Yesterday evening on our live show we talked to James Chillemi from Liberty Hangout and he made the case for voting, and in particular, voting for Austin Petersen. I wanted to write a little follow-up to clarify some points that were made in the podcast episode. Here are some reasons, in no particular order, of why I am of the opinion that voting is not a path to liberty.
“Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
The above quote was said by Lord Acton and I think that it rings true for the nature of political power. As anarcho-capitalists and voluntaryists, we have a principled view of the state. Sociologist Max Weber noted that government is simply a monopoly on violence within a given territory. Violence is how anything is enforced by government, and because of this, government is not a legitimate protector, caretaker or owner of anything. Essentially, the government is a gun that is pointed at innocent people.
The case for voting for a libertarian candidate involves putting someone behind the coercive gun as the trigger man. There is no way around this. And even if they are a principled person with convictions, the potential for abuse and corruption is always there. This is a historical fact that has already occurred within American history. George Washington is a hero founding father for many, and many would consider him a good man and an icon of freedom. But his abuse of power set a tone for all later abuses of the presidency. First there is the neutrality proclamation made by Washington. The British and the French hated each other and the United States was caught in the middle. In 1793, Washington bypassed congress (unconstitutionally) by decree and stated that the United States was to be neutral. If one believes in the constitution, checks and balances, so on and so forth, one needs to take issue with this blatant abuse by who many consider to be a “good man” and a “fighter for liberty.”
Washington further abused the office with the Whiskey Rebellion. Hamilton proposed an excise tax on whiskey (which is constitutional). The thing is that the Whiskey Tax was never actually enforced. A lot of people point to the tax being the moral issue. This is because if the tax was to be enforced, it would have hurt many of the marginal producers and distillers. Whiskey was used at the time as a medium of exchange (that’s pretty interesting if you ask me), but the real problem with the Whisky Rebellion is actually a completely different issue all together. The problem is that none of the people on the frontier received the memo that these taxes were not going to be enforced (and indeed were repealed in a way). These frontier farmers rose up, started proclaiming “no taxation without representation”, and began to give trouble to tax collectors in Pennsylvania. Washington was then persuaded that the army needed to be sent in, and that the Federal Government must do something about the ruckus being caused in the region. At the time, the Federal Government could not go and intervene militarily in a state (remember that these states are united but supposed to be seen as sovereign) without the approval of a supreme court judge. This was because of the Militia Act that was passed just before the Whisky Rebellion. Many viewed sending federal troops in as a military invasion. But even this act was “unconstitutional” because Article 4 Section 4 of the Constitution says that the Federal Government can only bring troops into a state if the state legislator (or the Governor if the legislation is not in session) grants it the permission to do so.
Thomas Mifflin was the governor at the time and he was a member the Philadelphia Convention and the Ratifying Convention. He gave no such authority, under Article 4 Section 4, for the federal government to intervene in their State. In fact Mifflin said that they did not need the army and that they had it under control; but a supreme court judge (James Wilson) from Pennsylvania “overrode” this and told Washington to send in the troops anyways (siting the Militia Act). This is where the true problems with the Whisky Rebellion are (along with taxation itself). Hamilton himself conceded that the point of sending in the army was to showcase Federal power and undercut the power of these, supposed, “sovereign” states. Washington is not the only “hero of liberty” to say one thing and do another. Thomas Jefferson also failed to not abuse his role in office with the Louisiana purchase (it was unconstitutional). I don’t think Petersen, as a minarchist himself, would make his pedestal higher than that of Jefferson’s.
So what is the point that I am trying to make here? My point is that even while these very libertarian and classical liberal ideas were fresh in everyone’s minds, these “leading lights of liberty” still failed. In fact, you can look to the actions of these founding fathers as the progenitors for all of the abuses of the executive branch today. They set the historical justification for it. Today, these libertarian ideals are not so fresh in everyone’s minds. We have a far more statist culture than the founder’s culture. There is no way an outright socialist like Sanders would even be given the time of day back then if frontier farmers were willing to rise up because of an excise tax on booze. My point is that if we cannot trust Jefferson or Washington or any other “hero” while the flame of freedom burned brightest, why should we trust Austin Petersen right now while that same flame flickers?
Voting is consent. Not voting is individual secession.
Some people like to say that voting is not consent if your candidate loses and your enemy wins. I would say that it is consent. Theodore J. Lowi has noted how voting is playing the game. He argues that people who in engage in the political process are people who are playing the game and people “who play the game must accept the outcome. Those who participate in politics are similarly committed, even if they are consistently on the losing side.” I love playing Risk (I know, a strategic game of conquest) and if I play the game and lose, I have to accept the fact that my opponent won the game. People would say that I lost touch with reality if I adamantly said that my opponent didn’t win and that their victory as not legitimate because I didn’t win. But if I refuse to play a game of Risk with someone and the person responds with “Aha! I beat you at Risk!”, everyone would understand how that is false because I never engaged in playing the game. The person claiming victory over me for a game that never took place is now the one who has lost touch with reality.
Therefore, voting and losing, means you have consented to the results of the game no matter what the results are. You have now put your stamp of approval on the outcome. So even if you vote for Austin, you consent to Trump or Clinton if Austin loses and one of them gets to be the trigger man. In my opinion, I cannot consent to such an outcome because I know that game that is played, democracy, is a rigged game. Who wants to play a game that is rigged? Libertarian Anarchists that favor voting often point to the rise of the left and its incremental victories and say that we must gain the same ground incrementally through the political process. But again, the game was rigged in their favor from the beginning. As I have just shown, the statist system is designed to expand government powers, not limit them, so this aligns perfectly with the left’s obsession with having government be the solution to every woe. The Voluntaryist/Anarcho-Capitalist message is diametrically and completely in opposition to this, meaning, the game is not rigged in their favor. It’s like playing that game of Risk mentioned above with unfair dice that favor your opponent. Perhaps you can get a victory here and there, but the game is most assuredly going to your opponent. Not only that, you have engaged in playing the game meaning that you must accept the outcome that comes about when playing a rigged game that you know is rigged (your defeat).
