Bryan Caplan  

Canadian Caplania

I Don't Want to Be a Paul Ehrl... My Current Feelings on the Bai...

I was on CTV this morning. As usual, the media wanted to talk about a few obscure paragraphs in my book where I suggest that we reconsider franchise restrictions. A year ago, I might have been scared to say this stuff on TV, but no longer. In fact, it's a nice chance to practice my intellectual jiu-jitsu. The real question isn't "Why do I think that some people shouldn't vote?"; it's "Why do you think that everyone should?"

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COMMENTS (6 to date)
Mark writes:

There's one very good reason not to restrict the franchise. Any ability to do so inevitably becomes a method for the group in power to limit the ability of any other group to get power. In other words, allowing restrictions on the franchise consolidates power with the current in-group, whomever that might be. This is bad because the in-group's goal inevitably becomes maintaining power. We don't need to give them more tools to do so.

Alex J. writes:

Pretty clearly, letting people indirectly vote on policy is a stand-in for letting them control their own affairs. Since we don't let people choose whether or not to put $2,500 of their own money into mortgage backed securities to prop them up, we at least give them the opportunity to vote on politicians who make them spend the money.

Bryan, the median voter appears to not like the bailout proposal at all. Why is it moving forwards? Do you think the legislators feel like they need to support this bailout in particular in order to keep the economy moving? Or do they just need to be seen to do something? David Friedman suggests that the bailout will have visible benefits and hidden costs, but people seem opposed even before the hidden costs have occurred.

nicole writes:

Ooh, this takes me back, I do miss watching Seamus O'Regan every morning.

In other words, allowing restrictions on the franchise consolidates power with the current in-group, whomever that might be.

Is that true even if the only restriction on voting is a test? If the "in-group" is simply whoever can solve a quadratic equation (as I saw suggestion here? recently), is that actually a problem?

Mark writes:

The problem is not with any particular test. We can posit a voting qualification test that effectively sorts qualified from unqualified voters. However, would such a voting test ever actually be enacted? The temptation would be overwhelming to use instead a test that sorts voters who will vote for the party in power (qualified) from those who will not (unqualified).

Whenever government is entrusted with a power that can be used to consolidate power, it gets used in that manner. So, for instance, the ability to draw legislative districts is invariably used to gerrymander. I'm not sure whether it's social consensus, fear of voter backlash, or constitutional problems that keep legislators from implementing voting tests right now. Regardless of what is keeping them from doing it, I am sure that if they started doing it, it would only be a matter of time before they were used for improper purposes.

Alex J. writes:

Restricting the franchise might favor the enfranchised at the expense of the disenfranchised, but only if those who voted, did so in their narrow self interest.

In the past, restricting the franchise on in-group boundaries generally served to de-legitimize the government. It appears to everyone that the powerful are ruling at the expense of the rest. Making the franchise universal makes the government look legitimate. Restricting the franchise based on competence might not de-legitimize the government so much. I predict that any attempt to restrict the franchise based on competence will be attacked as an underhanded attempt to restrict the franchise out of narrow self interest.

Steve Roth writes:

It appears that Bryan has been proved correct:

My subtitle to the piece:

A Lack of Slack

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