Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Today I continue with the idea that we should be grateful for the opportunity to vote. As I did yesterday, I will be responding to Donald Boudreaux's argument in his article, "I will not vote" which is basically that it is simply a waste of time since a single vote can hardly affect the outcome of an election. I admitted to seeing some truth to this argument for large populations--say a presidential or a senatorial election--but no merit in it for small populations such as a local election. Mr. Boudreaux's response to my letter was that two researcher's, Brennan and Lomasky had shown that even for small populations such as a town with only 1000 registered voters for which a local election might result in as few as 80 voters, the chances of a single vote affecting the outcome is as small as an election involving a million voters. Today I want to use an example that will get us closer to the objections to voting raised by Frank Chodorov. Essentially, these are that by voting we lend legitimacy to a government with which we might not agree. I will deal with this argument explicitly in a later issue. Mr. Boudreaux, incidentally, touches on it in his own article, but very lightly.

At one time Mr. Boudreaux was the department chairman of the Econ Dept of George Mason University. I will use his position to postulate my example. Suppose that the president of the university has proposed that the various micro-economic classes currently being taught at the university in various colleges all be transferred to the Econ Dept., e. g. the Engineering Economics class currently under the auspices of the engineering dept. would be transferred to the Econ. Dept. This would also be done for budgeting classes taught in the Home Ec Dept., medical econ. classes in the med school, legal econ in the law school, etc. The proposal is that the transfer be as neutral as possible in terms of budget. This is made possible by the fact that currently all such classes are actually taught by graduate students and it is foreseen that this would continue to be the case. The only change would be that currently the classes are listed in the catalogue under the various departments and are supervised by Professors in those departments. Under the proposed arrangement they would all be listed under economics and would be supervised by economics professors.

At a meeting involving all the professors involved, including all the professors in the econ dept., there is a very lively discussion. The economics professors are pretty much divided on the issue. Some feel that providing oversight to the classes would involve learning a great deal more about the specific subjects, engineering, home ec, medicine, etc., than they care to learn. Others feel that this would provide an opportunity to introduce students who would not normally take a regular econ class to some important concepts in macro-economics, as well as give a bit broader view of micro economics than they are currently receiving. The professors in the other departments are pretty much all opposed to the idea.

Since the discussion generates so much feeling, Mr. Boudreaux decides that it would be best to have a secret ballet, taken at the university testing center. Only the 20 members of the economics dept. and the 20 members of the other depts directly invovled in the change would be allowed to vote. Accordingly, Mr. Boudreaux provides a list of the 40 names to the head of the testing center with instructions that only those on the list be allowed to vote and at the end of the day allowed for voting the names crossed off of those who actually voted is to be destroyed so that no one can know who did and who did not vote.

In our hypothetical example, the testing center is across the campus from the economics dept. and involves either a lengthy walk or driving and looking for parking, i.e. a bit of a time sacrifice is involved. The members of the econonomics department, under the close supervision of Mr. Boudreaux have all studied the work of Brennan and Lomasky and, are, therefore, fully aware that one vote in 40 is as unlikely to determine the outcome as 1 in a million, so, with one exception, the newest member of the faculty who has not yet taken the time to thoroughly master the concepts in B & L, no one in the department votes. The members in the other departments all vote, hence, only 21 votes are cast.

My purpose in using this example is to point out that in one sense, Mr. Boudreaux is perfectly correct. There is little point in the members of the economics department voting. The people in the other departments are pretty much against the issue and the econ dept. is divided. The outcome, therefore, is clear. There is, of course, always the possibility that several of the people in the other departments are also aware of the work of B & L and, therefore also don't vote, but that is not likely. As diligently as I have studied engineering economics, I have never heard of Brennan and Lomasky. If engineers, who, as almost everyone concedes, know almost everything worth knowing, have never studied those two men's work, it is extremely unlikely that the professors in home ec, law, medicine, etc, are familiar with it either. But my point here is that the vote, in this case, and almost all cases involving local voting, transcends the outcome. If, for example, the president of the university were to ask for the outcome and were told that only 21 of the 40 possible people voted, he would feel, rightly, in my opinion, that there was a great deal of culpable apathy at his university. If he were informed by the head of the testing center, that although, he would not name the specific people involved, only one professor from the econ dept. voted, he would wonder at their desire to be involved in the affairs, other than their most immediate duties, of the university.

And that is precisely the point. Voting in a local election does precisely what Mr. Chodorov and Mr. Boudreaux say they do not want done--it lends legitimacy to the work of local government. And that is what is most desperately needed in America today--a sense of loyalty and legitimacy of involvment with local affairs.

No comments: