Monday, November 5, 2012

Pay for Say

In most of the secular West, buying votes violates statute legislation. Quite apart from being an unenforceable contract, it is a baldly unethical agreement. It's also one of those rules that rubs the natural law the wrong way. Folks have strong moral intuitions that buying votes is just wrong. Voting represents pure civic-minded ideals, uncorrupted by the vices of the market.

Now, you may or may not be sympathetic to the suggestion that it is the overlap between governmental authority and the functions of trade that seem to generate the most corruption, but I think you'd have to admit that the fairy tale of democratic participation is a cornerstone of Western Civilization.

So why the moral outrage? What's so all-fired corrupt about vote-buying? Suppose you've got a fair chunk of the population that's basically indifferent between Candidate A and Candidate B. Why not just pay them directly to basically flip a coin instead of usurping their scarce attention with political advertising? Yes, all else equal, the wealthier candidate wins, but how is that all that different than what we've got now? Politicians all but bribe the public with promises over the disposition of their own money anyway, so how is this any different? Under what precepts are campaign promises more euvoluntary than vote-buying?

1 comment:

  1. My dad always says, "If you're going to buy votes, you should at least have to spend your own money, instead of dipping into my pocket!"
    His answer reflects that buying votes with campaign promises violates the first condition of voluntary exchange. The politician is selling what he does not in any way own. At least direct purchase of votes involves a voluntary exchange.
    I think the moral outrage involved in vote buying comes from the idea of 'public service'. Voting is a duty, and so is representing the voters. But if it's a duty, why are people anxious to spend so much to acquire this duty? Same reason people are interested in 'campaign finance reform'. We don't want to admit that politicians have that much influence to sell that it's worth spending so much money to acquire. As Bastiat said, "I wish merely to observe here that this controversy over universal suffrage (as well as most other political questions) which agitates, excites, and overthrows nations, would lose nearly all of its importance if the law had always been what it ought to be. In fact, if law were restricted to protecting all persons, all liberties, and all properties; if law were nothing more than the organized combination of the individual's right to self defense; if law were the obstacle, the check, the punisher of all oppression and plunder — is it likely that we citizens would then argue much about the extent of the franchise?" If there were no power to buy and sell, who would care about buying votes?
    (Also, my answer to campaign finance reform: )


Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?