Friday, March 20, 2009

Why should we vote?

The middle class in India seems to take great pride in not participating in the elections each year, claiming shelter under the "Cynicism" flagship. However hard they try to hide beneath this veneer, it is not cynicism but sheer laziness that drives them. Take for instance the beloved arm-chair libertarian about whom I had written earlier here:
.....So we must choose: It is either “democracy” or The Rule of Law. We cannot have both......

However, the sad story is that not one of our political parties is talking this language. Whether Tweedledum wins, or Tweedledee, or Tweedledumber, central spending policies are going to be the same
These are the same people that laugh at socialists who ask, "But if no one decides the policies, how will the society function?" That is the irony and tragedy of our times.

To commit the fallacy of "Argumentum ad hominem" against such people is very easy. Let me instead explain the reason why we should vote in a language that most would have no trouble understanding, that of money:

Votes are our currency, political parties are selling themselves and their policies. The sellers' products will reflect the demand from buyers, in other words: Why will I include features you want in a product when you aren't going to enter the market to buy an item, either from me or from my competitor? Am I not better off including features that my customers want?

Not participating in this market and then accusing the sellers of not providing you the products is quite disingenuous. For people who want to take it a step further: Once you start using your currency, sellers will automatically pop up with products that you want to buy. Isn't that the core of libertarian and capitalist market theories?

Here's an excerpt from a recent economics paper : "Polluting polls: When citizens should not vote"
"Irresponsible individual voters ought to abstain rather than vote badly. This thesis may seem anti-democratic. Yet it is really a claim about voter responsibility and how voters can fail to meet this responsibility. On my view, voters are not obligated to vote, but if they do vote, they owe it to others and themselves to be adequately rational, unbiased, just, and informed about their political beliefs...... We are not obligated to drive, but if we do drive, we ought to be responsible drivers. The same goes for voting."
And as a lot of votes are being sold for money, it becomes all the more important for those who believe that they are rational and informed to go out there and vote.

I do support the "None of the above" Vote, because that will at least send a signal to the politicians that you are not apathetic, but merely dissatisfied. In its absence however, apathy and dissatisfaction are indistinguishable and your voice won't be heard.

If these reasons weren't good enough, there is one last reason that trumps all: To deny the goons a chance of rigging your vote.

9 comments:

Hrisheekesh Sabnis said...

Hi

I find the analogy between votes and currency quite appropriate in that we can influence future supply of policies and politicians through our choice today.

However, the buyer power in this "market" for policies is very low and the supplier power is correspondingly high. So, there may be a long time lag (enough to put the buyer off) before isolated voters can get the desired shift towards their favored policies.

I do not agree with the comparison of voting with driving. One is expected to drive as per the rules because of the possible negative externality that might result from his/her rash driving on other users of the public roads. The same probably does not hold in terms of voting. My voting (in whatever manner I deem fit) does not impact the right to franchise of any fellow citizen.

I do not understand what the author means by being "adequately rational, unbiased, just, etc" while voting. I find an unbiased choice a sort of an oxymoron.

Also, most of our buying decisions are not rational (though we may like to believe that) but rather an emotional choice based on the limited information available and our ability to process that information.

--Sabnis.

shrek said...

A very long read, but to understand the context from which the author speaks, you can read it here

His argument in comparing driving with voting is basically that by voting badly you are causing a negative externality- you are voting in "bad policies" (or contributing to) which will lead to an overall degradation in the quality of governance.

The point about "irrational voting" is included in this paper - that is subject of another book "The Myth of a rational voter" an extract of which can be found here

Ravi said...

The political parties in India can be broadly be divided into two groups. One that 'offers' some identity, like religion or caste or region or language. The other that offers some kind of a freebie, like electricity, colour television or food. Both want me to legitimise their action of looting my money and distributing it to the society. You would say, if there is noone who deserves my vote, I should go cast a null vote.But, I don't wish to vote because I am presented a choice of people and policies I don't wish to endorse and am obligated to accept whoever wins. This will in turn legitimize the whole system of governance in the country. A system that only allows parties that are socialist to contest elections. A political party in this country cannot be capitalist !
So much for democracy.

The money analogy is interesting, but what if there is no product I desire to buy. Should I buy something against my will just to keep the producers happy ? And what if I want to spend 50% of my money on product and 50% on B ?

completely disagree with this "Not participating in this market and then accusing the sellers of not providing you the products is quite disingenuous." It is the best signal you could send to the seller that his product is not desired at all.
"Once you start using your currency, sellers will automatically pop up with products that you want to buy." this is not in the remotest way capitalist. A capitalist will start using his currency when he sees finds something which offers value equivalent to the money he spends. Not a penny less.

"Polluting polls: When citizens should not vote" is quite absurd as well. Every individual makes a decision for himself. It seems to imply that every voter has an obligation to his society for some kind of a greater good. From a right it has now turned into a responsibility, an obligation, a debt that he 'owe[s] it to others'. A driver drives carefully because his intention is to cause least harm to anyone (himself and others on the road). But, the choices I am presented with leave me no option but to hurt myself, so I choose not to drive till it it is safe.

"If these reasons weren't good enough, there is one last reason that trumps all: To deny the goons a chance of rigging your vote." I have not registered to vote, so it cannot be rigged :)

But, it's an irony that you call them goons and still insist I give one of them the right to loot me.

shrek said...

Agree with your points on socialist and goons (i have always called them goons), but disagree on the market issue. My argument here is a choice of lesser evil.

If you are a known miser in the area and enter a shop, will the shopkeeper show spend his time on you? it is only when you send some "signals" that you have money to spend and that you want to spend it that he actually tries to spend his time on you.

