Friday, October 15, 2010

Playing The Political Expansionist Game

In Issue 7, Robert Lefevre has an article titled, "Cutting Government Growth." In this piece Mr. Lefevre discusses participation in the political process and how it helps government grow. In particular, he points out that elections cannot happen without thousands of people working as unpaid volunteers. (They might do it for some hoped-for benefits but they are not getting paid.)

He writes:
"Government consists of two types of workers: those who are paid for what they do; those who volunteer their services free of charge. Both groups work for the state. Every individual who begins working within the political system in an effort to accomplish anything enlarges the system by his own presence. When a group is organized and begins to seek reduction as a concentrated unit of pressure, a significant growth of the numbers working for government occurs in the process. This is always true even when the purpose of the activists is reduction in size and scope. The state invariably arranges its structure in such a way that its magnitude depends on the numbers of persons involved, rather than on the political direction taken."

Lefevre tells us that the first mistake made by anyone who finally gets fed up and wants to decrease government is to become a political activist. Going door-to-door, endorsing candidates, registering voters, petitioning, picketing and protesting for a cause that requires government action, etc. are all ways political activists end up working for the government. Even when the goal is less government. The Tea Party movement is the latest example.

Lefevre has a fine way of hammering down the point:

"Those entirely sincere individuals who labor endlessly for the reduction of governmental power are, without intending it, playing the political expansionist game."

Talk about unintended consequences!

Lefevre also discusses voting groups and vote percentages as they relate to legitimacy. In regards to voting categories, I had never really thought of adding to the voter base from the government’s side as a whole. But I realize now that the addition of new voters, (removing land ownership requirements, black males, women, lowering voting age to 18) merely strengthened the legitimacy of the system at large because just the fact that you CAN vote adds legitimacy.

This isn’t good enough though because we know there’s an uncomfortable sensitivity to voter participation totals. Everyone seems to understand that there’s a line where the vote just wouldn’t be accepted as legitimate. We may not know exactly where that line is, but it’s there nonetheless.

As a result we now have groups whose only purpose is to get people to vote. They don’t care who you vote for, just that you vote. Many individuals blindly repeat this message too. People are even rewarded for acting on their civic duty by getting a sticker to put on their shirt that says “I voted.”

(A sticker for good behavior. I guess our education system does a good job of training for this to be effective, doesn’t it?)

Lefevre gives us an example of how voter turnout can affect government action. In 1963, a special election was held in Colorado Springs and the weather affected the turnout which led to controversy (you can read the details yourself). In the end, Lefevre says the politicians were extremely careful about any action, so they mostly just "sat on their hands" because the case was effectively made that they did not have the sanction of the people.

Lefevre admits this is one small example but the main point is that politicians are extremely sensitive about legitimacy so not voting is a good idea even strategically. Who knows if others will follow but, on an individual level at least, as a non-voter I know I’m one person who is no longer playing the expansionist game.

He seems to imply that we will eventually hit that sweet spot where legitimacy is in question but I wonder if this is the case. Non-voters are the majority already and it appears to me that the government promoters have put the spin on their side by saying those people are willing to accept the results of the voters.

They have no evidence of this of course, it’s just their premise. But if they keep repeating it, people will just assume it to be true. Therefore, perhaps there needs to be a concerted effort to change the message.

A truthful message would be one that says we cannot know where those individuals stand. This could create unease about what the large group of non-voters, the real majority, actually think.

Would that do anything to persuade more people to not vote thereby hitting that sweet spot, wherever it may be, which makes the politicians “sit on their hands?"


Joe said...

I argued earlier with Tom Knapp --in a different context-- as to the real percentage of non-voters. Tom said 57%, I argued it was 46% because 20% of the population is under 14. So, non-voters are not really the majority of the eligible voting population, even if they're the majority of the overall population.

I once heard that in 1776, one third of the population was for the Revolution, another third were Loyalists and the rest were neutral. I think the number of voters would have to shrink below 30% of the eligible voting population before a major change could take place. Of course, the number could sink suddenly due to other factors.

Denny Jackson said...

The main problem with voting is that the process itself is illegitimate, even if squeaky clean and with 100% participation. The election of "representatives" is a system to delegate authority to certain individuals to exercise certain specific legal powers -- a grant of power of attorney if you will. The electoral process is one of anonymous individuals allegedly granting power of attorney on behalf of anonymous others who did not choose those individuals to represent their legal interests.

From a legal standpoint it's a farce, a ludicrous fraud perpetrated on a gullible public ignorant of the basic principles of law. Who would knowingly choose to participate in such a system?