If all of this is true, it is logical to assume that the opposite true. That refusing to play the game means the you refuse to accept the outcome of those that choose to play.
One point brought up in our conversation was that of moral obligation. If an individual can vote and stop violence (such as drone strikes abroad) don’t they have a moral obligation to vote and try to exact change? No. This is for a couple of reasons. First, the funds used to pay for the atrocities of government are first stolen from us against our will. If a robber steals your car and then goes on a spree of hit and runs, are you morally responsible for the carnage the thief causes? Of course not. Likewise, when you are accosted by the monopoly on force every April 15th, the government comes and says “Your money or your life.” What the thief does with your money after that is not your moral responsibility. Along with that, we have already established that if you play the game, you accept the results of the game. So if you try to give your consent to the system by voting, even if you are voting against drone strikes, you concede and consent to the outcome if you end up losing. Again, the person that withdrew consent from system is the only one who can, with a clear conscience, say that they have not consented or condoned the violence of the state.
But while we are on the subject of moral obligation, lets talk about the only thing required of us. Non-aggression. And if voting implies that you consent to the outcome of the game, it means that voting is indeed aggression, though it is indirect. This is actually the reason democracy is one of the most insidious political systems because it removes the initiation of violence back a few steps and conceals it behind the mysticism of voting. So consenting, and by extension, legitimizing the system, is probably one of the most immoral things one can do.
Austin’s Tax Plan.
Another point that was brought up in the conversation was that of Austin’s tax plan. It was mentioned that Austin wants to end the income tax and instead seeks to fund government through “voluntary” means like lotteries and what not. On Petersen’s own site he says:
“Abolish the existing, complicated tax code that discriminates against the most productive Americans, and replace it with a simple, flat tax at the lowest rate necessary to support the core functions of government.”
Perhaps getting to “voluntary” means of funding government is part of his plan eventually, but the first step involves stealing from people a little bit with a flat tax plan. So the individual that argues that taxation is theft (the voluntaryist/anarcho-capitalist) is to put this idea aside, sacrifice their principles, and vote for less violence than more violence. This is the “better” choice that we as anarcho-capitalists are to take. As someone who has “seen the light”, I cannot cover it up under utilitarian grounds in order to use the coercive monopoly on violence itself in order to destroy itself.
The utilitarian angle makes no sense.
Not only do I believe that voting is immoral, but it is not even practical. First, the electoral college completely warps the system. Robert Murphy says the following in the matter:
“So for your vote to matter, it first of all has to be the case that the presidential race is close enough that the state you live in, is decisive in terms of its votes in the Electoral College. (A state gets as many electors in the Electoral College as it has representatives and senators.)… Now suppose the nominees end up being Trump and Clinton, and that Clinton ends up winning by a margin of 62 votes. In other words, suppose Clinton gets 300 total electoral votes, while Trump only gets 238. (There are 300+238=538 total electors in the Electoral College.) Further suppose that California and New York went for Clinton, while Texas went for Trump. In this hypothetical outcome, we can say that California’s outcome mattered to the election, but that in an important sense, no other state’s outcome did. That is to say, if any other state had had a different outcome in its statewide popular vote, it wouldn’t have mattered; Clinton would still have won…
Indeed, only in the ridiculous scenario in which the popular vote in your state is decided by a margin of 1 or 0, will your individual vote matter. In other words, so long as the candidate who wins in your state has a margin of victory of 2 votes or more, then it didn’t matter how YOU voted.”
Not only that, but if your state does manage to come to the point where your vote could matter, it still doesn’t. The chances of your vote making a difference can be expressed as 1/n where “n” is the number of voters that cast a vote. Which means that if 100 million voters cast a vote, your vote has of chance of 0.00000001% of swaying the election. As economists, we can’t help but think on the margin in saying that it doesn’t matter which way you vote.
Why would those that control government allow an “enemy” to take the highest office?
Hans-Herman Hoppe says the following here:
“Presidents and prime ministers come into their position not owing to their status as natural aristocrats, as feudal kings once did, i.e, based on the recognition of their economic independence, outstanding professional achievement, morally impeccable personal life, wisdom and superior judgment and taste, but as a result of their capacity as morally uninhibited demagogues. Hence, democracy virtually assures that only the most dangerous men will rise to the top of the state government.”
He goes on to say:
“Under a one-man-one-vote regime, then, a relentless machinery of wealth and income redistribution is set in motion. It must be expected that majorities of have-nots will constantly try to enrich themselves at the expense of the minorities of haves.”
This is why the left has been able to make incremental victories. Their goals align with the State’s, the anarcho-capitalist agenda does not in any capacity. The left and right succeed because their agenda is the same on a fundamental level. Coercion and state expansion. So why would those that control the political process and profit from its crimes allow someone to take the reins who will limit their ability to profit from said crimes? The state is violence so I don’t think it would.
This is why I will not vote and I will not vote for Austin Petersen. It makes no sense on either the practical or moral level. I will not join up with the mafia to change it from within. I will simply withdraw my consent and refuse to play the game because it is the only moral thing to do. People often say “vote your conscience”. My conscience says to not vote.
Sources and further readings for this piece: