Voting as a Duty (and Public Good)
Posted on April 12, 2016
They say voting is a “privilege.” That is selfish rugged individualist antigovernment hogwash. Voting is a duty. What is a privilege is living in country where people like you get to vote, and do vote. You can enjoy that privilege without voting, but if you don’t vote you are being a free rider on people who do vote. That is why it is a duty.
Voting is a public good, a strange kind of thing that almost nobody quite understands correctly. And among public goods it it one of the strangest. Voting is not at all like private good, a commodity like a hamburger you can buy and use up. It is not even like a public park, a public good that provides personal material benefits you can share with other people.
There are no personal material benefits whatsoever to voting. Some people do enjoy the symbolic action of voting against those SOBs, but unless you live in a very small town in your entire lifetime most likely you will never cast the deciding vote on anything.
Nevertheless, the more people that vote, the better off we will all be on average. Voting is a very weird public good where if “you” don’t obey the Kantian categorical imperative to act as if you were acting for the whole world, the whole world actually will collapse–even though your own vote as such doesn’t really matter. What matters is the bad signal you are sending to everyone else when you don’t vote. You are saying it OK to shirk your duty to vote. But it isn’t OK.
That is why every government ought to pass a law making it your duty as a citizen to vote. (Some countries do that already.) We don’t need to impose a fine or anything like that, though I wouldn’t mind publishing the names of folks who don’t vote and don’t have an excused absence. The point is just to make it clear: voting is a duty, not a privilege you can take or leave at the door.
If you are not willing to vote, you should resign your citizenship. Keeping it would be based on a lie. Anyhow, I don’t much want to share the country with you.
And I vote.