Voting Part II: Vote Like No One’s Watching

Avatar

Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

Related Post Roulette

190 Responses

  1. Avatar bookdragon says:

    I vote because 100 years ago a lot of determined women suffered all sorts of slander and even physical abuse to earn me that right. To ignore it would dishonor their memories.

    And, yes. I will be voting for Obama. Johnson sounds like a lovely guy and if I were living in a deeply red state I might throw a vote his way just to run up that score in hopes that it would give the GOP something to think about. However, I’m a state still listed as ‘leaning’ and frankly there’s a reason that even 12 years later a lot people are still hacked off at 2000’s Naderites. One vote might not make a difference, but one vote added to several hundred other votes certainly will.Report

  2. Avatar carr1on says:

    I live in Texas, which will go VERY RED. Therefore I will be voting for Gary Johnson too.Report

  3. Avatar Shazbot2 says:

    “one individual vote will not decide the presidential election.”

    One individual vote always decides the election.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Shazbot2 says:

      For certain definitions of “decides” and “individual vote,” yes. But not for yours, or for mine.Report

    • Avatar James K in reply to Shazbot2 says:

      Yes, 1 vote decides the election. The unconditional probability it is yours is 1/X where X is the number of people who vote.

      I suspect you’re more likely to be hit by a car on the way to the polling station than you are to actually change the outcome of the election.Report

      • Avatar kenB in reply to James K says:

        Is that quite right though? If an election is decided by 1 vote , then everyone who voted for the winner cast a critical vote (i.e. if any one of them stayed home, the result would have been different). If the election is a tie, then everyone that voted cast a critical vote, for the same reason. So it seems like the right answer is to calculate the odds that an election will have a margin of 0 or 1. Is that the same thing as 1/[number of voters]?Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James K says:

        I suspect you’re more likely to be hit by a car on the way to the polling station than you are to actually change the outcome of the election.

        But one things for sure: if you don’t vote, it’s zero.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Stillwater says:

          How much would you wager on the difference between 0 and .ooooo01?Report

          • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James Hanley says:

            I could tabulate the votes in such a way that – WTF?! – my vote was the determining vote. I could tabulate the votes that way every time I voted for the winning candidate.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Stillwater says:

              I don’t think that’s what I asked. You’re making the difference between 0 and .ooooo01 (1 in to million, if I can count my zeros right on the IPad) carry a lot of weight. So if it were a betting situation, how much would you increase your wager if I increased your odds from 0 to .ooooo01?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James Hanley says:

                Here’s the summary of my criticisms of your and jason’s argument from the other thread.

                1. You both started off saying that the individual act of voting makes zero contribution to the outcome of an election which is false since the premise leads to the conclusion that no collection of votes could ever determine the outcome of an election. I take that to be a pretty decisive reductio, myself.

                2. Given that the contribution of an individual act of voting is non-zero, there is a rational reason to vote justified in purely electoral terms.

                3. Given that the contribution is non-zero, the preference theorist cannot say that the act of voting isn’t justified on a cost-benefit analysis since that analysis, and hence the rationality of the resulting decision, is purely subjectively determined.

                4. Wrt to this thread insofar as Jason accepts Down’s paradox (and implicitly the premises of that argument), then he cannot consistently maintain that the act of voting (pulling the lever) for one of the two parties is irrational (in cost-benefit terms) while maintaining that pulling the lever for a third party is rational in those same terms. For one, because his conclusion is inconsistent with the premises he accepts. Second because it seems to me that his proposed rationale justifying third party voting applies equally to dominant party voting.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Stillwater says:

                1. Falsely stated. We did not say a vote makes zero contribution to the outcome. We said there ain’t no way no how your vote–whomever is selected as our “you”–is going to determine the outcome of the election. If you begin by changing the terms, it’s hard to have a good conversation.

                2. So this does not follow from 1, but is also erroneous itself.

                3. This is incoherent because it’s stated as being about “contribution” rather than whether the votes”determines” the outcome. Given that the odds of determining the outcome are objective, and only the utility of the outcome is subjective, we can calculate what the outcomes would have to be worth to a person to make investment voting rational. At those actual numbers, we would predict a person relly valuing the outcome that much to be doing a whole hell of a lot more than voting (and arguing on a blog). Since we probably don’t see that much actual investment, we can conclude the outcome isn’t worth as much to them as it would need to be to make investment voting rational. (Revealed preferences can help us make reasonable claims about others’ subjective utility.)

                4. I agree completely.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James Hanley says:

                1. I could pull up quotes from the previous thread but I’m too lazy at the moment. Here’s one from this thread:

                Me: If, in advance of the election, you care whether one candidate wins rather than his opponent, then failing to vote for him or her increases the likelihood that he/she loses.

                You: No, no. It does not.

                If you concede that it’s non-zero, then fair enough, since that’s not the real issue between us.

                2. I think you’re fixated on the notion that an individual vote as a matter of fact isn’t the vote that tips the balance. But as I said upthread, I can tabulate votes in such a way that every time the candidate I voted for won, I cast the deciding ballot. There’s an error in the way you’re thinking about it, it seems to me. But the reductios I keep presenting to you aren’t hitting home. (I’ll give some indication below of what premise I think is wrong.)

                3. This is incoherent because it’s stated as being about “contribution” rather than whether the votes”determines” the outcome. Given that the odds of determining the outcome are objective…At those actual numbers, we would predict a person really valuing the outcome that much to be doing a whole hell of a lot more than voting

                How? On what would you base the “prediction”? Certainly not on past behavior. Not on the presumption that a rational person wouldn’t engage in the act, since that’s question begging as well as presuming an objective standard of rationality. For my part, I think the act of casting a vote for my preferred candidates yields a greater potential return than doing otherwise, or I wouldn’t vote. How could a person who thinks rationality wrt preferences and utility is subjectively determined argue that I’m wrong?

                But also, part of this is that you’re argument assumes that the probability of my vote deciding the election

                Re: the “contribute” vs “determine” criticism, it seems entirely clear to me that in advance of the election my decision to vote is based on the realtruefact that voting for my candidate increases (contributes to) the likelihood that he will win in the following way: the probability that he wins increases if his vote total is N+1 rather than N. That just seems like an obvious, topic neutral, prima facie true claim, one that would take some serious argument to show false.

                Now, if you’re argument is that my contribution is so negligible that I’m irrational to think voting costs less than the expected policy benefits received, then not only do I think you’re wrong, I don’t see how you – as a subjectivist about utility enhancement – can consistently make that argument. (I’m not sure how anyone could make that argument, actually.

                4. At least we have that.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Stillwater says:

                Stillwater,

                We can’t have a discussion about this as long as we are using different measurements. I think your measurements, about probability, are just dead wrong.

                Romney is going to get X number of votes, regardless of whether you vote for Obama, for Mickey Mouse, or hit the bars instead of voting. Aside from your vote, Obama is going to get either more than Romney, exactly the same amount as Romney, 1 less than Romney, or more than 1 less than Romney. In the first and last cases, adding your vote does not change the probability of Obama winning. In the second case and third cases, but essentially because your vote is determinative.

                I think you are pushing for the “increase the probability” language because it sounds intuitively correct, but all it does is obscure the math in a way that makes everything fuzzier. There’s a reason the mathematical guys who study this stuff for a living aren’t looking at it that way. You think they’re wrong? Fine, show your work and put it up alongside Nate Silver’s.

                I’m sorry, but all through this argument you’ve been selecting assumptions that are vague but more favorable to your outcome. You’re doing it wrong in two ways–working backward from your preferred outcomes to amenable assumptions, instead of working from assumptions to outcomes, and choosing vague assumptions over clear ones.

                And all because, unlike me, you don’t think voting just because you want to vote, outcome be damned, is satisfactory. Are you seriously going to tell a libertarian that an LP vote in a presidential election is rationally explained by an investment in the LP candidate’s odds of winning? Seriously?

                It seems to me people have a deep emotional attachment to the idea that their vote really matters to the outcome, and arguments to the contrary are instantly rejected without any real consideration. I don’t think you’ve actually considered our arguments; you just felt they were wrong so you looked for counter-arguments without actually giving our arguments any hearing whatsoever. I don’t get it. I really don’t. The knowledge that my vote will change nothing outside of myself doesn’t faze me in the slightest, but it shocks the hell out of people.

