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The Ethics of Voting

Jason Brennan
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 216
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7swq7
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    The Ethics of Voting
    Book Description:

    Nothing is more integral to democracy than voting. Most people believe that every citizen has the civic duty or moral obligation to vote, that any sincere vote is morally acceptable, and that buying, selling, or trading votes is inherently wrong. In this provocative book, Jason Brennan challenges our fundamental assumptions about voting, revealing why it is not a duty for most citizens--in fact, he argues, many people owe it to the rest of us not to vote.

    Bad choices at the polls can result in unjust laws, needless wars, and calamitous economic policies. Brennan shows why voters have duties to make informed decisions in the voting booth, to base their decisions on sound evidence for what will create the best possible policies, and to promote the common good rather than their own self-interest. They must vote well--or not vote at all. Brennan explains why voting is not necessarily the best way for citizens to exercise their civic duty, and why some citizens need to stay away from the polls to protect the democratic process from their uninformed, irrational, or immoral votes.

    In a democracy, every citizen has the right to vote. This book reveals why sometimes it's best if they don't.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3873-8
    Subjects: Philosophy, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION Voting as an Ethical Issue
    (pp. 1-14)

    When we vote, we can make government better or worse. In turn, our votes can make people’s lives better or worse.

    If we make bad choices at the polls, we get racist, sexist, and homophobic laws. Economic opportunities vanish or fail to materialize. We fight unjust and unnecessary wars. We spend trillions on ill-conceived stimulus plans and entitlement programs that do little to stimulate economies or alleviate poverty. We fail to spend money on programs that would work better. We get overregulation in some places, underregulation in others, and lots of regulation whose sole effect is to secure unfair economic...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Arguments for a Duty to Vote
    (pp. 15-42)

    We build some things just so we can destroy them. When my son was twelve months old, he liked to knock down block towers—the taller, the better. Because he was better at smashing than building, I built the towers for him. Sometimes, as I built, I realized I was making a defective structure, so I let him knock it over early. Ultimately, I tried to build the tallest towers I could, even though they all were going to be knocked down.

    What I do in this chapter is similar. This chapter has a constructive purpose—to find arguments in...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Civic Virtue without Politics
    (pp. 43-67)

    The preceding chapter left us with three arguments on behalf of a duty to vote: the Agency Argument, the Public Goods Argument, and the Civic Virtue Argument.

    The Agency Argument held that citizens should bear some causal responsibility in helping to produce and maintain a just social order with adequate levels of welfare. The Agency Argument asserts that voting is necessary to do this.

    The Public Goods Argument holds that nonvoters unfairly free-ride on the provision of good governance. Failing to vote is like failing to pay taxes—it places a differential burden on others who do the hard work...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Wrongful Voting
    (pp. 68-94)

    In this chapter, I argue that citizens have an obligation not to vote badly. They should abstain rather than pollute democracy with bad votes.

    I use “bad voting” as a term of art. By “bad voting,” I do not mean “the kind of voting that by definition one ought not to do.” So, when I say people ought not vote badly, I say something interesting and substantive, rather than something trivial and tautological. I am concerned with two kinds of bad voting, which I label “unexcused harmful voting” and “fortuitous voting.”

    Unexcused harmful voting occurs when a person votes, without...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Deference and Abstention
    (pp. 95-111)

    I have argued that citizens have duties to abstain rather than vote badly. This chapter considers a number of objections to the argument of the previous chapter. Each objection is related to issues of deference and abstention.

    My position is elitist. Some forms of elitism are bad. Some are not. Yet claiming that only competent people should undertake certain activities is not obviously a bad sort of elitism. While it is elitist to claim that a person with an unsteady grasp of comparative advantage should not vote on trade policy and immigration reform, it is also elitist to claim that...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE For the Common Good
    (pp. 112-134)

    The egoistic view of voting holds that citizens rightly may choose government policies maximally favorable to themselves, regardless of what cost these programs impose upon others.¹ On this view, citizens rightly regard government as a source of privileges and grants. Politics is a competition for prizes to be paid for by the losers. Citizens rightly seek to form majority coalitions so they can impose their will upon and exploit the minority. When voting, Peter tries to rob Paul and Paul tries to rob Peter.

    Many people believe there is nothing wrong with egoistic voting. Few people would claim you should...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Buying and Selling Votes
    (pp. 135-160)

    Suppose you agree to vote for some candidate because I pay you to do so.¹ Is it wrong for me to make the offer? Would it be wrong for you to take it?²

    Most people think so. The folk theory of voting ethics holds it is wrong to buy or sell votes. People regard vote selling as corrupt, abhorrent, and distasteful. They take it not just to be wrong, but uncontroversially wrong.

    In this chapter, I argue for some counterintuitive claims. I argue that under some conditions there is nothing morally wrong with buying and selling votes. Vote selling and...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN How Well Do Voters Behave?
    (pp. 161-178)

    In this book, I argue for some standards about how voters ought to behave. My conclusions are:

    Citizens do not have a duty to vote. At most, they have duties of beneficence and reciprocity that can be discharged any number of ways besides voting.

    In general, voters should vote for things that tend to promote the common good rather than try to promote narrow self-interest at the expense of the common good.

    Voters face epistemic requirements. They must be epistemically justified in believing that the candidate or policy they support is likely to promote the common good. Otherwise, they ought...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 179-198)
  13. References
    (pp. 199-206)
  14. Index
    (pp. 207-210)