Legitimizing Voting: A Modest Proposal

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Appearances are of four (4) kinds:

1) Things are as they appear to be;

2) Things neither are nor appear to be;

3) Things are, but do not appear to be;

4) Things are not, but yet appear to be.

~ Epictetus, Phrygian Philosopher

According to Spooner, the Constitution has no authority and never did. This is because of two rather obvious and unassailable facts. First, no one ' even the guys who supposedly wanted it ' voted on it. Second, those who are now ostensibly governed by it have never voted on it, either. Even worse, since voting in the U.S. is generally held in secret, we couldn't even tell who voted for it if a vote had been held, or was held in the future! We all act like somebody actually agreed, not only originally, but in perpetuity.

Taking Spooner's logic to heart, something occurred to me that I think would go a long way toward really legitimizing this whole voting thing.

What if people had to commit, in public, on the record, for every vote they took?

I stopped voting a while back, but I must admit, this idea has a certain appeal to it. Imagine it! Everyone would know how everyone else really felt about the issues, or, for that matter, maybe even if they had examined them.

The people who claim to be for balanced budgets would actually take some heat when their candidate spent money like a drunken sailor. The folks who claim to be anti-war would actually be responsible when their candidate invaded some country without cause. Everything would be out in the open! Instead of blaming the victim, we could actually blame, well, the culprit and his enablers.

I admit it. I've never really understood what the big secret is. People protect their voting choices like a CIA operative protecting a resource. What's that about? If you believe in an issue, and you support a candidate because he supposedly believes as well, why not stand up in the open?

Could it be because people often vote with less than complete or even reasonable knowledge? Could it be because people have convinced themselves that they can be a 'one-issue' voter and ignore the other portions of a candidate's platform? Could it simply be that no one really knows what the hell a candidate will do, but they vote anyway?

Perish the thought! I'm absolutely certain no one ever thinks, 'Shucks, the polls are between here and the store anyway. I might as well be 'part of the process' and get my sticker.'

I can hear y'all. Come on, man! That never happens! But wait, there's more.

What if you voted for a candidate who ran up a huge deficit and you got a bill in the mail? Your candidate establishes sanctions that kill hundreds of thousands of children ' everyone knows who you are ' those deaths are on your hands, too. Your candidate ' the putz you ostensibly elect ' embezzles a whole bunch of cash. You are made legitimately responsible, even to the point of being charged with a crime. Most handy, the law already has a term for it: accessory after the fact. Talk about serendipity. (Obviously, I'm not a lawyer.)

That's just phase one. For phase two of my diabolical plan, we institute what I'll call 'revenue neutral voting.' During this phase, every program a candidate institutes is paid for directly by the people who voted for him. Talk about a change in focus! As opposed to everyone trying to figure out how to fleece everyone else, the voter would only be able to spend his own money. I can't take credit for this concept, though. I'm told that Mises, writing in Human Action, mentioned this phenomenon long ago:

'What those people who ask for equality have in mind is always an increase in their own power to consume. In endorsing the principle of equality as a political postulate, nobody wants to share his own income with those who have less. When the American wage earner refers to equality, he means that the dividends of the stockholders should be given to him. He does not suggest a curtailment of his own income for the benefit of those 95 per cent of the earth's population whose income is lower than his.'

I bet these steps would generate quite a bit of genuine interest on the issues. No doubt those made-for-TV debates and town hall meetings would take on a decidedly different timbre. So would the actual act of voting. I can see it now: You're in the voting booth, sweating like a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest, debating with yourself about whether Candidate A's propensity to womanize is better or worse than Candidate B's proclivities to lie about campaign contributions. You've got some 'skin' in the game. They could film it and put the whole thing on Fox!

Making voting public establishes actual responsibility that would go a long way toward making the 'appearances' that Epictetus speaks of a lot more genuine. There is a downside, though. I suspect voter turnout would dwindle to zero in record time. That's the thing about responsibility. When you have to take some, you tend to make sure it's only for that which you really wanted.


Elected politicians are exactly the same way. Human nature suggests that if a person knows he'll really have to answer for his lies, or aggressions, he tends to act responsibly. However, when he knows the 'opportunity costs' for violence can be externalized to someone else, a constituency for example, he also knows he doesn't need to worry. This is why war (and its attendant violence) always increases under a coercive state.

The violence of the State, while authorized by the leaders, is carried out by people they never meet, against people about whom they don't give a rat's anus, with no real danger of direct retribution against them. When you can aggress without chance of payback, you tend to get a little braver, as current events illustrate. (You might even have the gall to wear a flight suit and land in a jet after you went AWOL during your time of service.)

What am I saying? That would never happen.

Anyway, given the current state of democracy in Amerika, we all know that a politician actually taking responsibility is about as likely as finding a chicken with soft red lips. We also should know that a political system does not directly affect how people interact with each other. (Sometimes that system seeks to force a person to do that which doesn't make sense. This is why communist empires fail so much faster than "free" ones.) The natural state of human interaction is anarchic. The overwhelming majority of interactions in the U.S. , the UK , NZ, Oz, etc. are between small groups of people, generally two or more. In those cases, basic Austrian economics takes place, regardless of who won some election, or what methodology was used to declare the winner.

Shaffer (and Cuz'n) have already illustrated conclusively that society exists in a state of anarchy all the time ' as such, the electoral process is just dressing and folly by which a small, nearly infinitesimal, group of people enrich themselves.

It's about time we all recognized that fact.

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Wilton D. Alston's picture
Columns on STR: 14

Wilt Alston writes from Upstate, NY.  When he's not training for a marathon, or furthering his part-time study of libertarian philosophy, he works as a research scientist in transportation safety, focusing primarily on the safety of subway and freight train control systems.