                I don’t know. Maybe that’s the thought difference between an ISTP and an INTP. I don’t mean to get nasty in this, and I hope I haven’t crossed the line on a good person like you, but it’s frustrating because you’re working at odds with the basic rules I’ve internalized so deeply.Report

              • Avatar Koz in reply to Stillwater says:

                “Aside from your vote, Obama is going to get either more than Romney, exactly the same amount as Romney, 1 less than Romney, or more than 1 less than Romney.”

                This doesn’t quite work. I remember reading the political writer for the Des Moines Register writing about the Iowa caucuses, something like “The key to success in the caucuses is having your people talk to their neighbors about why they are for Lamar.”Report

              • That was my thought. Birds fly in formation by catching almost imperceptible signals from each other. So the vote itself is a formality [albeit a necessary one], but the campaign season is not a sterile one: lawn signs, bumper stickers, buttons, discussions at the water cooler.

                Jokes. Leno, Letterman. Anyone who even knows who Gary Johnson is. Will Roseanne’s choice of Cindy Sheehan as her running mate swing the ticket too far to the right?

                Somehow the flock figures out where to land.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Stillwater says:

                Oh, also, why not answer my question?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James Hanley says:

                Because I’d make a killing off of you and I don’t want to take your money. I mean, the way I tabulate votes, every time I’ve voted for the winning candidate, I cast the deciding vote!Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Stillwater says:

                Seems to me all you’re really doing is boasting about how easily you could fool yourself. And ducking the question.

                Frankly, I’m a bit irritated at and disappointed in you. You’re game playing, and since you’re the one who’s so damned serious about how rational it is to cast your vote as an investment, I’d expect to see you make the argument without having to resort to playing games.

                The odds of you casting the deciding vote, as counted by someone who’s not boasting about doing it in a purposely self-gratifying way, are at best about 1 in 10 million, and for the average voter about 1 in 60 million (you live in a swing state, I’ll give you the better odds).

                Why do you keep insisting on making the probability 1.o? There’s a long tradition n academia of selecting values that are more conservative, that make your own case harder (like me giving you in in 10 million instead of insisting on 1 in 60 million), but you insist on choosing the least conservative number possible. To a researcher, that says you have something in your argument you’re trying to hide.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot2 in reply to Stillwater says:

                I don’t see that you have any right to be “disappointed with Stillwater.”

                The paradox of the heap and Downs paradox both aim at refuting something that is otherwise believed to be common sense. Stillwater and I believe the is a problem with the concept of “the marginal vote.” that makes the statement of the paradox false.

                Maybe you think it really is irrational to vote. Maybe you think there is no heap of sand. Maybe you think movement through space is impossible because of Zeno’s paradoxes. But if someone holds a view that dispells these paradoxes, there is nothing disappointing about that at all.Report

              • Avatar Fnord in reply to James Hanley says:

                If the pay off you were offering was, say, 300 million to one? I think I’d be willing to pony up 20 bucks or so.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Fnord says:

                All right, now we’re talking real numbers. So what’s a win by your preferred candidate really worth to you?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

                By the way, $20 x 300 million = $6 billion. If the election outcome is really worth $6 billion to you, I assume you’re probably investing cReport

              • Avatar Fnord in reply to James Hanley says:

                From a totally selfless perspective, delivering an average of $1 in value to every US resident is equivalent to delivering me $300 million.

                Of course, I’m not totally selfless, but I do get a 300:1 advantage. Let’s take a look at revealed preferences.

                I have donated money to Against Malaria, plan to again, and per GiveWell, that saves approximately one life per $1600 invested. Therefore, the marginal value of a third world life is probably about $1600 to me. Totally casualty figures for the Iraq War are all over the map, but they universally exceed 100 thousand. From my perspective, then, averting the casualties of an Iraq war ought to be worth at $160 million. That’s only a payoff of 20 million to 1, not 300 million to 1, and of course I’m not 100% certain that having one president over another prevents another Iraq War, and the Iraq War did have SOME positive effects. We’re in the ballpark, though: the effects of national policy are far-reaching enough that, provided I’m not totally selfish, it may be rational to vote even for a small chance to affect them.

                Now, I don’t live in a swing state, so the odds of my vote mattering are significantly less than a million to one. I, personally, will be voting for Johnson.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

                Voting for Johnson is sufficient evidence you’re not investing in a particular electoral outcome! 😉Report

              • Avatar Fnord in reply to James Hanley says:

                Ahh, 8 million to 1, not 20 million. Yes, 8 x 20 = 160, grabbed the wrong number.Report

              • Avatar Fnord in reply to James Hanley says:

                Well, as I said, I don’t live in a swing state, so even the very small chance of my vote having an effect that is present in a close election is absent for me. If the election isn’t going to be close, then your vote definitely doesn’t affect the outcome.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

                See, these are real numbers, and the policies ones I like as well, so this is good. The only problem is that the outcome of a Romney-Obama election in terms of Middle Eastern lives is unknowable, not just in detail but in gross estimates (or at least I’m willing to argue it is, given Obama.s action to date, and his unwillingness to rule out war with Iran). And a vote for Johnson, assuming he really would reduce the death, has infinitesimally less chance of producing the desired outcome (Erik won’t allocate me enough zeros to write it out), so I’m still Dubois it’s rational as an investment vote.

                Which won’t stop me from voting for him, if Michigan LP wins their lawsuit to get him on the ballot. But I’m doing it for the consumption value, same when I drop a dollar in a candy machine.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot2 in reply to James Hanley says:

                Quiggin things that this is the the way out of Downs paradox. If you think that you are voting not just for the effects that the outcome of the election will have on you but on people in general, then even though your “odds of effecting the election” (I think this is confused, but whatever) are low, the goods that come from it make it rational.

                http://andrewgelman.com/2009/01/rational_selfis/

                “There is strong evidence that voting behaviour is both ends-directed and rational. That is, electors choose to vote because of the effects their vote will have, and do not vote if these effects are insufficient to outweigh the costs of voting. However, as Downs’ paradox shows, rationality and egoism together imply non-voting. The evidence suggests that egoism is the postulate which must be abandoned. . . . voters’ interest in political information increases with the importance of political choices. Once again, this is consistent with rationality but not with egoism.”

                I prefer other solutions, I think. But this is important.Report

          • Avatar sonmi451 in reply to James Hanley says:

            Yes, let’s all not vote. Voting is stupid and means nothing. How many times can you repeat this?Report

      • Avatar Shazbot2 in reply to James K says:

        My claim is that each vote for the winning candidate has equal claim to being “the vote that won the election.”

        Or rather, the phrase “the vote that won the election” doesn’t denote a single vote, i.e. it is a non-denoting expression like “the highest integer,” “the present King of France,” etc.

        Any statement that contains a non-denoting expression cannot be true (either it is false or has no truth value, depending on whether you ask Frege or Russell). Since any statement of Downs’ argument that is not rational to vote involves an expression like “the marginal vote” or “the vote that won the election,” then any statement of the premises of Downs’ argument must be false (or have no truth value).Report

        • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Shazbot2 says:

          My claim is that each vote for the winning candidate has equal claim to being “the vote that won the election.”

          That’s only true the winning candidate wins by one vote. If the election is decided by one vote, then every vote is critical, as any one person switching his vote would have charged the outcome of the election.

          But if the winning candidate wins by more than one vote, no single vote matters at all. Any one person could have switched his vote, and it would have had no impact on the outcome.

          To the best of my knowledge, no election to federal or state-level office has ever been decided by one vote. I believe a few local elections have been.Report

          • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Brandon Berg says:

            If the election is decided by one vote, then every vote is critical, as any one person switching his vote would have charged the outcome of the election.

            On second thought, that’s not quite true. Only the votes of those voting for the winner are critical. Any one of them switching votes would have changed the result of the election, but those voting for the loser could not have changed the result by switching their votes to the winner.

            So your vote is decisive if and only if:
            1) The winner won by one vote (or possibly two, depending on the tie-breaking procedure), and
            2) You voted for the winner.

            Which still means essentially never.Report

            • Avatar Shazbot2 in reply to Brandon Berg says:

              Your claim contains a phrase that does not denote.

              You claim that “Your vote is “the decisive vote” iff ….”

              I claim that there is no single vote that is the decisive vote, so your claim is either false or meaningless like “The present King of France is bald.”Report

              • Avatar Shazbot2 in reply to Shazbot2 says:

                Not meaningless, rather “without truth value.” Oops.Report

              • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Shazbot2 says:

                My comment does not contain the phrase “the decisive vote.” Because there is no single decisive vote. If anyone one vote is decisive, then every vote for that candidate is decisive. The point is that in almost all cases, no vote is decisive—any one person could have changed his vote or abstained with no impact on the outcome.Report

  4. Avatar clawback says:

    One individual vote will not decide the presidential election, but it will “send a message”. Got it.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to clawback says:

      I didn’t say it would “send a message.” I am asking you to affiliate, which is to align yourself.

      You won’t have much effect on the rest of the world by voting. Maybe you’ll send an infinitesimal message. But the biggest effects of your individual vote will take place between your own ears, not anywhere else.Report

      • Avatar clawback in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Make them work harder. Be fickle. If you’re not, they’ll never work to earn your vote.

        Which I think is meant to imply your vote will have some effect on them. Though now you say it is “infinitesimal”. Is this a bigger or a smaller infinitesimal than the effect of your vote on the election outcome?Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to clawback says:

          The biggest effect that an individual act of voting has is that it makes you more personally identified with the candidate or party for which you vote. That was the big point of the “Lizard People” post, though I was a bit coy about it because I wanted people to confirm this for me in the comments.

          If I can do anything on the margin — and it’s very little, I admit — I’d like to move people’s sympathies away from the two-party system. In a sense, everything we do here has only a tiny amount of influence, but that’s how I’d like to use mine.

          Your vote’s effect on the election outcome, however, is zero. So is mine. Only a large group of people acting cooperatively can actually change the outcome.Report

          • Avatar clawback in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            Only a large group of people acting cooperatively can actually change the outcome.

            Right. Which is why people vote, your theorizing about “psychic rewards” notwithstanding.Report

            • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to clawback says:

              I hate to be a pedant, but you only consist of one person. You’re not a large group of people.

              Your choice is only to join with some group or not. It isn’t to constitute a group.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                Your vote’s effect on the election outcome, however, is zero. So is mine. Only a large group of people acting cooperatively can actually change the outcome.

                Your choice is only to join with some group or not. It isn’t to constitute a group.

                I’m still seeing something paradoxical about these statements, something I talked about in the Lizard post. If the contribution an individual vote makes to determining the outcome of an election is zero then it seems to me the contribution of a collection of individual votes makes is also zero. Which leads to the absurd conclusion that voting doesn’t determine the outcome of elections.

                But rather than hammer on that point any more, isn’t there something paradoxical about your own conclusion here? If you hold that an individual’s contribution to determining an election’s outcome is zero, then why would a person be inclined to follow your your suggestion here, which I take is to join a third party to – presumably! – influence the outcomes of elections?Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Stillwater says:

                If you hold that an individual’s contribution to determining an election’s outcome is zero, then why would a person be inclined to follow your your suggestion here, which I take is to join a third party to – presumably! – influence the outcomes of elections?

                The individual’s contribution is not literally zero. It’s infinitesimal. Still, adding an infinitesimal to a total will almost never change things by enough to matter.

                The recommendation to vote third-party (which should apply to other third parties, too, if you find them ideologically of interest) is not to influence the outcome of this election. It’s to influence how you think about and approach politics, and perhaps to influence the political culture of the country. And with it, perhaps the outcomes of future elections.Report

              • Avatar Scott Fields in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                If your recommendation to vote third party ended here…

                It’s to influence how you think about and approach politics…

                I’d be in complete agreement. But, when you go on to state…

                …and perhaps to influence the political culture of the country.

                your argument weakens and then adding…

                And with it, perhaps the outcomes of future elections.

                ends it.Report

              • Avatar sonmi451 in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                In other words, to make yourself feel better, keeping your hands clean.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot2 in reply to Stillwater says:

                Yeah, I’m with Stillwater here.

                If you think Down’s paradox gives you a reason not to vote between Obama and Romney, it also gives you a reason not to vote between Obama, Romney, Johnson, and “Write-In.” In fact, it gives you a reason not to vote at all or rather undermines the reasons to vote at all.

                You seem to think my vote or your vote will send a signal. But if 1000 people vote for Johnson and that sends a signal, then 1001 will send no more of a signal. So why vote to send a signal? The signals sent to the different parties and legislators by the collective votes cast in Nov. will be unaffected by my vote. In your words from the previous post, my vote will not be the “marginal vote” that determines that some politician “gets the message” (whatever the message may be), so why should I vote to send a signal if my vote is infintessimally unlikely to determine what signals are sent?

                Also, if you think Romney’s policy and ideology are worse than Obama’s or vice versa, adding your vote to their totals may send a much more important message (or at least as important a message) than a third party vote.Report

              • Avatar Scott Fields in reply to Shazbot2 says:

                “gets the message” (whatever the message may be)

                That’s the rub isn’t it. The 1000 who vote would vote for Johnson to send a message likely have close to 1000 different messages they want heard. Some clown pundit is going to decide which message really matters.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Scott Fields says:

                I’d’ve no problem with that particular conclusion if, at the exact same time, people weren’t explaining that Obama’s win indicates a mandate.Report

          • Avatar Alan Scott in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            Jason, if you want to convince people to move away from the two party system, then you’re working the problem from the wrong end. People don’t vote for Rs and Ds because they’re brainwashed into thinking that only those two parties matter: People vote for Rs and Ds because Rs and Ds are the best candidates in the election.

            Gary Johnson is a pleasant exception, but most every candidate from every minor party is somewhere between comedic and horrifying. There’s this meme than 3rd parties somehow represent a middle ground or 3rd way. But really, they’re just expressing more extreme versions of the same leftward or rightward opinions that the Rs and Ds express.

            The one exception is the Libertarian party, but even then, the uppercase Ls are just as extreme in their libertarianism as the Green’s are in their liberalism and the Constitutionists are in their conservatism. A libertarian candidate with mainstream appeal is going to find more support within one of the two major parties (see Ron Paul), and as long as that remains true, those sorts of candidates will keep running as major-party affiliated, and the 3rd parties will keep getting stuck with nutcases and major-party washouts.Report

            • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Alan Scott says:

              I’m ambivalent.

              On the one hand, you’re right that third parties tend to attract kooks. Why? Because kooks like attention, and a third party is demonstrably more likely to supply it.

              On the other hand, you’ll have to admit that plenty of people consider any non–major party vote to be wasted — that, in your words, it doesn’t matter. Some people are even saying it in this very comment thread.

              There’s a lot to be said for the view that the Big Two aren’t all that ideological, and that they’re really just vehicles for supplying reasonably good candidates with resources to get elected. That used to be more true than it is today, but there’s still a lot of truth to it.Report

              • True, Jason: I mentally file 3rd party voters together in an undifferentiated Don’t Blame Me Party: Gary Johnson, Roseanne Barr, Mickey Mouse.

                I get the “none of the above” dimension—hell, I voted for John B. Anderson. That signaled something, I guess. Vote for Pilate!Report

            • Avatar Jeff No-Last-Name in reply to Alan Scott says:

              True dat. In his Reddit Q&A, Johnson stood firmly in favor of the legal slave ;labor system that is privatized prisons (just not for pot smokers [*]). The only problem he saw was the Eeeeeevil Unions!!!1!!11! That is somewhat of a deal-breaker for me.

              [*] I have no idea where he stands on normalizing sentencing guidelines for cocaine vs crack, which is just as important as pot-smoking to me.

              =============================

              Speaking of Reddit. THIS is how to do an apology!Report

          • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            If I can do anything on the margin — and it’s very little, I admit — I’d like to move people’s sympathies away from the two-party system.

            The two-party system isn’t something that we decided on because we like it so much; we have it because it’s the Nash equilibrium for a winner-take-all electoral system.

            Third parties don’t work, for a very simple mathematical reason: It takes fewer supporters to win one of the major party’s primaries than it does to win a three-way general election. That’s why there are two Pauls in Congress and zero members of the Libertarian Party.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to clawback says:

      I made this point in Jason’s last post and I still think it’s true: if you pick a Droid over an iPhone, that doesn’t matter in any measurable amount. If ten people get together and intentionally pick Droids over iPhones and tell all their friends why they did it, that’s not going to have that much more effect, either.

      Only when consumer behavior aggregates enough that Apple notices it’s losing market share will Apple react and modify its product, its marketing, something in an effort to recapture what it has lost to Droid phones.

