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The Right to Vote Isn’t Remotely Sufficient to Guarantee Freedom or Even ‘Voice’

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In my latest column for AIER, I discuss what I believe to be an indisputable fact of reality – but a ‘fact’ that many people, of all political persuasions, resist [2]. A slice:

It’s true that you cast a ballot and that your vote was counted. But your vote – your “say” – was only the faintest of muffled whispers. If you voted for the losing candidate, your request for government not to intrude into your life in the ways promised by the victorious candidate is ignored. You must obey the commands that will now issue from the state. And these commands silence the very real say that you and your family would otherwise have had in the market.

With more of your income taxed away and with customs agents blocking your access to imports, you have less of a say in how your earnings are spent. With your daughter unable to offer to work for a wage below the state-imposed minimum, she has less of a say in choosing the kind of job she holds and in the specific terms of her employment.

Notice that the say that you have in the market is always real and effective. Unlike in political elections, if you prefer to dine this evening at a Japanese restaurant rather than at an Italian restaurant, you will dine at a Japanese restaurant. No one overrides or ignores your choice. And you don’t have to spend precious time and energy convincing a majority of your fellow citizens to expressly give you permission to dine at the restaurant of your choice.

Notice also that your say in the market is more articulate than is your say in political elections. By voluntarily spending your money on the spicy-roll combo, the signal that you send is precise and clear: this evening you want the spicy-roll combo and not any of the many other menu items. In contrast, by voting for candidate Smith rather than candidate Jones, the signal that you send is cloudy. Did you vote for Smith because of her opposition to tariffs or in spite of her opposition to tariffs? No one other than you – and certainly not Smith – knows.

Or perhaps you voted not so much for Smith as against Jones, whose promise to raise the minimum wage intensely frightens you. But if Smith wins, you and other voters get not only her opposition to raising the minimum wage – a policy position that you favor – you also get Smith’s policy positions on countless other issues, not all of which you support. Voting at best allows you to express your opinion about which candidate you prefer; it does not allow you to express your opinion on each of the many different individual issues that are at stake.

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