Voting wisely?

obamacare-logo-150x150“My father was a very unorthodox Jew. He was a Nazi.”*

Why can’t people vote sensibly? Here’s a brief illustration of that point, yesterday, about how difficult it is to predict how people will direct their efforts or vote depending on their interests.

I think that we have a (reasonable) ideal that, in the best of all worlds, people would understand what their own interests are, and they’d act accordingly. They wouldn’t allow themselves to be easily duped into supporting someone else’s self interest, and they wouldn’t be so daft as to do it by mistake – especially in the very dramatic manner of our Jewish Nazi.

The problem is, people do seem to do all of those things (and I’m going to be writing about the ‘duped’ question at length later). You can see this in the why-oh-why articles from Obama’s supporters who just don’t understand why beneficiaries of Obamacare would vote for Senators who are pledged to scrap the scheme.

Obama’s opponents could argue that, deep down, people grasp the libertarian arguments against it in a very instinctive way, but (cutting this one short) I don’t buy it.

If we are being very optimistic, we’d like to think that people would temper their short-term self-interest with a bit of altruism. They may do it out of simple charity, or ‘enlightened self interest.’ In short, we judge people by utilitarian standards, and we are disappointed when people follow other principles that don’t have ‘the best outcome’ as a goal.

This paper breaks down voting goals into four types: self-interested, altruistic, moralistic, and moral. It’s worth a look, if only for the way it looks at parochialism as a part of ‘moralistic’ behaviour in which people will support something that will be imposed on others, even if they personally disagree with it AND they think it will go against the ‘greater good’.

It’s hard to justify looking at politics as a game in which an appealing argument wins out, or that we get government that meets the kind of utilitarian standard that we think it does.

I think that there are ways that it can, but I’m not sure if most political activity is pointed in a direction that will make things better.

*I think this was a Woody Allen line but I can’t find a reference online. One web-forum suggests it’s one of Bernard Manning’s. If this is true, obviously, it’s not as funny.