The Problem Is Precisely that Majoritarian Voting Is a Deeply Problem-Filled Means of Making Decisions

by Don Boudreaux on June 8, 2012

in Myths and Fallacies, Politics

Commenting on this post, Bret Wallach, in response to my question “If, as opponents of the Citizens United decision believe, voters are mindlessly and easily swayed by misleading political ads paid for with plenty of private money, what reason have we to suppose that voters would exercise sound judgment in the absence of such ads?,” writes:

I’m having trouble finding the question relevant. A “naturally intelligent, wise, and prudent” voter is, no matter what, faced with making a decision under uncertainty. The voter can at best analyze some small fraction of the information available to him or her. If that information is overwhelmingly from one source, it will likely have an effect on the voters’ decisions on who or what to vote for.

In addition, few claim that voters are “naturally intelligent, wise, and prudent ” “in absence of such ads”. The claim is generally rather that the alternatives to democratic systems are even more totalitarian and even less optimal so voting based governments are the best known method of governance, at least according to many people.

One way in which my question is relevant becomes clear once we drop the assumption (that Mr. Wallach seems to employ) that privately funded political campaign ads will come “overwhelmingly from one source.”  Don’t forget that labor unions also argued in favor of the decision now known as Citizens United.  Why assume that preventing government from restricting private campaign and political spending will result in only big business supplying such private spending?  And even if all such private spending were by entities fairly classed as “big business,” why assume that all such business interests would speak with one voice?  Contrary to too much popular myth, “business” is not monolithic and the interests of any business or industry are not always, or even necessarily often, opposed to those of consumers or labor or the state.

Another way in which my question is relevant (or so was my hope) is that it prompts us to wonder how these easily duped voters, if saved from being misled by privately funded campaign ads, would avoid being duped by the pomp and ceremony and often absurd coverage that is given to incumbent politicians, and to pet political causes (such as the ‘green’ movement), by the mainstream media.

But a deeper way in which my question is relevant – the take-home point from my post – is that it highlights (or, again, so was my hope) the dangers of politicizing the economy and society.  Contrary to the claim that Mr. Wallach mentions (and with which he seems to be sympathetic), it is emphatically not true that “the alternatives to democratic systems are even more totalitarian.”  A sadly overlooked alternative to a democratic state governing / controlling / restricting / regulating / subsidizing / commanding activity X is for the market to govern X.

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