What Can One Person Do?

Many commenters have asked Jonathan and I, "If you don't vote, how will things get any better?"

Jonathan suggested some possibilities. Some involve influencing the political side of life directly, by influencing other voters; by influencing politicians, judges, and bureaucrats, and by influencing those who influence politicians, judges, and bureaucrats. (That's a lot of influence!)

One can also influence government indirectly, by competing with it and perhaps even making it more difficult and costly to implement illiberal policies - or at least making the government look bad in comparison to the market. My fellow co-blogger Patri specializes in this area, as do many others, from homeschoolers, to private schools, to UPS, to FedEx, to private arbitration courts, to homeowners associations, to private security firms, to Internet libraries, to offshore banks and data havens and online casinos. The list goes on and on, and it gets larger everyday; not because of government, but in spite of it.

What can one person do? I came across a moving newsgroup post written by David Friedman that suggests the influence of one (and sometimes two) non-voters:

I published a book in 1973 that argued for a particular, fairly far out, political position, and it's still in print, being read, and, apparently, affecting people. I have done quite a lot of writing and speaking over the years along related lines. Those are interesting activities and they have some chance, although not an enormous one, of changing the world in what I hope are desirable directions. The argument isn't about being an activist but about voting.

This afternoon I attended a memorial service for my uncle, who died recently at 102. He was an academic and, in his quiet way, probably the largest single cause of changes in American anti-trust law in the past fifty years. He published very little but was publicly acknowledged as a major influence by at least three very high profile legal academics of the generation after his (Posner, Epstein and Bork).

One of the things that was mentioned by one of the speakers at the service was that Aaron never voted.

David is speaking of Aaron Director, who died two months ago. Richard Posner, Richard Epstein, and Robert Bork are three of the most influential legal minds alive today.

One man can change the world. And he doesn't need to vote to do it.

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The futility of

The futility of [un]voting
In October posts Peter Saint-Andre makes the case that real reform comes from outside the system and that by contrast voting is futile. I'm completely on board with the former and sympathize with the latter (though I am voting this time). However, S...

Nice post. Influencing the

Nice post. Influencing the government and politics indirectly seems unattractive and unintuitive to many people. But its the only tool we have, because of the poor structure of democracy. Its too easy for voting to be a sop to one's conscience, done instead of the many useful alternatives suggested.

This makes it seem somewhat odd when voting non-activists take the moral high ground over non-voting activists. The latter are doing more than the former to make the world a better place.

For the record, I don't

For the record, I don't disagree with any of this. You don't have to vote to influence things for the better. To my knowledge nobody who thinks about this issue for more than 10 seconds actually believes otherwise. But voting is still a useful tool, albeit a bit of a kludge. I just believe in using all methods available to influence things for the better.