All the cool kids are voting; you should too

Our old friend Joe Miller emailed me before the election about an article he wrote for the website Culture11 about an argument for voting. Unfortunately, I didn't check my email in time to post it before the election, and have been bad about checking my email since, so I'm finally getting around to posting it. But you should read it since Joe's a smart guy and argues well. An excerpt:

We need to convince some (unknown) number of people to vote. But we also know that it’s irrational for any particular person to vote. The only way to solve the problem is to make cooperation more appealing than defection.

The solution Joe gives is social pressure as a means to promote cooperation (in game theoretic terms). The background assumption is that more voting is a good thing, which I'm not so sure is true.

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The circle of truth

One of the things I really appreciated when I got here was to read the argument AGAINST voting. I haven't hammered it out myself yet (e.g made up my mind) but just the fact that it was said... is quite refreshing.

Voting always did have that aura about it. One of those auras that a thing is so obvious, it should not be questioned. Oh yes, it should.

I'm beginning to feel that, to the degree that people believe everyone should vote, is to the degree everyone should watch X-ARM.

Edit: spelling

I'm sure it's not true

Bryan Caplan argues against get-out-the-vote campaigns precisely because the marginal voter is less informed than the average voter.

that kind of suggests a

that kind of suggests a "wisdom of the crowds" approach, that "more voters = good thing". But every assumption we have about statistics suggests that more people = more central tendency in aggregate.

Background Assumption

Thanks for the link love, Jonathan.

Unfortunately, I've clearly not argued as well as you've given me credit for doing. I think Bryan Caplan is right that voters are irrational and that encouraging more voting is likely to reinforce those irrational behaviors. So I'm not trying to argue that more voting is better.

Rather, my argument is that deliberative democracy is better than any other currently available system of government. But for democracy to work, it's necessary that people go vote. Obviously democracy works just fine even without full participation. But we have no idea how much participation is necessary. Is 30% enough? How about 25%? Where is the lower limit?

My background assumption, then, is that the belief that voting is pointless is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If enough people believe that it's pointless, then faith in democracy crumbles and we're left with...well, something. And the chances are that that something will be far worse than democracy. IOW, more voting might be bad, but (enough) less voting is likely to be even worse. And since we don't know how much less voting the system will survive, we should err on the side of too much rather than too little voting.

The point is just that democracy works as long as people are convinced that it works. And for people to be convinced that democracy works, they also have to be convinced that voting is important. Hence the argument for applying social pressure to go vote.

I realize, of course, that plenty of people here may object to the claim that democracy is the best available system of government. Indeed, maybe eroding confidence in democracy is a necessary step on the road to polycentrism. But it's far from clear to me that if democracy were to crumble anytime soon, it would be replaced by ancap libertopia. I fear that a far more likely result would be a step backward to a less free society. Of course, I've nothing empirical on which to base that fear. Call it a hunch. Or just my native pessimism. :-)