      In the meantime, if you want a phone at all, you’ve got a choice, and the motive for your choice is your personal preference between the products available to you right now, not what you want Apple or Samsung or Motorola to do in the future.

      Voting is kind of like that.Report

      • Avatar Boegiboe in reply to Burt Likko says:

        Except that when you pick a phone, you actually get the phone you wanted, and its because your choice mattered. That demonstrably isn’t the case for a plurality (and increasingly often, a majority) of voters in presidential elections. When you properly consider the effects of red votes in blue states being throwaways, and vice versa, it may always be a majority whose choices do not matter at all.Report

  5. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    What you’ve done here, as well as what you do for a living at Cato, is to attempt to magnify your influence beyond your single vote by persuading others. We all do the same thing by posting and commenting, by discussing politics with friends, and by contributing to or volunteering for parties and candidates. At this point, since we’re actively trying to get our guy elected, we have to (if only to preserve our own mental health) assume that we have some effect on the outcome. At which point, given the same facts you’ve present above, I come to a different conclusion.

    The things about Obama that distress Conor and you are the same ones that distress me. Romney would be as bad or worse on every one of them. The problems with Romney you’ve so admirably explained are his alone. Obama may be the lesser of two evils, but it’s so much less hat I can’t in good conscience say “A plague on both your houses” and vote for Big Hands or any other third-party candidate.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      While I share Conor’s objections, it is hard to make a comparison between an incumbent and someone who has never served in the position and who hasn’t even been in public office in a number of years.

      We *KNOW* what Obama has done with the Presidency, good, bad, and ugly. We don’t *KNOW* what Romney would do. So, yes, there is more blood o Obama’s hands than there is on Romney’s, but that is because Romney hasn’t been in a position to acquire blood. This doesn’t excuse Obama’s many monstrous actions, but it does mean that we are inherently making an apples-to-oranges comparison.

      If you think Romney would be worse than Obama, that matters. If you think he’ll be better, that matters. If you think Johnson would be better than both, that matters.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      The problem is that lesser-of-two-evils reasoning only applies in situations where you believe your individual vote to be efficacious.

      If you accept, as I have done, that the outcome of the election is not going to be in your hands, then all that’s left is how you feel about affiliating with any particular candidate.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        But a vote matters for more than simply deciding an election. A landslide victory is different than a slim one. An election with 80% of eligible voters participating is different than one with 40%.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        then all that’s left is how you feel about affiliating with any particular candidate.

        Not entirely, tho, right? You also believe that signaling support for a certain candidate to shift political culture and potentially future elections is a rational use of your vote.

        Why doesn’t the same rationale apply to folks who will vote for Obama or Romney? Conservatives certainly believe that a vote for Romney is sends a signal on the same grounds as your vote for Johnson, yes? Same for Obama voters.

        (Sorry to keep hammering on this, but I’m (apparently) very confused as to what you’re arguing.)Report

      • Avatar Shazbot2 in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Again, Kazzy and Stillwater have you dead to rights here.

        Down’s paradox is a reason to think a single vote doesn’t matter at all, not just a reason to think the vote only matters if you cast it for a relatively unpopular third party candidate.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Shazbot2 says:

          Downs’ Paradox is exactly what I’m proposing to solve and be done with here.

          I will state what I’m arguing as clearly as I can make it. Once again.

          The chief effect of your individual act of voting is that after you vote, you will feel and think differently about politics. People vote so that they can attain this effect.

          I’m asking you to consider, first, that that’s the case. And second, that you will like the way you feel about yourself and about our politics if you vote in certain ways.Report

          • Avatar Shazbot2 in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            I don’t mean to be hypercritical here. I don’t want to come off as a jerk. But your position just has so many weird holes and problems. Downs’ Paradox pretty clearly implies that all voting, including voting to send a message, is something you never have a reason to do. So Downs’ Paradox implies that you don’t have any reason to vote for Johnson.

            This idea that people vote to get a certain psychological effect is pretty weird, too. Once I recognize, consciously, that I’m voting only to feel good (or feel something else about myself), and that my vote has no other effect, the good feeling that is supposed to come won’t come. Rather, if I accept your position, I’ll realize that voting is useless and I’m engaged in some entirely inauthentic act that is pure symbolism, that I’m only (if I accept your position) doing to make myself feel something. But I will only feel inauthentic (probably also bored and irritated.)

            Instead of voting, if I want to “feel something” about my attachment to Johnson or the Green Candidate, why don’t I spend the time doing something for the candidate, e.g. earning money to donate to them, phoning people to tell them to support such and such.

            In a sense, your view is that voting is a kind of emotional masturbation. And unlike real masturbation, it doesn’t seem very appealing to me.Report

            • Avatar Shazbot2 in reply to Shazbot2 says:

              Here’s ana analogy. Suppose I am an atheist. But I here that some people feel spiritually and psychologically better after communion because they feel the act of communion to be somehow efficacious in their relationship with God. Of course, I believe that communion can’t be efficacious, but I go anyway because I think if I go I can make myself feel good. I am going only to make myself feel good, engaging in what -I believe to be- an otherwise a useless act.

              My guess is I won’t feel good. I’ll just feel bored and irritated and that I’m an inauthentic person.

              You want voters to act like the atheist taking communion, and it’s going to have the same consequence.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Shazbot2 says:

                I imagine that there are people out there who, as they eat the wafer, feel like they are striking a blow against racism, against sexism, and against Satan Himself. With tears streaming down their faces, they weep with joy knowing that they are a good person, eating a good wafer, and that with the help of their act of taking communion, the signal that their soul is saved is being sent.

                I’m sure that Jason would not tell those people to stop taking communion.

                There might be people out there who, however, don’t feel this joy when they take the wafer. “It’s just a wafer,” they may say to themselves. “And I’m pretty sure that it’s still a wafer when it gets to my stomach.”

                “Try this”, Jason is saying to those people. “It tastes like weed, gay marriage, and gun vending machines.”Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                (And if I got Jason’s argument completely wrong, please don’t blame him for that. It’s easy enough to swap him out of the story and change it to say that that’s what *I* am doing.)Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                There might be people out there who, however, don’t feel this joy when they take the wafer. “It’s just a wafer,” they may say to themselves. “And I’m pretty sure that it’s still a wafer when it gets to my stomach.”

                “Try this”, Jason is saying to those people. “It tastes like weed, gay marriage, and gun vending machines.”

                That’s Jason’s conclusion. And it’s fine to have a conclusion, of course. They’re that wonderful thing at the end of an argument. But we’re disagreeing with his premises and his reasoning along the way.

                He’s perfectly entitled to assert the conclusion, tho. No one denies that.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Stillwater says:

                So if Jason’s premises are wrong, Stillwater, are you arguing for Down’s premises?Report

              • Avatar Shazbot2 in reply to Jaybird says:

                The priest always asks me to close my eyes when he puts the wafer in my mouth and it always tastes like… chicken…Report

              • Avatar Shazbot2 in reply to Shazbot2 says:

                I was going to say “a hot dog” but that would be weird.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Shazbot2 says:

              Well, I hope Jason doesn’t think you’re being a jerk with this comment, primarily because I agree with you about this stuff and I’d like to learn where I’m going wrong in my thinking. As it is, I don’t think I’m (or you’re) wrong about this.

              I reject Down’s paradox (as I’m seeing it presented on this and the Lizard thread) since I view it not as a paradox but a reductio.

              On the assumption that Down’s paradox is true (again, as used in this and the Lizard threads), Jason’s conclusions about third party voting are undermined since they appear to be inconsistent with it.

              I imagine that Jason has a more nuanced view of this stuff which I’m missing. I’d sure like to hear it.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot2 in reply to Stillwater says:

                “I reject Down’s paradox (as I’m seeing it presented on this and the Lizard thread) since I view it not as a paradox but a reductio.”

                Well put. I’d say this is a good way of stating the paradox.

                Given assumptions, X, Y, and Z, the claim “It is not rational for you to vote” is justified.
                However, given assumptions A, B, and C, the claim “It is rational for you to vote” is also justified.

                Thus, it appears that we are justified in believing a claim and it’s contradiction, which is a paradox.

                In that sense it is analogous to the paradox of the heap, aka the Sorites paradox. Note that the Sorites paradox is not an attempt to prove that there is no such thing as a heap of sand. Rather, if we accept some seemingly innocuous assumptions, it seems like we are justified in accepting that there is no heap, when we are also justified in claiming that there is a heap. Rather the paradox is, a la Stillwater, a sort of reductio; it shows that somewhere our assumptions or our reasoning that lead us to think there is no heap were faulty.

                So it is with Downs’ paradox. The puzzle is to figure out what is wrong withe the justification for the claim “It is not rational to vote.”

                There are a variety of solutions. I am not sure how to resolve Downs’ paradox. Nor am I sure how to resolve the paradox of the heap. But I am more confident that there is such a resolution than I am confident that there is no heap or that it is not rational to vote.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Shazbot2 says:

                I think it’s more that if you are voting for the following reasons: X, Y, and Z, you may get more immediate, middle, and long-term benefit from doing something other than voting. Yes, even taking a nap in the car will do you better than voting will.

                If, however, you are voting for reasons A, B, and C, hey, knock yourself out.

                I compare to playing the lottery. If you spend a buck with the intention of winning the lottery (“someone’s gotta win”), you’d be better off putting that dollar in a bandaid box in your bedroom and periodically taking that bandaid box to the bank.

                If, however, you spend a buck with the intention of daydreaming of what you’d do if you won, who you’d tell to kiss off, whose mortgages you’d pay off, and which steakhouse in Vegas you’d like to eat a steak at… I’d say that that’s a pretty well-spent dollar. Perhaps I will buy a ticket on my way home…Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                I don’t think that’s right JB: all that’s necessary for the Down’ paradox is the act of voting, not the reasons for voting.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Stillwater says:

                Eh, one of the consequences of Downs’ argument was that people started thinking about the distinction between voting as investment and voting as consumption. I don’t think it’s right to claim that consumption voting is irrational. That requires a lot more developed argument, and a lot less assertion. E.g., Shazbot’s assertion that once you recognize something as symbolic it becomes meaningless is not an argument based in rationality, but one based in some other assumptions about psychology. Rational choice theory takes the desire, the preference, as exogenous, so preferences are neither rational nor irrational. It’s clear that humans, for whatever reason, enjoy the hell out if symbolism (we wear “Yay, my team!” pajamas to bed, fer chrissake), so to say recognizing something as symbolic makes it irrational to do that thing is a misreading of rational choice theory.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

                Reading your comments on this thread, I get the feeling you didn’t read any of the arguments I made on the other thread, one of which was:

                given that the contribution of a vote to determining an election in advance of the outcome being decided is non-zero, the preference theorist cannot say that the act of voting is irrational.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

                Or said more specifically to your current argument: the fact that the contribution a single act of voting makes to determining the outcome of an election is non-zero, the preference theorist (nor can anyone, I think) cannot say that the justification for voting cannot be made in purely electoral terms.Report

              • Avatar Fnord in reply to Jaybird says:

                All that it takes to break Down’s paradox is for voters to not be totally self-interested. Even relatively weak altruistic preferences can make voting rational.Report

              • Avatar Jeff No-Last-Name in reply to Shazbot2 says:

                Ooooh, ooooh, oooh!!!! Down’s Paradox is Xeno’s Paradox, but for elections! It’s kind of backwards, but just as the arrow can never hit the target, no number of grains of sand will make the heap, and no number opf votes will turn an election.

                Xeno’s Paradox had been answered by 200 years after it was posed. Why are we discussing its modern equivalent?Report

              • Avatar Shazbot2 in reply to Jeff No-Last-Name says:

                I’d say it’s the Sorites paradox, or the paradox of theheap, which is (probably) not Zeno’s.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            I’ve voted once in my life. I don’t know that I felt much different afterwards. I certainly wasn’t seeking it. I went in and pulled the lever for the guy I thought would do the best for our country.Report

    • Avatar Glyph in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      The things about Obama that distress Conor and you are the same ones that distress me. Romney would be as bad or worse on every one of them. The problems with Romney you’ve so admirably explained are his alone. Obama may be the lesser of two evils, but it’s so much less hat I can’t in good conscience say “A plague on both your houses” and vote for Big Hands or any other third-party candidate.

      I don’t disagree with a thing you’ve said here Mike, and that is what is so depressing to me about this whole thing. Your choice is eminently rational; Romney would not in any way be better, and he’d add his own errors to the pile.

      But I see Jason’s (And Conor’s, and mine) as rational choices too – #2 of Conor’s reasons above, as I have said elsewhere repeatedly, is completely and utterly unacceptable and cannot be condoned in any way. At this point all we can hope for is to cause one or both of the parties to look at their ‘lost market share’ like Burt says, and hopefully modify their behavior, at some future point.

      In the meantime it appears to me that all of us apparently-rational people are all going to hell together, just slightly more quickly or more slowly depending on the outcome of each election.

      But hey, at least this road we’re on is sure paved nice and smooth with all of our collectively-good intentions. 🙁Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Glyph says:

        My problem with the signalling is that it seems to me that I’m signalling a lot of things with my vote.

        I’m signalling affiliation with this Team.
        I’m signalling non-affiliation with that Team.
        I’m signalling that I’m okay with the status quo. (Or that I’m not.)
        I’m signalling that I support two people marrying with my vote. (Or that I don’t.)
        I’m signalling that I support Israel’s government using drones to take Palestinian land with my vote. (or that I don’t.)
        I’m signalling that I support all kinds of health care options for fetuses. (Or that I don’t.)
        I’m signalling that I support the right to blaspheme against the gods with my vote. (Or that I don’t.)
        I’m signalling that I support Minority Ownership of Small Businesses with my vote. (Or that I don’t.)
        I’m signalling that I support Clean Coal with my vote. (Or that I don’t.)

        And we’re not even talking about the silly things that only silly people care about because, really, there’s not much of a difference between the two parties in practice when it comes to the silly things.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:

          I believe that, here, you are signaling a preference for direct democracy!Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

            Apparently, polls seem to indicate that Gary Johnson may take Ohio out of play for Romney… that is, GJ is siphoning votes to the point where a state that Romney might win is no longer a state that Romney might win.

            Personally, I see that as *AWESOME*.Report

            • Avatar Glyph in reply to Jaybird says:

              Nader was blamed for siphoning enough votes to affect that election’s outcome – did anything positive come out of that? He’s a pariah, people who voted for him got blamed for Gore’s loss, I haven’t noticed any changes in the platforms of the major parties…why will this time be different?

              Understand, I think it’s great too, but I don’t know if anything good realistically will come of it, unless it gets the LP to the “5% / matching funds” point.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Glyph says:

                Perot making the difference between the winning candidate getting more than 50% of the popular vote and less than 50% of the popular vote was followed by a relatively disciplined Congress and Executive who, together, came *THIS* close to balancing the budget (some readings of the numbers even allow for there having been a surplus!).

                Nader making the difference in 2000 was followed by (no matter what yardsticks you use) *HUGE* expansions in government reach, government power, and government spending.

                If spoilers are, in fact, heralds… I’m hoping that GJ knocks several states out of play.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

                Are you equating Nader’ and Bush because they’re both “Big Government”? Seriously?Report

              • In pretty much the same way that Perot and Clinton equate to each other.Report

              • More seriously, I think that Perot (followed by Congress flipping in 1994) did, in fact, herald different attitudes about spending… and this resulted in such things as stuff approaching a balanced budget (though this had as much to do with unexpected revenues from the boom as it did an actual reduction in spending).

                To a lesser degree, I think that Gore/Nader communicated to Bush a handful of things that manifested in small ways like the steel tariffs but the country totally went off the rails following 9/11. (We have no idea what would have happened had that not happened. My suspicion is that Bush would have been a one-term president but we’ll never know. I do think that the pushes toward “Compassionate Whatever” would have been huge following the Republican losses in the house in 2002… and maybe those would have been enough to stave off his 2004 opponent. Whomever that would have been.)

                Gary Johnson strikes me as more of a Perotian Spoiler than Naderian insofar as he’s removing Ohio from play and, apparently, getting around 6% in some polls (surely outliers). If he pulls that off, it’ll be his agenda that Obama/Congress will be thinking about.Report

              • Avatar Koz in reply to Jaybird says:

                “More seriously, I think that Perot (followed by Congress flipping in 1994) did, in fact, herald different attitudes about spending… “

                Yikes. My neighbor’s dog (and a Denny’s) made breakfast for 400 people last weekend.Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to Jaybird says:

                I’m trying to formulate a theory out of this…spoilers are good when they siphon votes from the R’s, but not the D’s?

                Or, spoilers are good when they the spoiling candidate indicates a preference for smaller government/fiscal sanity?

