Most economists agree that from a cost-benefit perspective,
the cost of voting far outweighs any material benefit. For example, in a
presidential election, your vote is one out of 120+ million. Your chance of
casting a tie-breaking vote is infinitesimally small, so small that you could
win million-dollar lottery jackpots thousands of times before casting a
tie-breaker. This is especially true in states dominated by a single party,
such as Texas, New York, or California. Even in the 2000 Presidential election,
your Florida vote would only have changed Bush’s 537 vote margin to 536 or 538. Politicians do care about their margin of
victory, but from the perspective of the individual deciding how to best invest
his limited resources, his impact is so infinitesimal that it does not have any
Furthermore, even if your candidate does win, all you “win” is a bag of mixed promises
which are not always likely to be kept, and even less likely to be actually
achieved. In the 2006 general elections, the Democrats were sworn into power
due to public discontent with Bush’s policy in Iraq. Despite Democratic
promises and their congressional majority, they have not enacted any of their
promises. Whatever the reason, it is clear that electoral victory alone cannot
guarantee the achievement of campaign promises, and certainly not from their
power as individual politicians. Even the president has relatively limited
power in a democratic system.
Some might argue that if everyone else evaluated voting in this manner, things
might be different. But the fact is that
people do continue to vote by the tens of millions.
None of this is to say that electoral victories are meaningless
or inconsequential, or that political activism is not important or practical. Interventionist governments have a tremendous
impact on our lives, and thanks to technologies like the Internet, we have more
opportunities than ever to engage in intellectual and political activism. However, of all the means we have to
influence the political process, voting is one of the least effective, second perhaps,
to swearing under your breath as you give away half your income to the state.
As a form of political activism, voting is not only ineffective,
but is in fact a form of apathy. The value of any single vote is so
infinitesimal that the sense of self-importance and influence in the political
process that people get from participating in the electoral process is entirely
illusory. Yet the illusion of participation excuses many people from taking
real steps to influence policy by arguing for their ideas, writing letters, or supporting
advocacy organizations. The people who really
make a difference are those who take far more intellectually challenging and
uncertain measures than punching one of two buttons – they attempt to change
the intellectual and philosophical climate of their society.
If you vote because of the psychological benefit it
provides, such as a feeling of having met one’s patriotic duty, there is
nothing I can say to you. But if you
actually want to influence the political state of the country (and given that
sad state, that is more crucial now than ever) it would be far more productive
of your time to donate the resources you would have spent researching
candidates, going to the polls, and even donating to candidates in more
Washington lobbyists are very expensive, yet they can be
more influential than the votes of millions of individuals, and they will argue
for your cause regardless of which candidate is victorious. Ultimately however, the fate of any society
is shaped by the fundamental ideas of its intellectuals. All the votes in the world are meaningless
next to the fundamental ideas about society that shape policymakers actions.
If you are concerned with the threat of theocracy, your
enemy is not George W. Bush, but the aspiring theocrats teaching the next
generation of policymakers, cashing in on the void left by the destruction of
reason and science by modern philosophy.
If you are concerned with the threat of the welfare state, your enemy is
not Ted Kennedy, but the intellectuals teaching the next generation of leaders
that they do not have a right to their own life.
Politicians are rarely capable of coming up with original
ideas – they depend on the intellectual elite of a society for their
initiatives. As intellectual elite changes,
so do the ideas they feed to politicians.