Why vote?

by Russ Roberts on January 9, 2009

in Podcast

Commenter Russ Wood writes, in response to a previous encouragement to vote for EconTalk in the 2008 Weblog Awards:

From an economic standpoint, why should I vote? The economic way of thinking suggested I should not have voted in the
November elections, but now suggests I should for a frivolous pat on
the back?

I like voting. I have voted in every presidential election since 1972 (including this past one, to my surprise). I don’t do it to affect the outcome. I do it to be part of something. Suffice it to say that this past election was my least favorite vote in a long time.

In the case of EconTalk, if it were for a frivolous pat on the back, I’d agree with Russ Wood. But the reason I’m hoping to win is to attract listeners who chance upon the list of 2008 winners and who might not otherwise find out about EconTalk. I also suspect it will make it a little bit easier, perhaps, to get guests to come on a show that was voted Best Podcast.

The magnitudes of those two  effects might be small or very large. Hard to say. But if you’d like to have a hand in that, please vote every day through this Monday. And though we are currently leading, there is a rising rival, a Harry Potter podcast, that is about to take over second place and will threaten our lead over the weekend unless you get going. So to strike a blow for Volcker over Voldemort, you know what to do.

Vote here.

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Cheers January 9, 2009 at 3:06 pm


I was going to mention your second last paragraph in response to the original comment…

It's not that economists hate voting, it's simply a realistic assessment of marginal return versus marginal cost.

If I have to go out, drive to an inconvenient location and the impact of my action isn't noticeable, it makes little sense to vote.

On the other hand, if the effort is 2 clicks of the mouse, and I may impact a tangible positive result, then I'm much more likely to do so.

The benefit could be a number of things. Maybe Russ takes the blog a bit more seriously, maybe he takes the podcast a bit more seriously, and interviews with even more passion in the future. Maybe more guests are interested in interviews, or we get more people that are intelligently commenting because they take the blog and podcast more seriously.

Not just that, but the ability to vote multiple times gives you a higher benefit. Each person could theoretically change the result by almost a half a percentage point (based on my memory from yesterday's numbers).

But ultimately, it's because it's mind-bogglingly easy to vote. That's why I'm voting, and that's why many presidents win elections (from a marketing perspective, not necessarily an economics)

Finally other people vote to prevent the rash of suicides across North America that will occur if a Harry Potter blog seriously beats such an amazing economics podcast.

NoWhining January 9, 2009 at 3:08 pm

I recently discovered the Econ Library and downloaded several Podcasts before my 16 hour 1-way drive to Florida for Christmas. I am now a regular visitor and have downloaded several other podcasts for the commute to and from work. I definitely find great value in this resource and hope that by my vote I can help others realize its value as well. So Russ…you got my vote and you didn't even have to kiss a baby!

Damian January 9, 2009 at 3:37 pm

So Russ I am curious, who did you vote for? I wrote in Ron Paul as he qualified here in CA for write-in status

Tom H. January 9, 2009 at 4:36 pm

Cheers wrote:
> If I have to go out, drive to an
> inconvenient location and the impact
> of my action isn't noticeable, it
> makes little sense to vote.

I'm always dismayed by that attitude. Luckily, I found a great demotivator to counter it.

"Irresponsibility: No single raindrop believes it is to blame for the flood."

Crusader January 9, 2009 at 5:17 pm

There is no reason to vote anymore. With every election my freedoms slip away just a bit more. Drip, drip, drip watch all your freedoms disappear to the point that you will one day wake up and be Winston Smith with a telescreen up your arse.

Mike Farmer January 9, 2009 at 5:22 pm

I got you up to 40.1%.

Max M January 9, 2009 at 6:46 pm

Why Vote for Econtalk?

1) Your vote "counts" a great deal more than in any political election, especially if you vote repeatedly.

2) Since its not a system to give the masses a sense of buy-in in order to dissuade them from complaining or revolting, you can reap plenty of psychological utility by associating with a great show that's doing great things. (In other words, you buy the chance to put a smile on your face by feeling like you're a part of Econtalk or you're helping Russ and the cause)

Adam January 9, 2009 at 7:42 pm

"Irresponsibility: No single raindrop believes it is to blame for the flood."

I think you're using the logic of that backwards. Falling = voting. Only the raindrop that *doesn't* fall can claim to have had nothing to do with the flood. This wording sums it up:

Irresponsibility: No single voter believes it is to blame for the bad government.

Ray G January 9, 2009 at 8:27 pm

Russ Wood:

Try switching to decaf

Martin Brock January 9, 2009 at 9:03 pm

I don't like voting. I'm not part of something. I'm an individual, and statesmen are part of an armed cabal. They lead the armed men, and I don't, and I never will, so I have nothing whatever to gain by lending them any legitimacy. I might as well slowly torture one of them to death as cast a vote for him.

Have a nice day.

vulcanhammer January 9, 2009 at 9:08 pm

I read Bryan Caplan's book "Myth of the Rational Voter," and I still voted for Econtalk :D

JP January 9, 2009 at 9:23 pm

I can't believe no one has asked this yet:

Russ, on October 7th in a post called 'Vote Don't Vote' you asked the commenters to persuade you as to why you should or shouldn't vote. At the time of the post your default position was to not vote.

The question to ask isn't 'who did you vote for?'; it's: 'what persuaded you to vote?'

FriedmanFan January 9, 2009 at 10:51 pm


I have a hypothetical question:

If your voting rights were proportional to the tax you paid, would you vote? I for one, would definitely vote in such a situation.

If the U.S. constitution were amended to make this law, I wonder what its consequences would be.

Ryan Fuller January 9, 2009 at 11:43 pm

"I do it to be part of something."

I didn't vote specifically so I *wouldn't* be part of something.

"Irresponsibility: No single raindrop believes it is to blame for the flood."

Maybe it makes raindrops feel better to be part of a flood, but I'd rather not. Maybe they do it to be "part of something" and then believe they are not responsible for what happens afterwards.

Anonymous January 10, 2009 at 12:11 am

I voted because ivory tower comments made me feel guilty. Sorry, but Catholics can't resist guilt!

Hans Luftner January 10, 2009 at 12:13 am

I do it to be part of something.

That's why I didn't vote last November. I don't want to be any part of a sham that legitimizes aggression. There's no blood on these hands. But I see no harm in voting in an internet poll. The winner won't force anyone to do anything. (NPR might, actually.)

Crusader January 10, 2009 at 1:52 am

I beginning to agree with the Martin Brocks of the world. I've reached 32 still believing that my vote counted for something. I'm thinking starting in 2010 I'm not voting anymore.

Adam January 10, 2009 at 3:41 am

To vote this year would require postage from Australia for the absentee ballot. I just can't justify spending more than $2 to send a piece of paper that wouldn't matter if it never arrived. That's just silly.

How much do non absentees spend to vote? It's gotta be more than $2 all up.

vidyohs January 10, 2009 at 8:32 am

Martin Brock comes the closest to expressing my sentiments, with just a little tweaking we could be on the exact same page, paragraph, and sentence.

I don't vote because I don't want to be part of something unless I can choose it.

A vote is, in many ways, giving approval for a condition of stasis. Your vote says, for the next number of years, I approve of this X thing be it good, bad, or ugly with no possiblility of change.

I think my individual liberty depends upon my ability to contract at the time of my choosing and for the things I want, a static condition means I have to live with a decision made years ago even though it has turned disasterously sour.

This devout belief in individual liberty is why I investigated the subject of jurisdiction, how it is imposed, or how it is assumed.

The democratic vote, a thing that so many people believed would set us free is the very thing that is killing us.

Warren Gibson January 10, 2009 at 12:27 pm

OK, I just voted for EconTalk as best podcast.

Um … what's a podcast?

geecru January 10, 2009 at 1:35 pm

9 months ago I stumbled upon Econtalk and literally my life has been quite different ever since, for the better. I believe one of the biggest problems is economic ignorance in all levels of society. I glean much utility out of each click\vote that may increase people's awareness of Econtalk.

vidyohs January 10, 2009 at 7:30 pm

Umm, geecru,

I'd suggest sex, drugs, and rock & roll along with Econtalk, enhance your life changing discovery. :-) In moderation, of course, oh yes, of course.

Bob Kozman January 11, 2009 at 11:11 am

In response to Gordon Tullock's premise that he doesn't vote because his vote will not be the one to make a difference, I beg to differ. I look to the models of the "Chinese water torture" or "death by a thousand cuts" where the importance of the individual lies with its cumulative effect rather than on a single individual's importance. We are seeing in recent elections, that there is a close margin between the winner and loser. It's like, "united we stand, divided we fall." Even Ayn Rand, who preached rugged individualism proselytized in order to get a lot of people to follow her.

Tom H. January 11, 2009 at 1:46 pm

Let's try again.

"Irresponsibility: No single raindrop believes it is to blame for the flood."

Not voting is irresponsible.

The rising level of government influence on the economy and our lives is the flood.

By telling yourself that your vote doesn't matter you are trying to convince yourself that you are not responsible for the rising flood of government. You are as responsible as the person voting for expanding government, you are the raindrop.

When you don't vote for liberty minded politicians, you concede the coercive power of government to voters with less respect for liberty.

If you don't believe that there are liberty minded candidates to vote for, than step away from the keyboard and do something about it. Don't do nothing and rationalize your irresponsible behavior and your lack of action.


Ryan Fuller January 11, 2009 at 7:58 pm

My *not voting* is what matters. By not voting, I do not give my consent to the system by which politicians try to rule my life.

"If you don't believe that there are liberty minded candidates to vote for, than step away from the keyboard and do something about it."

Like what? The reality of special interest group politics virtually insures that anyone with a real commitment to liberty stands about a snowball's chance in hell in an election. If you think that if every pro-liberty American going out there and voting would change anything, you're a fool. You might as well blame the inmates (er, citizens) of North Korea for Communism, since they're not voting against it when given the chance in their "we promise it's not rigged" elections.

Hans Luftner January 12, 2009 at 12:34 am

Tom H, to those of us who see the state as fundamentally anti-liberty, the very act of voting for liberty can be seen as self-contradictory, like buggering your way into chastity. It may be hard to wrap your head around our point of view if you don't see voting – that is, choosing rulers for other people – as a hostile, aggressive act in of itself.

& some of us are doing something about it. Some of it involves our keyboards. I'm doing some of it right now. I'm not sure you ought to criticize our methods until you understand where we're coming from.

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