                What is the causal relationship you see between Perot, and the Clinton years – do you think Clinton and the R-controlled Congress actually heeded Perot’s fiscal warnings?Report

              • Avatar Dan Miller in reply to Glyph says:

                Smaller govt != fiscal sanity! I know it’s not the main thrust of your comment, but the conflation is common enough to bug me.Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to Dan Miller says:

                sorry, yes, I was conflating, or more accurately trying to prompt JB to explain what he saw as the parallels btw the Perot and Johnson electoral situations.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Glyph says:

                Nader was blamed for siphoning enough votes to affect that election’s outcome

                And for being a self-righteous fishhole for insisting that there was no difference between the two parties. How many dead Iraqis does it take to prove otherwise?Report

              • Eh. I can see Gore going into Iraq too… following 9/11.

                There was very much a “poop or get off of the pot” situation with the sanctions in Iraq. It doesn’t seem terribly likely to me that Gore would have chosen to get off the pot following 9/11.Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to Jaybird says:

                FWIW, this is basically my impression/recollection too. People thought the Iraq sanctions weren’t working, and everyone (not just the US) thought Iraq had WMDs (something that often gets forgotten now, since we were the ones to actually act on that erroneous intel; we think that only the US intelligence agencies made this mistake – but so did Russia’s, Israel’s, France’s, Britain’s, and basically everybody at that time, probably because it was in Iraq’s interest to make people *think* they had a big stick hidden away).

                Add that to what I think you’ve termed ‘the red haze’ of America’s post-9/11 emotional tenor, where we were looking for someone, anyone to hit, and I think Iraq was probably almost inevitable.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Glyph says:

                September 16, 2002: Baghdad announces that it will allow arms inspectors to return “without conditions.” Saddam, however, continues to drag his feet. Inspectors are let into the country, but not given the access they demand.

                Congress passed the Iraq war resolution in October of 2002.

                Resolution 1441 passed in the UN on November 8th of 2002.

                November 27, 2002, Saddam caves to a significant degree – probably because of 1441 and the Iraq War Resolution. UNMOVIC and IAEA inspections begin.

                UN weapons inspectors worked in Iraq from November 27, 2002 until March 18, 2003. During that time, inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the United Nations Monitoring, Verification, and Inspections Commission (UNMOVIC) conducted more than 900 inspections at more than 500 sites. The inspectors did not find that Iraq possessed chemical or biological weapons or that it had reconstituted its nuclear weapons program.

                March 7, 2003: UNMOVIC Executive Chairman Hans Blix tells the Security Council that Iraq’s cooperation with the inspectors in providing information about past weapons activities has improved, although Baghdad has not yet complied with its disarmament obligations. UNMOVIC and IAEA inspectors had stated during briefings to the Security Council on January 27 and February 14 that Iraq was gradually increasing its cooperation with the United Nations. Yet, both deemed the cooperation insufficient.

                On March 20, 2003, the U.S. invaded.

                I think a bunch of people strongly suspected that there were *no* WMDs in Iraq prior to March 20th, 2003, although they may have suspected that they did as recently as September of 2002. I fit in that description, myself.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Jaybird says:

                Nah, that’s an argument that a lot of Nader voters throw out to make themselves feel better (note I’m not putting you in that pile Jaybird), but in reality, Gore’s national security team was largely the same as Clinton’s. Yes, he signed the whole regime change in Iraq thing. So did a lot of people who voted against the Iraq War.

                But in reality, the most likely scenario, even if 9/11 would’ve have happened the same way is there still would’ve been the occasional missile lobbed into Iraq and the sanctions might have even been ramped up. But, I find it highly unlikely that if Clinton never went to war with Iraq that Gore ever would’ve. Now, I’m not saying there wouldn’t have been other stupid foreign policy decisions by a President Gore, but I don’t think a war with Iraq would’ve been one of them.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                I find it highly unlikely that if Clinton never went to war with Iraq that Gore ever would’ve.

                Clinton was more than happy to bomb the crap out of “baby milk” factories and blow up… what was it? The aspirin factory that had elevated levels of something or other in the dirt that indicated that it wasn’t *JUST* an aspirin factory?

                Clinton, as awesome as he was, wasn’t above lobbing a few missiles at Iraq when he was feeling feisty. (Heck, remember the Wag the Dog movie?) The argument that Gore wouldn’t have is a position that I can see someone honestly holding… but it strikes me as less likely than Gore and his neocons deciding that more than Afghanistan was required.Report

              • Avatar Jeff No-Last-Name in reply to Jaybird says:

                Yes, but Gore would have no reason to stop what Clinton was doing, anti-terrorism-wise. He would have kept up the FBI watches and have monitored transmissions from Afghanistan, as well as working with European agencies . There’s very little reason to believe that al Quida would have been able to d what they were unable to do with the Millennium Plot.

                Will Shetterly wrote a fun piece “What if George Bush had been elected president?”, assuming that Gore had actually become the Prez. The above is pretty much blatantly stolen from that piece.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

          Do intend that to be read as a reductio on all this signalling business?Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

            If I were going for that, I would have included how a vote for any given politician is a vote for X *AND* a vote for not X.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

              But in any act of voting, you may in fact be signalling all those things at the same time, yes?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

                Two ways to use the term signalling. One is “what I am trying to communicate”. The other is “what other people see communicated”.

                I may be signalling my disgust with Obama’s policy on… I dunno, whatever. Doesn’t matter.

                Other people might see that I’m a racist in the thrall of monied interests. Or they might see that I’m a libertine who cares more about pot and homosexuality than keeping our children safe from terrorists.

                To be perfectly honest, I can’t really be *THAT* bothered by what other people seem to be signalling to me as what they interpreted my signalling as *REALLY* saying. That’s a good way to really go crazy.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                One is “what I am trying to communicate”. The other is “what other people see communicated”.

                Also: that by signalling1 something by a vote I’m necessarily signalling2, even tho I had no intention of doing so. Which makes the whole concept a little less than useful, it seems to me, especially wrt voting.Report

            • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

              Zen’s paradox.Report

        • Avatar Shazbot2 in reply to Jaybird says:

          Yeah, by voting Johnson, you are most likely to send the signal that you don’t like Romney personally, or that the Bain thing bothered you, that you are a populist pro-union Republican, or possibly that you are right wing but subconsciously biased against Mormons. (That is how people would most likely see relatively big numbers for Johnson, IMO.)

          You don’t get to write an explanation of your vote on your vote and the people who interpret these signals (pundits, pollsters, politicians, etc.) are generally idiots who will see whatever signals suit them.

          And any polling that is done after the election will tell pundits and politicians more about what the country wants than the in-need-of-interpretation election results. So using your vote to signal is not efficacious at all.

          If you like a third party, work for one, write about it. Sell your friends. Get a Koch brother to support you, etc.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Shazbot2 says:

            Shazbot,

            I fully agree, but I’m not sure what you think follows from that, re the topic of the OP? Are you saying, “therefore vote major party,” or are you not saying anything like that at all?Report

            • Avatar Shazbot2 in reply to James Hanley says:

              My long response to this was lost. And I am too pissed with cyberspace to retype it.

              In short, “No.”

              I do believe voting for the major parties is rational, and would vote for Obama if I could, but not because of what I just said. What I said was just meant to say that if voting is irrational in determining an outcome of the election, it is irration simpliciter.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      I am going to just sign on to this in concurrence.Report

    • Avatar Koz in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      “The things about Obama that distress Conor and you are the same ones that distress me. Romney would be as bad or worse on every one of them. The problems with Romney you’ve so admirably explained are his alone. Obama may be the lesser of two evils, but it’s so much less hat I can’t in good conscience say “A plague on both your houses” and vote for Big Hands or any other third-party candidate.”

      I really dislike this train of thought, especially the nonchalant confidence of using speculation as a premise. Libs want to pretend that they’re not enabling the President’s policies in Libya, Afghanistan, or judicial assassination, but of course they are. Notice carefully that whenever you see this line of argument, the line “Well, Romney would be worse” is always asserted, never actually argued.

      And in particular, libs really want to ignore the reality that there’s more than ideological factors involved as well. From everything we’ve seen from the careers of President Obama and Governor Romney, it’s pretty easy to figure out that Mitt Romney is good at stuff whereas Barack Obama can’t be bothered to figure it out. And as a tendency, competent people do smart things whereas obtuse people do dumb things.Report

  6. Avatar Glyph says:

    Quantum physics claims that the sun might shine literally out of your asshole one day. But there’s a decimal point and an awful lot of zeroes before we get there.

    if Romney were forced to run against himself, he and his opponent wouldn’t reach an equilibrium — they’d argue themselves further and further to the right, zooming past fascism and ultimately into some sort of unseemly onstage mutual strip search.

    “Because war builds good character.” “Does that work in drone wars, too?” “Tests are underway.”)

    Jason, I already knew you were smart, and a good writer; what I didn’t realize until today was that you’re *funny* too.

    Pity that the jokes had to be so dark; but that is not your fault, we work with the material we’ve got.Report

  7. Avatar Scott Fields says:

    Jason,
    If you truly want to influence the political culture of the country, convince your brethren libertarians to use rhetoric much, much more like this…

    Libertarians believe that nearly all of the poor could do better for themselves in a freer economy. That’s a hard sell for many, and I know it. But whatever else it entails, a freer economy means ending privileges for the already rich. And one doesn’t begin the war on privilege by attacking the poor.

    Really, that’s good stuff. And thanks for the link to Sheldon Richman. I’ll be reading more of his work.Report

    • I also agree with this. In all honesty – and I hate to put words in his mouth – but I suspect that if he had his druthers, he’d expend more time on doing precisely that and less time defending the concept of libertarianism writ large.

      For non-libertarians, the most important element of libertarianism ought to be the priorities of the libertarian movement, not whether the libertarian movement has elements of its overall policy agenda that non-libertarians find distasteful. IMHO, too often attacks on libertarianism are attacks on libertarianism qua libertarianism, and any libertarian is going to feel compelled to defend his worldview, even if the specific position that is the impetus for the attack is one that is of relatively low priority to the individual libertarian in question. If non-libertarians were to instead more frequently take the tack of “we understand that you disagree with us on Y, but we still agree with you on Y; here’s why X should be a lower priority for you, and Y should be a higher priority for you,” I expect that they’d find folks like Jason to be potent and articulate allies.

      For what it’s worth, this is also a pretty good road map for how to convert me from a left-libertarian whose vote tends to be split equally between the LP, GOP and Dems depending on the office and candidates at issue to someone who is significantly more likely to vote for Dems than Republicans.Report

      • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        I’m sorry, but I disagree. At least on the arguments of the priorities of the libertarian movement.

        For instance, every single left-leaning person on this site has said something to the effect of, “hey, we agree with you on civil liberties, the drug war, and so on. Unfortunately, we aren’t even a majority in our own party for a variety of issues on these policies, but if you help us out with that stuff in the DNC, maybe we can push the Democrat’s to at least have good positions on these sorts of things.”

        Unfortunately though, for most libertarians, that doesn’t seem to be good enough. In my opinion, for most actual libertarians in the wild, the drug war, civil liberties, police brutality, and ending economic privileges for the rich and powerful seems to be a lower priority than insane economic proposals like an immediate 43% cut to every single federal budget line, like Gary Johnson wants to do or goldbuggery in the form of Ron Paul. That doesn’t sound much like ending privileges for the rich first before going after the poor.

        Now, if you want to vote for Gary Johnson because of the drone war, the Drug war, or whatever reason you want, that’s great. But, if you aren’t going to turn around after Election Day and try to reform one of the two major parties to conform to your policies in the long run, then yeah, the voted for Johnson is a wasted vote.Report

        • A few things on this:

          First, I said “folks like Jason,” not all or even most self-described libertarians; I’ve honestly got no idea whether “libertarians in the wild” would agree. .

          Second, “trust us and vote Dem” is a different request from Scott’s more limited (and realistic) request, which is that Jason (and those of us with a similar view of what libertarianism ought to be) expend more energy trying to convince libertarians to adopt Jason’s own view of libertarianism.

          Third, “liberals on this site” =/= most liberals, and certainly =/= voices with the audience necessary to affect perceptions of libertarianism on a meaningful scale.

          The fact is that it is far more common to see a piece by a prominent non-libertarian (and it is also hardly uncommon even amongst non-libertarians at this very site) proclaiming how a particular event of relatively little importance or some extreme theoretical position taken by a libertarian proves that libertarianism is worthless and terrible and immoral, etc. We do not see an awful lot of “hey, look, I get that libertarians believe x, and obviously I disagree, but even if you’re a libertarian, here’s why x should be a lower priority for you than y.”

          I’m not going to dispute that libertarians are frequently guilty of similar conduct in the reverse. It is a general problem with political discourse – it is not enough to seek to win on individual issues, it is necessary to completely discredit anyone who disagrees with you on more than a small handful of unimportant issues.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

          Jesse, that’s exactly the kind of self-serving bullshit that guarantees you’ll never get libertarians to work with you. Your whole line, repeatedly, is”libertarians are lovely, precisely to the extent they like my issues, and no further, so they should STFU about everything I don’t agree with them on and focus only on the things they agree with me on.”

          Well, I’ll tell you what, I’ll be happy to do that if you all will likewise STFU about everything I don’t agree with you on. Otherwise it’s pretty damned one-sided bargain, and I think I’ll just pass. Go ahead and blame me/us–as you already “know” ’tis all of our fault and none of your own, eh?Report

      • Avatar Scott Fields in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        I’m with Jesse here, Mark. The onus is on the libertarians to decide what their priorities should be and not on non-libertarians to be more understanding of where the common ground lies.

        From where I sit, outside the libertarian movement, the Sheldon Richmans are a couple of English horns in a orchestra of brass – their playing lovely music, but I sure as hell can’t hear them over the honkers. I only learn of thinkers like him because I, the liberal, have taken the effort to explore other ideologies.

        Take last year’s Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, for example. I would have thought this a great moment for libertarians to find common cause with a primarily leftist group. There was a shared enemy in government/business collusion creating a privileged class. But the loudest libertarian voices dismissed the movement and jumped in to defend the rich as meritorious and condemn the students concerned about crushing debt as naive moochers.

        Trying to influence the whole country’s politics with a signal vote for Gary Johnson is a fool’s errand. Trying to influence your political fellow travelers on their direction is a more plausible strategy.Report

        • Mark. The onus is on the libertarians to decide what their priorities should be and not on non-libertarians to be more understanding of where the common ground lies.

          Absolutely. But that misses my point, which was just to explain why it is that you don’t see this sort of intralibertarian argument as often as you’d like.

          It’s not exactly easy, nor does it make much sense, to expend much effort trying to convince your allies to rethink their offensive strategy when you’re constantly in the middle of defending against a full-frontal assault and the other side has 10 times as many soldiers.Report

          • Avatar Scott Fields in reply to Mark Thompson says:

            I buy that, Mark.

            I’d only note that success in the intralibertarian argument to the extent that the public face of libertarianism is more “war on privilege” than “attacking the poor” will (to run with your metaphor) greatly diminish the size of the troops that would attack you. And if Dan Miller below (and I) are any indication, you’d likely find those who would join you on the ramparts.Report

            • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Scott Fields says:

              I have to plus-one this.

              Additionally, another option is to release the tight emotional grip on a label that a lot of people self-apply to very different self-defined sets of attitudes and just recognize that the map is not the territory here. Two people who have significantly different priority and value sets are as likely to be unalike politically as they are to be alike, even if they both self-apply the same label.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Scott Fields says:

          I’m with Jesse here, Mark. The onus is on the libertarians to decide what their priorities should be and not on non-libertarians to be more understanding of where the common ground lies.

          We each decide where our priorities lie, so to say someone else needs to do that is self-indulgent. You want us to join you? Standing way back and saying we have to come all the way over to you is not a signal that you’re serious. The signal is one of looking for a cheap excuse.

          But if you want to talk about priorities, we’re pretty damned anti-war. Very anti-war on drugs, too. really opposed to abusive police. You’re our only hope there, given how the conservatives are, but it’s your goddamned party that keeps failing to make common ground with us on those issues, repeatedly cowering before claims that they’re unpatriotic and soft on crime. So why don’t you fishing liberals drop the smug holy joe routine and start realizing that if you want our help, you’ve got every goddamned bit as much responsibility to come to us as we do to come to you.

