I'm writing in response to multiple recent submissions concerning the upcoming presidential election. More specifically, this letter focuses on the thesis of Ms. Evelyn Frederick's "Why Don't You Vote?"
A study of human action shows that people act so that they may achieve something. Aristotle taught us this and contemporaries have built upon it. Ludwig von Mises, the Austrian economist and praxeologist, posited that "human action is purposeful behavior." To attempt to deny this is to engage in purposeful behavior, so this is true.
When people go to the polls in November, they really do want to create a better world, whatever their idea of that world may be. For many, it is alleviation of economic pains, the betterment of the lot of the least well-off, an increase in national and personal freedom, the affirmation of their own personal social values, and various other goals. It is said that to achieve this world, one must vote and participate in the civic religion. If we vote for the right person, then that person will get into office and promote our platform and create a better world than the one that we were in.
Aware of the insights that the economization of actions brings us, we should scratch our heads at the idea of voting as a serious and practical outlet for social betterment. Statistically speaking, each individual vote in major national elections is quite literally insignificant. Public Choice economists have actually calculated that the likelihood of dying in a car accident on the way to the polls is significantly higher than the likelihood of having any effect on most elections, yet people still fight those odds every election day to do something that has no bearing on the real world.
Take into account the amount of time, money, and resources devoted to being an "informed voter" like all the recent writers to the Daily American have decried as the key to a good outcome of the election. All the hours spent listening to talk radio, watching political news, researching candidates' convoluted and often contradictory positions on issues, and debating the issues with friends and acquaintances can never be spent on anything else.
All the money poured into supporting a given candidate, buying bumper stickers and yard signs, and used to make sure "the Other Guy" does not win could have been money spent on causes closer to home that would actually run the possibility of having an impact on somebody's life. All the stress given over the outcome of a political process that one has no control over is stress that could be completely removed from life and given to living a more fulfilling life.
There is also the unseen cost of engaging the political system so militantly, and that is the human cost. Politics has a nasty way of dividing people and devolving them into a state where they view others simply as a means to an end or as some sort of non-human entity to be destroyed or avoided. Even in the pages of this very paper have I read writers argue that the other guy will kill coal miners if he is elected, or that the other guy is planning to destroy us as a Christian nation, or the other guy wants to remove "God, guns, and guts" from America. This vitriol, which is spewed so readily from both sides, dehumanizes the other side and, in the process, dehumanizes much of the human experience and drives us all further from the better world which humanity naturally works towards.
To put it succinctly, all of these resources, whatever they may be, are resources that can never be retrieved. The opportunity cost of voting and being "informed" politically is simply too high if you really do care for the betterment of human lives. The money, time, resources, and unquantifiable personal relations that our political system costs people could all have been spent making real, tangible improvements in the world. These improvements could be anything from donating the $20 to the Make-A-Wish Foundation instead of to the Romney/Ryan Campaign, or taking a day to volunteer at a homeless shelter instead of collecting signatures for Obama 2012. Even spending the money to purchase something at Walmart improves the lives of third world laborers more than voting on Election Day ever could.
One example of a negative effect of electioneering that encompasses all of these areas is the poorly-made and terribly misinformed "2016: Obama's America," which aims to present Barack Obama as an anti-colonialist and one who wants to have the "sins of America" wiped clean. The faulty reasoning in this movie aside, the movie cost a total of $2.5 million to make and made over $30 million. That's more than $32 million that people across America threw into a political system that does not work at improving the world. The movie runs 89 minutes; 89 minutes for each individual which they can never get back. All the resources poured into this film and those who decided to watch it are resources that could have been spent actually improving the condition of the world.
"Improving the condition of the world" can be whatever one wants it to be, as well. It need not be donating time and money or buying something in the win-win arena of the marketplace. It can simply be spending time standing up for what you really believe in, instead of spending time to elect a surrogate who kind of, sort of, maybe, not really believes what you believe in.
To answer Ms. Frederick's question, "Why don't you vote?" I don't vote because voting in large, national, competitive elections really does not matter. I don't vote because I want to help humanity. I don't vote because my resources are better spent elsewhere to achieve that better world.
Zachary Slayback, a student at the University of Pennsylvania studying philosophy, politics, and economics in Philadelphia. He is a native of Somerset.