An Argument Against Voting

Lynne Kiesling

Chris at Stumbling & Mumbling has written a very thought-provoking why he won’t be voting in the UK election on Thursday. His reason 1 resonates with the standard Median Voter Theorem that we all know and love:

1. It’s none of my business. The main parties are targeting the self-interest of median voters in marginal constituencies. But I’m neither a median voter nor in a marginal constituency. What’s more, no party is targeting the self-interest of single people in good health on above-average incomes. Worse still, they are not even bothering to tell us why our interests shouldn’t count.

I found his reason 5 the most interesting:

5. All the parties, to a greater or lesser degree, believe in managerialism and hierarchy – the notion that central elites can guide our futures and over-ride the wisdom of markets. No-one’s offering direct democracy and a massive delayering of state hierarchies.

Here he couples two things that need not be coupled: a move away from hierarchy and direct democracy. In fact, this precise point is really the only thing that bothers me in what he says. I’m not convinced that direct democracy is a superior collective choice mechanism relative to a representative elected body (i.e., a republic). Sure, the modern manifestation of the political republic pretty much sucks, but that’s an argument for moving more and more activity beyond its purview, not for replacing it with a direct democracy mechanism that is even more prone to pandering than what we’ve got. A comparison of imperfect mechanisms leads to implications that vary considerably depending on circumstances, and both representative and direct democracy are imperfect institutions. I say we recognize that, do everything in our power to move the important stuff into the realm of less manipulable institutions (such as, I don’t know, … markets?), and get on with it.

I fully endorse his conclusion (which is all the funnier if you are at all familiar with Gordon Ramsey’s passion for food!):

If you were to ask Gordon Ramsey whether he preferred McDonalds or Burger King, and he replied “they’re both shit”, would you infer that he was apathetic about food? Why, then, infer that I’m apathetic about politics.

It’s not apathy I feel. It’s contempt.

My contempt leads me to work tirelessly (although I’ve been pretty tired lately!) to shrink the realm of control of the political elite, not to reform the institution itself. Perhaps I’m more subversive and less idealistic than I thought …