          If you can’t do that, then I think you care a lot less about results than you do about positioning and trying to keep a safe distance from us.Report

          • Avatar Scott Fields in reply to James Hanley says:

            James –

            With all due respect, I don’t give a flying fish whether you join us.** As it stands, I belong to a party that has the capability of getting elected to public office because of its policies on many issues that are important to me and many others. As a matter of fact, come November 7th, I’m confident the Presidency and at least one chamber of Congress will be controlled by the Democrats as a result of its running on the principles it is known for. The problem with the Democrats (and it’s a BIG one) is their frequent failure to govern in a way that is true to the values they espouse. I’ll rail against them for that.

            But as I see it, and YMMV, the libertarians have the opposite problem. There’s no reason to question whether libertarians would govern true to their values, but the principles the libertarians are KNOWN FOR aren’t embraced by enough voters to get libertarians elected to office. And without getting elected, I can see no way for libertarians to enact their agenda.

            So, when Jason endorses the views of Sheldon Richman, who offers in the article linked above the most plausible strategy I’ve ever seen from a libertarian for moving toward a freer economy (a goal we share) while gaining popular support (a means we both need), I’m going to affirm that it would be good for libertarians to be KNOWN MORE FOR THAT. If you could shelve your “nobody understands us poor libertarians” routine and read what I’ve written even remotely charitably, you’d see I’m acknowledging what I’d like to see in order for me to join you. I’d think you’d want that.

            But, if you’re content to sit outside power with no hope for the change in the political culture you seek but some faint signaling with your third party vote, knock yourself out.

            ** To be clear, I do care if you join them, but if you want to jump in with the Republicans you are either deluded about who they are or the priorities you list above are not as important to you as you are letting on.Report

      • Avatar Shazbot2 in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        I also think the term “the libertarian movement” doesn’t really refer to anything, or any one thing.

        There are lots of people who call themselves libertarian and lots of differences and few common threads between all their ideas except a general valuing for free-choices.

        Thus, any sentence “The libertarians say ….” is just false or without truth value.Report

    • Avatar Dan Miller in reply to Scott Fields says:

      +1 to that. If libertarianism as it actually existed were more like this, I’d spend a lot more of my time defending libertarianism.Report

    • Avatar Jeff No-Last-Name in reply to Scott Fields says:

      If more libertarians wrote like this, I’d be far less likely to write them off. I see no reason to think that Johnson agrees with this POV.Report

    • Avatar Koz in reply to Scott Fields says:

      “Libertarians believe that nearly all of the poor could do better for themselves in a freer economy. That’s a hard sell for many, and I know it. But whatever else it entails, a freer economy means ending privileges for the already rich. And one doesn’t begin the war on privilege by attacking the poor.”

      This is definitely true as it applies to Mitt Romney’s unfortunate 47% thing. Unfotunately there is a bigger picture too. Cutting taxes from the bottom up doesn’t end their dependence on government. For very important groups of people, it amplifies it. We should not expect to be effective manipulating the letter of government policy while being ignorant of its purpose. Our team believes in engagement, their team believes in entanglement. Following from that, their team also has to believe that they can also reasonably control the side effects of implementing entanglements among the people (or avoid considering any other possibility). They can’t.Report

  8. Avatar matt says:

    If your real vote doesn’t matter, then your symbolic vote doesn’t matter.Report

  9. Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

    As a side note, if Gary Johnson is your homebody because of the drone war, well, there might be a slight issue with that.

    http://dailycaller.com/2012/04/09/thedcs-jamie-weinstein-gary-johnsons-strange-foreign-policy/

    Johnson said that while he wants to end the war in Afghanistan, that doesn’t mean he would necessarily stop drone attacks against terrorists in Pakistan or Yemen, even though he believes they create more enemies than they kill.

    “I would want leave all options on the table,” Johnson saidReport

  10. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    The collective will do what it’s going to do

    Honest question: what is meant by this statement? What propositions does it affirm and which does it deny? What things does it say exist and what does it say don’t?Report

  11. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    …Other question I have is: Am I wrong in concluding that the net effect of the of the set of voting recommendations given by the conjunction of Jason’s voting posts Parts I & II is a suggestion to vote for anyone other than Gary Johnson? (Gary Johnson is the right candidate to vote for [Part II], but you should vote for the “wrong” candidate [Part I]?)Report

    • Avatar Shazbot2 in reply to Michael Drew says:

      “You should vote for whoever you shouldn’t vote for” is also a paradox, ironically.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Michael Drew says:

      I wrote Part I from the assumption that virtually none of my readers would be voting for Johnson. Its purpose was in part to nudge people away from thinking that it was so important that they pick one of the Big Two. Because ultimately, it’s not.

      I wrote Part II from a somewhat different perspective — someone saying, about Part I, “okay, I get it already, who do you really want me to vote for?” And my answering.

      I don’t really think I’ve connected too well with the readers here, because I’m getting a lot of questions that suggest I should not have assumed some things that I did assume about them. I’ll likely have to write a follow-up post, except it’ll probably be long and of limited interest. Sigh. Maybe I won’t bother.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        No, I understood. I guess the point is, it’s convenient that you don’t have to vote for your “wrong” candidate under your own advice, as it turns out the instruction is just simply not to vote for one of the major candidates (as if we didn’t know that would be your voting recommendation if you were going to give one). Apparently you’re not actually interested in exploring the feeling you say others should explore yourself. As you point out, it would be costless for you to do so (assuming you are going to vote) in terms of the outcome. Now, I really don’t care what feelings you have or don’t have, so I’m indifferent as to whether you explaiore the “wrong vote” feeling like you suggest the rest of do. I’m just saying you could, and it wouldn’t matter one bit in terms of the election outcome.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Michael Drew says:

          It would be absolutely costless for me to engage in the experiment personally, yes.

          Will I do so? I’ll let you know after the election is over.Report

          • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            That’s still not consistent (unless you’re saying you aren’t sure at this time and you’ll consider it), since you’re letting us know what we should do beforehand, but again, it’s absolutely no skin off my nose.Report

            • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Michael Drew says:

              Let’s go back to my first principles.

              I believe that what I do in the voting booth will not matter as regards the election’s outcome. Romney? Obama? Johnson? Stein? It won’t matter. Maryland is a rock-solid Obama state, and that will be that. Nor will my one vote send much of a message, and whatever minuscule message it sends will likely be misinterpreted anyway, as several people have astutely pointed out.

              Where my vote will matter is this, and I firmly believe it: My act of voting will cause me to think differently, in the future, about American politics.

              I do think that if I vote for Romney, I will find myself identifying a bit more with the Republicans. If I vote for Obama, with the Democrats. And so forth. That is the most serious effect of any one person’s choice at the polls.

              I am very convinced that this is the case, and I don’t understand why so many people resist it as as the one obvious conclusion, the one obvious answer for why we vote. We vote so we can identify more intensely with a tribe.

              You have asked me to consider voting against my stated preference. For me, that means I should identify less strongly with the Libertarian Party. I’m actually fine with that; I voted for Kerry in 2004 and only barely managed to make myself vote for Barr in 2008.

              Further de-identifying myself with the LP isn’t a horrible prospect for me. But… identifying more closely with any of the others… that does make me cringe.Report

  12. Avatar Matty says:

    One important question has not been asked.

    Is Jar Jar Binks in Drone Wars?Report

  13. Avatar Koz says:

    Two particulars against the OP:

    1. Jason’s argument for the substantive meaningless of voting doesn’t hold water. It requires a perfectly atomistic theory of human behavior, ie, that what you or I do individually has exactly zero effect on anybody else. But of course that’s not so. We create culture collectively and in conversation with ourselves. And especially for collective actions whose main purpose is to demonstrate intent, efficacy comes surprisingly quickly.

    As I was corresponding with Michael Drew some months ago, the intent to vote Republican is a powerful fuel for positive change whose effects begin long before anybody votes. Since I wrote that, I’d venture that here at the League there’s been 200 front page posts and 20,000 comments disparaging Mitt Romney to the benefit of Barack Obama. If there were that much commentary supporting Mitt Romney at Obama’s expense, we would be living in a different, and better world. Unemployment would lower today.

    2. Just because voting is an act of affiliation, doesn’t mean that affiliating with a large group at the expense of a small one is irrational. Especially in the context of voting, it has a very particular meaning. That is, that affiliating with one of the major parties is an attempt to accept responsibility for what the actors do, affiliating independent/write-in/third party is an attempt to disclaim responsibility. This is especially problematic for Libertarians of Jason’s stripe, who are not at all interested in disclaiming responsibility for public policy but desperately attempt to claim responsbility by worse means that voting.Report

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *