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Tag Archives: voting
My book,A Theory of Militant Democracy: The Ethics of Combatting Political Extremism, has just been published, so I thought I would post a brief description. The book considers how pro-democratic forces can safeguard representative government from anti-democratic groups. By granting rights of participation to groups that do not share democratic values, democracies may endanger the very rights they have granted; but denying these rights may also undermine democratic values. New and unstable regimes often confront this difficulty and those regimes frequently end up banning significant political parties and restricting participation.
I’m pleased to announce my book The Ethics of Voting (Princeton University Press) is now published. You can read the introduction here.
The main positions I defend in the book are:
1. There’s generally no duty to vote.
2. People can exercise exemplary civic virtue and pay whatever debts they have to society (if there are such things) without participating in politics. Political participation (and knowledge) is nothing special when it comes to civic virtue.
Some of you may be familiar with Richard Tuck’s recent book Free Riding. It’s a fascinating and valuable work, but I think much of the central argument, especially about the rationality of voting, is deeply flawed. Anyways, here’s a link to my short critical note on Tuck at JESP: Tuck on the Rationality of Voting: A Critical Note.
Ok, if the mathematics discussed in my last post are right, here’s the upshot:
Condorcet’s Jury Theorem (in its original formulation) says that in an election between A and B (where A is the right choice and B is the bad choice), for an electorate in which each voter has an independent probability p>.5 of voting for A (the right choice), then as the size of electorate increases, the probability that the electorate will elect A (the right choice) approaches 1. Even for a low value of p, such as p=.51, the probability that the electorate will choose A approaches 1 rather quickly. For instance, with 10,001 voters, the electorate already has about a 99% chance of picking A.
If the conditions of the Condorcet Jury Theorem hold, then every additional jurist/voter adds some marginal amount of accuracy to the jury as a whole. However, this jury experiences diminishing marginal returns. If every juror has a 51% chance of being accurate, then the jury of 101 members has about a 57% chance of being accurate, a jury of 501 members has a 67% chance of being accurate, a jury of 1001 members has a 73% chance of being accurate, a jury of 5001 members has 92% chance of being accurate, and a jury of 10,000 members has a 99.99% chance of being accurate.I’d like to know what the marginal value (in terms of her contribution to accuracy of the jury) of the Nth voter is when N is rather large.
Lately, I’ve been wondering what it means to be a good citizen. I’ve been working to develop a liberal theory of civic virtue that is, I think, properly purged of certain republican ideas. That is, I think civic virtue for liberals is exercised primarily in non-political arenas, via activities we wouldn’t normally think of as expressing civic virtue. More on that some other time. As a piece of this broader project, I have a paper coming out in The Australasian Journal of Philosophy on the ethics of voting by this title.
Here’s the abstract: Just because one has the right to vote does not mean just any vote is right. Citizens should not vote badly. This duty to avoid voting badly is grounded in a general duty not to engage in collectively harmful activities when the personal cost of restraint is low. Good governance is a public good. Bad governance is a public bad. We should not be contributing to public bads when the benefit to ourselves is low. Many democratic theorists agree that we shouldn’t vote badly, but that’s because they think we should vote well. This demands too much of citizens.
So, in summary, on my view, citizens don’t in general have an obligation to vote, but if they do vote, they should vote well. What I do in the paper is outline broadly what it means to vote badly, explain why I think you ought not to do it, and then answer various objections.
An outline of the argument is: 1.One has an obligation not to engage in collectively harmful activities when refraining from such activities does not impose significant personal costs. 2. Voting badly is to engage in a collectively harmful activity, while abstaining imposes low personal costs. 3. Therefore, one should not vote badly.
Some of the worries about this argument that I respond to are (among others): A. If good governance is a public good as I say, shouldn’t everyone who benefits from this good contribute to it? B. Don’t individual bad votes have incredibly low expected disutility, and if so, why bother prohibit bad voting? C. Does this position imply epistocracy (Estlund’s term, meaning the rule of those who know better) or something like it? D. Is this view self-effacing? E. What if citizens are good at judging character, even if they are bad at judging policies?
So, if people are interested, I’ll be writing more about this in the next few days. Feel free to email me at Jason_brennan [at] brown.edu if you’d like a copy. (I’ve got to make a final few revisions over the next few weeks anyways, so any comments would of course be welcome.)
[Update: I’ve added a bloggingheads video of Jason and blogger Will Wilkinson (Cato Institute) on this paper below the fold — SCM]