Elections and the Duty to be Genuine

Voting: the only legitimate manner in a democratic society for distributing power. The question is: how do we want to distribute this power? Do we want liberals in charge and hope for the government to back off? Or would we rather see our state becoming more social; helping those that have been unfortunate? In this relatively long article, I want to make claim in favor of being anti-social, or at least not being disingenuously social. But why would that be a good thing? In order to see that, we first have to understand a little about free markets and prices.

Maybe you have heard the name of Friedrich Hayek. He was one of the, if the not the most, prominent economists of the 20th century. Hayek was a leading figure in the battle for free markets. He condemned intervention by the government in the market, and he condemned central planning by the government even more. By “central planning” I am referring to the state deciding where its resources should be allocated to. The reason Hayek objected against central planning was as follows: Hayek believed that the economy was incredibly complex; that there is an infinite amount of interests that have to be dealt with. And, Hayek said, it is impossible for a state to get to know all the interests and all of the individual preferences of its citizens. That is, it is impossible for a state to know that John likes shoes and that he is prepared to pay a lot money in order to buy some, and that Susan absolutely hates shoes and doesn’t want to pay any money in order to buy some.

The only manner, according to Hayek, by which to get a clear insight into the tremendous complexity of people’s preferences is through the market. Or, to be more specific, through the price that comes about in the market. Only by taking a look at the price that comes about through totally unhindered supply and demand, we would be able to come to grips with the (possibly) conflicting preferences of society’s members. And it is not just that the market informs us about the value of goods: it also regulates buyers’ and sellers’ behaviors.

You can see why central planning doesn’t provide this opportunity to extract all the relevant information from its citizens: there is no price mechanism that can take care of the interplay of individual preferences, and make sure that goods (or services) are distributed in a fair manner. Thus, it is only when the state starts messing around, when it takes control of the market process, that the only source of tremendously valuable information get’s ruined.

I want to take a look at Hayek’s explanation of the price as being the most perfect indicator of the individual preferences of the members of society. That, through the market mechanism, each member of society can obtain all the information (s)he needs in order to make a reasonable decision. Thus, and I am sorry if I am repeating myself, if every member of society would act according to his or her set of desires, the market would take care of the rest; the prices will come about in such a manner that everyone’s interests are taken care of. This is the closest we would be capable of getting to know all the relevant information required to allocate resources perfectly.

Now, let’s imagine that we would apply Hayek’s free market idea to the election process in a democratic society. The process in which the citizens of a state decide who they want that represents them in parliament. We could interpret the number of votes a party receives to be equal to the notion of price in a free market, and the parties people vote for to be an expression of their individual preferences. But this is not “just” an expression of their individual preferences; it is the most complete expression attainable. Parliament is, given that all of society’s members act in line with their true beliefs about how society should be, a direct representation of the preferences of society. And it this representation that could have never been attained by even slightly deviating from a fully genuine voting system. The only difference between an economy and politics seems that, instead of the price, the resulting equilibrium is the distribution of seats in parliament.

So, what are the implications of this observation? First of all, a rather obvious implication is that dictatorial regimes can impossibly posses all the relevant information in order to distribute its resources (the seats in parliament and thus, indirectly, the state’s money) in perfect harmony with the complexity of the preferences of the state’s members. Another, less obvious, implication is that each member of society should be completely genuine in expressing his or her individual preferences in the election process. That is, we should not vote according to the preferences of our mother or daughter, or not even because of our “empathy” with the sick, unless this empathy is genuinely meant by the voting person. If not, the ideal of a perfect representation of society has become unattainable.

Thus, the moral of this story is, don’t be disingenuous in expressing your vote. Don’t vote for a party if you don’t genuinely consider this to be the best possible option. Don’t vote for a party because society finds this the “most decent thing to do”. Because it is only by being fully genuine about what you believe to be right or wrong that all individual preferences can be listened to and processed in the market mechanism called election.

But what do you think?

Written by Rob Graumans

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