Due to decades of non-participation we are likened to these misers who don't want to spend anything. So, the parties don't care about your stance. The other factor is that your non-participation is moot. The parties are going to get voted in either way.

And By voting (even a none) you are sending a signal not to the winning party but to its competitors, that there is an untapped market.

In the first-past-post election system the only way you can make the political parties make policies you like is by making them fight each other.

The Paper that I cite talks about the utility of the society as a system.

Again the basic tenet of libertarian/capitalist is the invisible hand doctrine - in achieving the individual good, the society benefits, Any philosophy that advocates individual welfare with social harm - though one is perfectly justified in adhering to , will not find too many supporters. That paper (if you read through it) talks about how the uninformed voter should stay away from voting because he will vote in policies that cause greater harm to the society(and himself)- that is why the driving analogy.

I assume that I didn't make the context very clear:
that paper makes a case for "NOT voting".

I used that reference to make the opposite case, because the very people who should not vote (according to the paper) are the only ones voting in Indian context.

You will not disagree with the idea that if the majority of 40% (that do vote) - ask for better administration instead of being satisfied with the sops handed out to them(free tvs, free electricity, reservations etc), political parties will change (slowly, painfully perhaps, but surely will).

An uninformed voter is the one who is unable to differentiate between a sop and a good policy and ends up voting for the sop. ( If you need examples - need not look further than TDP in 2004 in AP- voted out because congress promised free electricity).

Is the solution of voting perfect ? Hell, no! But my argument is that by staying out of the elections altogether, you are allowing the status-quo to continue, something the parties are perfectly happy with and we are the only ones to lose.

shrek said...

I forgot to answer the "goons" part. I have maintained and will always maintain that most people to enter politics will remain goons - whether they are on your side of policy or on the opposite. To assume that at some point when the present goons are replaced by virtuous "politicians", you can enter the vote is in my opinion a little simplistic. I have and will always be thoroughly distrustful of the people campaigning to get your vote. however, I have a little hope left in the system.

Ravi said...

'My argument here is a choice of lesser evil. '
evil is evil, lesser or greater and I don't wish to give my approval to it by casting a vote.

'If you are a known miser in the area and enter a shop, will the shopkeeper show spend his time on you?'
I do not wish to buy a car instead of a television just to keep the shopkeeper interested.

Just because some party is going to get voted in anyway, does not in any way obligate me to vote.

'And By voting (even a none) you are sending a signal not to the winning party but to its competitors, that there is an untapped market.'

By not voting I am sending a signal to all including the winners that I don't believe in the current system. By casting a null, all I say is that I don't like any of the people contesting now, but the system in general is fine.

'I assume that I didn't make the context very clear:
that paper makes a case for "NOT voting". '
The context is very clear. I just disagree with his reason for not voting. I have not read the article yet, but what I understand from what you have quoted is that he believes that a casting a vote is some kind of a debt I owe to the society and I better abstain if I am not smart/enthu enough to understand the policies.

'Any philosophy that advocates individual welfare with social harm - though one is perfectly justified in adhering to , will not find too many supporters.'
That is not what capitalism preaches. Capitalism is a system of trade with no force. It is a system where the government is responsible for the safety of it's people and their property.

'You will not disagree with the idea that if the majority of 40% (that do vote) - ask for better administration instead of being satisfied with the sops handed out to them(free tvs, free electricity, reservations etc), political parties will change (slowly, painfully perhaps, but surely will).'

I believe that everyone looks for the best deal they can get. A person who cannot afford to buy a television will always vote for a person who is ready to steal it from someone else and give it to him and with no guilt of his own attached. So I do not expect the system of sops to change.Even in an advanced nation like the US these things happen. The form might be different, but it's the same.

'Is the solution of voting perfect ? Hell, no! But my argument is that by staying out of the elections altogether, you are allowing the status-quo to continue, something the parties are perfectly happy with and we are the only ones to lose.'

Assume only 20% of the people vote in this elections. Do you really believe such a government would be legitimate and would survive ?

sujaybedekar said...

Yo Srikar.
I agree with your funda of 'In principle we should all vote', but the ground reality is that choosing to vote for the lesser evil is quite a crappy way of choosing your representative (more thoughts on this here - http://sujaybedekar.wordpress.com/2009/03/26/i-might-just-not-vote-this-year/)
I also agree with what sabby says (voting is rational only upto a certain limit), and I find your money-vote analogy to be a bit too stretched.
Nevertheless, very interesting post! :)

Ravi said...

I think you should read this:
http://www.aicc.org.in/new/manifesto.doc

shrek said...

I had read that as soon as it came out, and ive also (tried to ) read the left manifesto. I'm not defending the parties by any means.

Even conceding the possibility that we shouldn't vote, but what next? Your question of 20% votes puts things into perspective. There is no constitutional provision (AFAIK, correct me if I'm wrong) that prohibits the winner of a poll with less than say X% voter turnout from taking the office. Ofcourse, he won't have the moral right to ascension, but please don't talk about morality and politics in the same sentence.

and you forget an important factor, you and I oppose these policies, but there is a big chunk of people who would "rationally" vote for the very same policies, because they stand to benefit from such policies. So, the idea of 20% voter turnout itself is a pipedream, even if it were true, the politicians will still gain power, still misuse it.

And lastly, I understand the reticence of supporting a "lesser evil", but life doesn't throw up a "Sauron" with a "pure evil" streak, the people are closer to hordes of Gollums.

PS: sorry for the delay: grad life caught up with me