There’s always one more thing

“Do you mind if I ask you a question?”

“Not at all.”

“What’s that you’re doing?”

“We’re suggesting ways by which the government can move in the right direction.”

“That sounds wonderful!”

“It sure does.”

“Yeah.”

“Hmm.”

“But now I have another question.”

“Well, we’re a little busy…”

“It’ll only take a moment.”

“Okay. What is it?”

“What is it that you mean by ‘the right direction’?”

“That’s easy! We want a much smaller government with much less power.”

“Well that sounds just great!”

“It sure does.”

“Just great.”

“It sure does.”

“Yeah”

“Hmm.”

“Just one more thing.”

“Yes? What is it?”

“Well, the government – these people with all this power. Why would they want to move in ‘the right direction’?”

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The parable of the restaurant

“For Sir?”

“The chicken.”

“And Madame?”

“The soup.”

“Very good. Your meals will be served shortly.”

“For Sir, the chicken.”

“Thank you.”

“And for Madame, the chicken.”

“I ordered the soup.”

“From the menu?”

“Yes.”

“The chicken is on the menu.”

“So?”

“Well, Madame can hardly complain. She ordered a dish from the menu; chicken is a dish on the menu.”

“We’re leaving.”

“Certainly, Sir. Allow me to fetch your coats.”

“What is this?”

“Your dessert, Sir. The cheesecake.”

“But we didn’t order dessert!”

“You can hardly complain, now can you?”

“What on earth do you mean?”

“Well, if you didn’t want the cheesecake, you should have ordered the tiramisu.”

Spoilt ballots without romance

Just a quick one.

It’s been suggested to me that non-voting has the same negative consequences I claim spoilt ballots do. (Here and here.) With that in mind, here’s a “robust” approach to spoilt ballots vs non-voting:

By spoiling your ballot you reveal you care about politics. Not voting does not reveal any such interest in politics. Hence politicians can safely ignore non-voters for a lot longer than they can ballot spoilers. So, even assuming that politicians respond to both groups in the same way, it would still be preferable for liberals to not vote rather than spoiling their ballots, if only to delay that day when politicians start trying to woo them.

A less dogmatic comment on spoilt ballots

A vote for “none of the above” is a request for “someone else above”. The politician’s response is to try and be that “someone”. Here we come face-to-face with the problem of democracy: politicians must “do something” to attract votes.

An increase in votes for a party famous for offering to “shrink the size of the state” sends a (fairly) clear signal. Likewise, an increase of votes for a party offering “more public spending and investment in infrastructure” sends a (fairly) clear signal. Naturally the size of the increase – its value to potential governments – may or may not be worth a party changing its policies for: if it is they will, if it’s not they won’t.

An increase in voters spoiling their ballots, on the other hand, sends no clear message at all to politicians; it doesn’t matter why you spoilt your ballot, only that it is spoilt. You are not happy with what politicians are doing – this is obvious. What is not obvious is what the conscientious politician must do to appease you. But he must “do something”, and he will grope around in the dark, as it were, offering this and promising that, with no way to know when he should stop, desperately trying to “win back the trust of the electorate”. This hardly seems conducive to reducing the size and scope of government.