DeVote: Do Your Civic Duty And Don't Vote

Bryan Caplan appeared on 20/20 with John Stossel last Friday. Since jam band concert promoters are unlikely to invite Caplan to speak at their venues any time soon, dudes sporting 70's style porn mustaches are our only hope. That, and South Park.

In his book "The Myth of the Rational Voter," Caplan argues that people who know little about our government ought to stay home on Election Day.

But aren't Americans always told it's their civic duty to vote?

"This is very much like saying, 'It's our civic duty to give surgery advice,'" Caplan said. "Now, we like to think that political issues are much less complicated than brain surgery, but many of them are pretty hard. If someone doesn't know what he's talking about, it really is better if they say, 'Look, I'm just gonna leave this in wiser hands.'"

But isn't it elitist to say only some people should vote?

"Is it elitist to say only some people should do brain surgery?" Caplan said. "The bottom line is, if you don't know what you're doing, you are not doing the country a favor by voting."

Since no one is qualified to run other people's lives for them, no one is qualified to vote. I will be doing my civic duty this election year by staying home.

Unsurprisingly, the democratic fundamentalists interviewed in the 20/20 segment were not pleased. As Cartman warned us, this is what happens when giggling stoners and drum circle hippies attract something much worse: an infestation of College Know it all Hippies.

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I dont watch much southpark, maybe I should...

No one seriously believes Paul will win the nomination; the most we can hope for is that the campaign will awaken the dormant love of liberty in many who would have otherwise continued living a life of apathy in the campaign's absence.

Thats why I pushed his platform personally. I long ago stopped wearing my LP shirts, they made great conversation pieces though...

From the High Times link

...IF ALL THE JAMBAND FANS Vote we might get rid of Bush and the most evil men in the world Dick Cheny and John Ashcroft!!!!!!

Yeah, maybe they'll be gone. Maybe! Good luck with that!


I'm not sure the analogy works. When it comes to brain surgery, presumably everyone has more or less the same goal--save the patient's life with a minimum of damage. Now, an election is partly about rating performance--if someone's massively incompetent, people vote to throw him out. And if a person is not informed enough to know whether or not someone is competent--surely true in many areas--then they should abstain.

But voting is also about expressing what values you think should be followed, so that the country can represent those. One needn't any elite knowledge to know one's own values. So this aspect of voting remains vital to the practice (consider Hanson's decoupling of the values and methods in his imagined futurarchy).

Two responses: if, you're a moral realist, like Caplan, and believe that there are some sort of true values out there, it's reasonable to think that a moral philosopher is more likely to find them. So he or she should be the one voting. The rest of us, even for value purposes, should not. That's controversial.

More powerfully, one might say that even if we know our own values, we're still too ill-informed to know which candidate best represents those values. But I find this quite dubious.

I believe Caplan is, as per his book, assuming that democracy should be geared towards economic efficiency (I haven't read his book, and am going secondhand--I may be far off)--that is to say, he assumes one value everyone should agree on, the way everyone agrees on the goal of brain surgery. Which is unlikely to persuade many who are skeptical of economic efficiency, or believe a democracy should pander to other values as well.