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I Vote For Making Compulsion Non-Compulsory

Here’s a letter to the Washington Post:

Ironically, Ruth Marcus’s case for compulsory voting (“A case for compulsory voting,” Nov. 5) appeared in your pages only two days after the death of my emeritus colleague Gordon Tullock – one of history’s most insightful and influential students of the reality of politics and of voting.  Gordon famously refused to vote.  Among his reasons was that no individual vote is likely to determine the outcome of any election.

Yet Gordon’s case for not voting was based on more than the reality that it’s foolish for an individual to waste time and effort on an activity whose outcome that individual cannot hope to affect.  More deeply, Gordon understood that politics is a nest of corruptions and deceptions that are made invisible by the romantic lenses through which too many people view democratic processes.  Consider, for example, Gordon’s keen observation that “[t]he politician who sells his decision in Congress for votes is not obviously in better moral shape than the politician who sells it for cash.  Nevertheless, the first act is not strictly speaking illegal.”*  Surely no one should be obliged to participate in a process that selects which particular scoundrels win the privilege of selling their legislative decisions, be the sales in exchange for cash or for votes.

Does Ms. Marcus not see that there is both ethical and informational value in allowing people to express their opinion of politics by refusing to participate in any of its rites and rituals?

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030

* Gordon Tullock, Government: Whose Obedient Servant? (London: Institute of Economic Affairs, 2000), p. 15.