwarranted, and unusual air of victory about them), I do at least find it interesting to see a group of ideologues who are all ostensibly on the same philosophical page contort themselves such that they come up with completely different voting strategies.

It’s also valuable for the (evil) major political parties to take note of where the free-market vote goes (and for me, a libertarian vote means, primarily, a free-market vote, which may in itself be an unspoken point of disagreement between me and some libertarians). That’s why I am frustrated by libertarians who refuse to vote, “on principle.”

•They want to make a statement — as do we all — but are really just getting themselves written off by all factions, which accomplishes nothing.

•They are wrong to think the government will somehow suffer a crisis of legitimacy if only a small fraction of people vote. Statistically, non-voters tend to be the most apathetic members of the populace, so politicians will essentially just keep appealing to the people who care enough to be likely voters and assume the rest of the herd is sufficiently content not to be a threat.

•The ones who simply make the “rational” calculation that their one vote won’t make the difference anyway are not Kantian enough. That’s right, I said it — they need to be more like Immanuel Kant, what are you going to do about it? Kant, rightly regarded by sane people as a high point of classical liberalism, reminded readers that their actions might always, in principle, serve as a model for others’ actions — and the last thing America needs is free-marketeers imitating other free-marketeers in dropping off the voter rolls. Better the greens should start believing this argument than my fellow market fans. One of us, indeed, does not make a difference. Let this form of principled non-voting spread and thereby remove more and more free-marketeers from the polls, though, and you’ve just handed victory to the statist voters. Dumbass.

•That said, I do not object to libertarians who accept voting in principle and even see a (rule-utilitarian rather than strictly deontological, for those keeping score) case for regarding voting as something akin to a duty but, for any number of reasons, just think that a given year is not one in which it’s worth the effort, that is, if you genuinely think (a) all the candidates are too horrible this time to bother splitting hairs about which are least-bad, (b) you really do have urgent personal business that makes this largely-symbolic gesture a costly hole in your schedule, or (c) you just can’t decide and think it would be an act of blind ignorance to pick someone for the sake of picking someone, at least this time. Non-voting as an occasional non-default option doesn’t trouble me as much as complete withdrawal from the process.

As for me, I think Republicans have a bad enough standard-bearer this time around that there may be greater long-term value, this time around, in trying to boost the “Libertarian option” signal by casting my vote for Bob Barr — as I will in about a half hour here on the Upper East Side — but some of my favorite people are picking other options on this historic day (Obama, McCain, enthusiastically not-voting, reluctantly not-voting [possibly due to Ron Paul not being on the ballot], and maybe one or two even voting for Chuck Baldwin [again, due to Ron Paul not being on the ballot] — heck, I may even know a Green or two voting for Cynthia McKinney).

I wish Obama had not made that choice harder than I expected by giving such disturbing hints of being an arrogant, inexperienced, Biden-liking stealth-leftist. But I cannot say with confidence things would be radically improved under the Repbulican candidate — and I should be able to say that. Until I can, I will vote Libertarian. (And at the local level, sometimes Republican — in New York City, voting Republican is almost as quixotic a protest vote as voting Libertarian.)


Perry said...

Perhaps you would like to comment on Stefan Molyneux’s viewpoint:


I’m a principled non-voter this year. In general, I feel voting violates my principles, but I’m willing to do so sometimes on a defensive basis, just as I would be willing to shoot at someone attacking me in self defense even though I dislike violence. However, that never makes it a desirable outcome — it is at best an evil one engages in to avoid a greater evil.

Even at the best of times, the choices available at the polls tend to be mediocre, but when they are actually all bad, when there is no possibility of my vote having any meaningful effect, and there is no one who I can wholeheartedly or nearly wholeheartedly support, I feel it is not merely my preference but actually my duty not to vote. I do not do so because it will “send a message” any more than I avoid shooting my neighbors because not shooting them “sends a message” — I do so because it is the right thing.

Let me note, by the way, that I highly resent your comment that the libertarian camp is a “primarily free market” camp. I care as much about the rights of people to choose who to love and marry regardless of their sexual orientation, the right of people to be free of the threat of indefinite detention without trial without torture, the rights of people to do what they want with their own bodies (including ingesting whatever substances they like and not just the ones that have state sanction), etc. I am as angered by a kid being unjustly arrested for drawing an underground comic as I am by someone being stopped from engaging in free trade.

If libertarianism was merely “free market” position we’d just be called “free marketeers” — libertarianism is the *freedom* position, without qualifiers. If that doesn’t describe you, Todd, stop using the word.

Todd Seavey said...

I’m an anarcho-capitalist, if that qualifies, and unlike many anarcho-capitalists am smart and utilitarian enough to recognize that econ ends up being the biggest determinant of happiness for the largest portion of the population, though I do sincerely hope you won’t end up in Gitmo.

I also hope someone can explain why Election District 41 had hundreds and hundreds of voters wrapped around the block waiting to vote — including me, nearly opting for the not-worth-my-time position — and only one signature-taking poll worker (meaning that even with that massive horde waiting, usually only one of the two “41″ machines was in use), while the dozen or so other ED’s in the same voting center on the Upper East Side had only the usual dozen or so people in line.

Do I live in the enthusiastically-Obama block? The rebelliously McCain block? Just the newspaper-reading politically-active-yuppies block (my zip code does donate tons of money to both major parties)? Probably not armies of Barr voters, I’m guessing. Lotta white people…but many of them young and sort of hip-looking…yet Wall Streeters rather than Bohemians…

Probably stats on this somewhere. Or worst-case scenario, I could talk to my neighbors once in a while.

Todd Seavey said...

By the way, here’s a category of Obamatarian I (perhaps fittingly) forgot to mention: ones who _forgot to register_, as did Megan McArdle, who I mentioned in yesterday’s entry and may mention again in tomorrow’s:


It’s just kind of amusing that she mentions that after waxing philosophical about the importance of voting for a few sentences, and I mean that in a non-insulting way (again, I realize there are other things on people’s minds and schedules).

Perry said...

You say, “and unlike many anarcho-capitalists am smart and utilitarian enough to recognize that econ ends up being the biggest determinant of happiness for the largest portion of the population”

So, when my father was slowly dying of Parkinson’s disease and we illegally imported drugs for him that extended his life for years but which were not approved for use in the United States, was his biggest determinant of happiness the size of his bank account? That’s a true story, by the way.

So this week, as friends of mine in California face the very real threat that their marriage will end up in legal limbo, the biggest determinant of their happiness is their economic status? My friend Bill and his husband are not theoretical to me.

For the hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqi civilians who’s only crime was living in the wrong country, was the free market the central issue that they worried about as they lay in pools of their own blood?

For the “illegal immigrant” who risks their life crossing into the United States so they can avoid slowly dying of poverty, is the immigration issue an unimportant one?

Justice for all is not a bargaining point for me. I do not trade one man’s misery for another — that is the game of statists. I feel for the man who loses his business because of deranged regulation, but I also feel for the man who dies because he’s unable to eat because he’s unable to buy pot to reduce his chemotherapy induced nausea.

Surely you must know better than this position you claim for yourself, Todd. It is not a libertarian position.

Todd Seavey said...

One of my ACSH co-workers points out this slick PBS video built around an interview with one of the most rational of rational non-voters, (libertarian-friendly) public choice economist Gordon Tullock:


If public choice theory is predicated upon selfish voting, I suppose this is a logical conclusion. (Meanwhile, hordes of John Kenneth Galbraith fans and Keynesians are taking over the government today…)

Todd Seavey said...

And to Perry: the constraints upon the pharmaceutical industry, almost all of them left-liberal in origin (and fought mostly by market-friendly Republicans), are _precisely_ the kind of life-wrecking econ policies I’m talking about — and with that, I must turn my attention to my science-promoting real job for the rest of the day. Learn more at http://ACSH.org

Perry said...

The government was already controlled by Keynesians, or did the administration-sponsored “economic stimulus package” or the recent so-called “bailout” pass you by?

Both Democrats and Republicans love Keynes because, discredited or not, he’s a fine excuse for vote buying.

Perry said...

By the way, I note that you failed to respond to my mention of my friends in California who are currently threatened by Proposition 8. Do you feel that is a “free market” issue, too, or do you just feel that their happiness isn’t important, or what?

Dylan said...


I understand what you’re saying, but the fact that your father could not legally purchase drugs that extended his life is an economic issue.

Economics is not just about bank accounts and money. Don’t want to get too Misesian here, and I admit I haven’t read “Human Action,” but that’s really what economics is about – voluntary human behavior, whether it involves money or not. The fact that I’m choosing to spend my time commenting on this blog rather than spending it doing jumping jacks is an economic decision. I just took a sip of coffee. That was an economic decision too — I could have spent the second-and-a-half that I was swilling joe scratching my ass instead.

Individuals being free to make these — and, of course, much more important — decisions in a group context is what the free market is about.

I’m certainly not a scholar on the topic, and I would hesitate to call myself an “Austrian,” but I do think that Mises and his ilk’s greatest contribution to economic theory is their recognition of the subjectivity of value. It can of course be measured monetarily, and it often is, but money isn’t the end all be all. The biggest flaw in the ideas of the classical liberals was the attempt to find an “objective” measure of value, which led to “the labor theory of value,” a ridiculous notion upon which Karl Marx based a good deal of his destructive screeds. If the value of something can be measured by the amount of labor it requires, everybody would be happy if we all spent our time digging holes and then filling them back up. If I decided to come into my office with a sledge hammer and start smashing everything to bits, it would require a lot of labor on my part. But I can’t see how it would be of value to anyone. Certainly not to my company. And most likely not to me — I’d immediately be fired and probably arrested (but if I was willing to lose my job and be put in prison for the satisfaction of bashing the hell out of desks, chairs and irritating middle managers, it would be of value to me).

Anyway, what I’m trying to say is economics and markets are not all about money. Money of course plays a major role in the voluntary interactions of millions of different individuals, but it’s just a medium of exchange for that which each individual actually values.

And, since I do value my job, I should probably get back to it …

Perry said...

I note that Todd has still not responded on the Prop 8 issue.

So Todd, one last time: did you support Proposition 8? It is a simple question.

Todd Seavey said...

A simple question, eh?

A long thought on that general issue from me:


And a shorter strategic thought from Megan McArdle, since I didn’t in fact mention her in today’s (11/5/08) main entry (but now expect to in tomorrow’s — and possibly briefly Friday as well, and then I’ll move on to the topic of bats for Saturday, I think, having no obligation whatsoever to respond to _any_ reader questions or topic requests, as I tried to make clear in my FAQ):


P.S. She shouldn’t be surprised CA voters rejected gay marriage, though — it’s one of the most popular positions in contemporary American politics, with both conservative and liberal support.

Perry said...

It is a simple question. You can express nuance afterwards in an explanation of your reply, but did you support Proposition 8 or did you oppose it?

I have to tell you that I’m no longer willing to remain “tolerant” on this. For the sake of my dead relatives killed in concentration camps, I can no longer accept bigotry. One of the first laws Hitler passed prohibited Jews and non-Jews from marrying, you know. If you believe the state can deny marriage to gays, then there is literally not one argument you can use that can’t apply to laws prohibiting blacks and whites from marrying, or Jews and non-Jews. Well, let me correct that — there is literally not one argument provided you are not a bigot.

The fact remains that so long as the state is involved in marriage, and it isn’t going away, we are telling real live human beings that they’re scum and don’t deserve equal treatment if we deny them the right to make medical decisions for their spouses, to inherit their property without needing a will, to be visited by them in the hospital. Don’t tell me about medical powers of attorney, either, because I’ve seen even heterosexual couples forced to turn to lawyers to get those enforced.

So, Todd, for the record: and understand that I will treat weaseling as a definitive answer in itself: did you support Proposition 8, or not. Feel free to explain your answer, but which was it?

Perry said...

Oh, and please don’t justify your position with reference to how “popular” the proposition is. Many horrible things are “popular”. I want to know what you think, not what you think other people think — unless you’re a radical democrat and not an anarchocapitalist after all.

Perry said...

I think I have my answer, Todd, if only by default. You apparently do not feel gay people have the same right to live their lives in freedom that straight people have. I’m disappointed in you, to be sure, but at least I now know how you feel. One positive note is that you’re clearly too embarrassed to say it out loud in public, and that embarrassment probably means you understand that your position is not one that people would congratulate you on.