Why does voting in a democracy seem futile?
Why does voting in a democracy seem futile?
Do you ever get the feeling that your vote is futile? Well, read the following paragraph to get an insight into why it seems that way and, perhaps, why you don't bother too much.
" consider someone making two decisions--what car to buy and what politician to vote for. In either case, the person can improve his decision (make it more likely that he acts in his own interest) by investing time and effort in studying the alternatives. In the case of the car, his decision determines with certainty which car he gets. In the case of the politician, his decision (whom to vote for) changes by one ten-millionth the probability that the candidate he votes for will win. If the candidate would be elected without his vote, he is wasting his time; if the candidate would lose even with his vote, he is also wasting his time. He will rationally choose to invest much more time in the decision of which car to buy--the payoff to him is enormously greater. We expect voting to be characterized by rational ignorance; it is rational to be ignorant when the information costs more than it is worth." (David Friedman, 1991)
Does that clarify it? Basically you don't pay much attention because, whilst you accept that political power greatly affects you - you don't seem to have much affect on it. Not only that but it seems that 'all those other' voters must want higher and higher taxes and more and more interference. But do they really want that for themselves? Are they perhaps being short sighted? Lets use so called 'progressive' taxation as an example.
Investment companies often charge a proportion of your returns to manage your portfolio. Really good ones will charge you for the service of managing the portfolio but not skim off the investment itself. If another company charged based upon investment returns, and charged a greater proportion the more your investment makes, would you invest with them? Probably not. They don't have any good reason to charge a greater percentage just because your fund did better, they would probably lose to competitors.
Yet this is exactly the same as so called 'progressive income tax' which expropriates a larger proportion the more you make. If individuals are not choosing progressive charges on personal investment plans are they choosing it when it comes to income tax, on what is supposedly an investment in the 'community'? Probably not for themselves, as we'll see later.
Would you send your child to a school where the more qualifications he or she gains the more he or she must 'give away' to children who didn't get as many so as to 'make it fair'? Would children in such schools be motivated to try their best? The answers are likely to be no and no! Yet we then send those self same children into an political system where precisely the same mechanism exists and wonder why so many young people appear unmotivated and jaded.
I think you're getting the picture. You aren't personally making decisions which intend to leave you worse off in some way yet somehow the result of our democracy always seems to be more taxes and restrictions on the things you wouldn't think to restrict for yourself and your loved ones. What's going on?
Perhaps it is because when people do vote they hope to gain more than they lose. High earners are in the minority and so you might think that voting for extra taxes on those people will mean that you personally have to pay less for a given service. A bit like coercing a passer by into paying £8k of a £10k car you intend to use.
This, indeed, is the special trick of the special interest groups. Basically they have a lot to gain and you have a little to lose, but you'll lose it again and again until it hurts! Imagine a group (almost any pressure or special interest group) that wants a handout of £10million. That's a lot of money. Would you try hard to get hold of that kind of money? Well they do, they badger MPs, market themselves as having these needs, attack competitors for the resources and so on. They are loud, purport to carry public support and can do a good 'embarrass them, shame them' media extravaganza if denied. So politicians often give in, afraid of a bad press and keen on 'looking good' to the general public. Actually, part of 'looking good' is to imply a promise that one day they'll be able to do you a similar favour, and so hope you'll vote for them on that basis in part.
Lets clarify with this example:
"To see whether we can expect the outcome of this market to be efficient, let us consider a simple example. A legislator proposes a bill that inefficiently transfers income from one interest group to another; it imposes costs of $10 each on a thousand individuals (total cost $10,000) and grants benefits of $500 each to ten individuals (total benefit $5,000). What will be "bid" for and against the law?
The total cost to the losers is $10,000, but the maximum amount they will be willing to offer to a politician to oppose the law is very much less than that. Why? Because of the public-good problem. Any individual who contributes to a campaign fund to defeat the bill is providing a public good for all thousand members of the group. The larger the public, the lower the fraction of the value of the good that can be raised to pay for it.
The benefit provided to the winners is also a public good, but it goes to a much smaller public--ten individuals instead of a thousand. A smaller public can more easily organize, perhaps through conditional contracts ("I will contribute if and only if you do"), to fund a public good. Even though the benefit to the small group is smaller than the cost to the large one, the amount the small group is able to offer politicians to support the bill will be more than the amount the large group will offer to oppose it.
The effect is reinforced by a second consideration--information costs. Assume that information about the effect of legislation on any individual can be obtained, but only at some cost in time and money. For the individual who suspects that the bill may injure him by $10, it is not worth obtaining the information unless it is very inexpensive. His possible loss is small and so is the effect of any actions he is likely to take on the probability that the bill will pass. The member of the dispersed interest chooses (rationally) to be worse informed than the member of the concentrated interest. This is rational ignorance; it is rational to be ignorant if the cost of information is greater than its value." (David Friedman, 1991)
This process is played over again and again until you are eventually losing your precious resources to thousands of government departments and interest groups whom you would never support in person.
So next time you wonder why taxes keep going up here are two reasons (yes there are even more!). 1) A majority vote heavier taxes onto a higher earning minority in the hope of gaining more than they lose. 2) Special interests and government departments can extract billions of your tax money with each programme's costs being so thinly spread its hard for you to keep track.
When you hear 'voter apathy' in the media do think of this.