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Quotation of the Day…

… is from page 175 of Geoffrey Brennan’s and Loren Lomasky’s profoundly important 1993 book, Democracy & Decision: The Pure Theory of Electoral Preference:

[B]ecause voting is virtually cost free, it is likely to prove conducive to extremes of expression, both altruistic and malicious and that at least under prevailing conditions of secrecy, the malicious extreme might be differentially encouraged.

DBx: Indeed so.

Here’s what Brennan and Lomasky mean by voting being “virtually cost free”: Because every voter understands that his or her vote in a political election will not determine the outcome of the election, each voter, by casting a ballot for X, does not thereby prevent himself or herself from enjoying Y or any other option that would be available to him or her had the vote been cast differently.

For example, suppose that I vote for the candidate who promises to eliminate all government funding to higher education – a program that, if implemented, would indeed reduce, significantly so, my annual income. And further suppose that I brag to you about how I voted. “See what a man of principle I am!” I – libertarian Don – boasts.

You, however, would be justified in withholding any conclusion of just how principled I really am even if you are 100 percent certain that I voted exactly as I claim to have voted. You know that I understood, when I was in the voting booth, that my casting a ballot for the no-government-funding-to-higher-education candidate did nothing to increase the prospects that government funding to higher education would actually be abolished. The practical prospects of my vote determining the outcome of the election were zero. So for me as a voter to express my ideological preference for ending all government involvement in education cost me, materially, nothing at all.

You cannot infer from this reality that if the decision about whether or not to abolish government funding to higher education were indeed exclusively in my hands that I would vote to retain such funding. Perhaps I really am a man of principle who would willingly suffer a loss of income in order to do what I believe to be right. But what you cannot do is to infer from my voting, in a real-world election, for a candidate whose program would reduce my income that I am, therefore, a man of principle.