Abolish The Electoral College: An Argument of Convenience

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It felt like just yesterday droves of indignant voters were decrying the Electoral College as an unjust institution.  Any attempt to verify or even discuss the election results precipitously degenerated into a circus sideshow event. These calamitous episodic displays of hysteria were four years ago. Another Presidential election cycle has come and gone. It superficially appears as if the candidate with the electoral and the popular vote won their seat in the Oval office. All must be right in the world. Karma has been restored. The cosmos is back in alignment. Hopefully, the tantrums and other displays of poor deportment will subside.

The pacified consensus has been magnified by the utter silence on the front of the Electoral College debate. Many would counter this criticism by stating that the candidate with the popular vote won, why do we need continue to reevaluate this system? From a utilitarian standpoint, there is some credence to this dismal. To be fair it is something of an anomaly (having only occurred in this nation’s history five times). The irony being many who are relatively unconcerned now regarding the Electoral College were some of the most vociferous critics of the institution back in 2016, How can an individual be so passionately inclined to denounce this institution four years ago to now possessing a tepid acquiesce of its existence? It possibly the masses have changed their opinion regarding the Electoral College and its role in determining national elections? The probability of this occurring is highly unlikely. What is more probable is that those who disliked the 2016 president-elect utilized it as a point of contention to delegitimatize the conditions under which he assumed office. In other words, there was little concern regarding the Electoral College. The public outcry was nothing more than political opportunism. A feeble attempt to use this fact to mobilize the impeachment campaign.  Rather than a principled stance against the voter’s voice being muted by an institutional safeguard.

An individual who fundamentally opposes such the Electoral College will do so regardless of who sits in office. Hardly anyone with strong convictions on issues ranging from gun control to abortion is going to change their position based upon slight alterations to the political climate. Why is such ideological promiscuity viewed as being consistent? This shift could be attributed to voter fickleness. However, I am more persuaded by the notion that this is a byproduct of political bias. Opponents of the populous right-wing candidate took every strategic angle they could to oust him from office. The first line of attack was to gripe about the institutions that made his victory possible. The murmurs of protest and despair were highly visceral and reactionary. Few were questioning the inner-mechanics of this electoral apparatus nor made any legal arguments against it nor provided any arguments of any technical fortitude. Resorting to vague and sweeping statements about how this system was nothing but perverted. With little in the way of facts and figures substantiating these emotionally charged claims.

Now that Joe Biden has secured victory and he has won the popular vote, all I now hear are crickets! No one seems to care. The same people exalting the position that the Electoral College is an anachronism— nothing more than a hangover from the era of powdered-wigs, are curiously silent. Odds are they are content with the elected official who will soon grace the Whitehouse. Giving the observant political spectator the impression, these individuals truly didn’t care about the Electoral College. The genuine aims of these invested interests and the duped masses were to contest the presidency of Donald Trump at all costs. Trump was far from perfect. He made grandiose promises, he was dishonest, and weaponized entitlements as a bargaining chip in his risky game of political brinksmanship. Then again, these actions are no different than those taken by any politician. If anything, this behavior could be seen as an attempt to assimilate into his new role. All of this is par for the course. What set him apart from the establishment was his lack of finesse or tact. Most politicians treat their true agenda like a high stakes poker game. Trump was dumb enough to reveal his hand. Machiavelli didn’t expound upon the strategic intricacies of “statecraft” for idle conservation. The polished statesman understands the truth-and-perception gap intimately and strategically. Blatantly ignoring these nuances of political norms made Trump a target. Making the motivation to mobilizing the average voter to create a stir top priority. Early on the most salient targets were stress the potential of Russian meddling and deride the Electoral College. Now that a “real politician” has won the election, abolishing the Electoral College has fallen off the agenda.

If someone sincerely believes that the Electoral College was a hindrance to our society they would hold this position regardless of which one of the hollow and spineless marionettes became commander-in-chief. Unfortunately, it seems as if for most of these aggressive opponents this was nothing more than an argument of convenience. Nothing more than low-hanging fruit. That they blithely used as a lazy argument to advance their agenda. Anyone with clout doesn’t care if the vote of a regular constituent carries any weight in an election. However, if you can control public perception you win the game. That’s all political process is a puerile and trivial game with no room for principles, ethics, or wise policies.     

What is the Ideal Age for a Voter?

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Continuing in the spirit of my previous essay it’s fair to say that both ends of voter age distribution possess distorted incentives. Generally, due to being relatively insulated from the direct or immediate consequences of spendthrift policies. If the tendency of the elderly voting blocs and young voters is to skew towards fiscal profligacy, the question becomes what age group constitutes the ideal demographic for economically responsible voting behavior? I would contend the 35 to 65 age demographics would be the best answer. Why? By the age of 35, most people are being taxed, they own property, and have outgrown their phase quixotic idealism. Again, like anything else in this world, there are expectations.  Homeownership is slightly down among Millennials when compared to previous generations (metric being homeownership by age 30). The ideal age ceiling for voting rights of approximately 65 is self-explanatory. Once a person starts receiving Social Security it only stands to pervert their policy preferences. However, if the age for Social Security eligibility were to be increased, I would say that the ideal maximum voter age would also increase. Within this age span, there is a thirty-year period where the average voter would have their incentives properly aligned. Versus being easily swindled by lofty promises of “free” services.

Creating a firm age requirement does have quite a few flaws. It does not account for individuals differences. For example, a 23-year old business/homeowner has more of a stake in matters of taxation than the 32-year old who lives in his mother’s basement. Age restrictions obtusely apply a blanket rule that is insensitive to circumstantial differences. Being somewhat sympathetic to the concept of Rothbardian homesteading, it’s hard to perceive a chronological age as being the main qualifying factor for voter competency. There certainly is a correlation between the two. In an attempt to acknowledge differences in individuals’ capacity for sound voting behavior it would be reasonable to provide procedures for opt-in and opt-out exceptions to the 35-65 age range.

Voter opt-in Requirements Under the age of 35

  • Must not have been claimed as a dependent by parent/guardian on the previous year’s income taxes.
  • Qualified Voters under the age of 35 years of age must meet the following criterion
  • Own a house, condominium, Townhouse, or plot of land exceeding $25,000.00 in value.
  •  If qualifying under the property ownership contingency  tax documentation is required.
  • If a prospective voter, does not own property but is a proprietor of a business or owns 25 % or more shares in a company they can qualify to vote.
  • Owning $50,000 or more in assets including but not limited to Precious metals (gold, silver), valuable jewels (diamonds, rubies, etc.), stock shares, government bonds, or equivalent amount in an IRA, 401k account, or other variety of privately funded retirement savings plan.
  • Must have not received any benefits from any public assistance programs (WICC, Snap, section 8 housing, etc.) within the past 2 consecutive years. This does not include the collection of unemployment benefits.
  • Those who have declared bankruptcy within the past five years are ineligible to vote if under the age of 35 years of age.
  • Voting rights are extended to those who are married or in a common-law marriage (under state law) if their spouse qualifies under the above criteria. Providing a prenuptial agreement was not signed before marriage.

Retaining Voting Rights If over 65.

  • A senior citizen can retain their status as an eligible voter if they decline to collect Social Security benefits. This opt-out decision will be penalty-free. However, if a senior citizen over the age of 65 wishes to collect Social Security benefits, they effectively relinquish their legal right to vote.

Author’s Note:  Please note that the above is not a formal or serious policy proposal. Rather a theoretical exercise in what such a proposal would look like and be designed to curtail the incentive problems faced by younger and older voters. I realize there the above-detailed contingencies are vague, riddled with loopholes, and are shallow in scope. Not to mention inherently discriminatory and to some extend illiberal (in the classical sense of the phrase). Not to mention most likely illegal. Please interpret this blog entry as an intellectual exercise.

Maximum Age to Vote

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Last year, a debate formed around the issue of lowering the voting age to sixteen in the United States. While few have quibbled over the minimum age to be eligible to vote, even few people have ever considered creating an age ceiling for voter eligibility. Younger voters and older voters suffer from the same problems when voting for candidates and policies. They both have distorted incentives. Which have been warped by a lack of skin in the game. If you do not own property or own property but are not meaningfully contributing to the tax pool your you are effectively insulated from the consequences of taxation. This has the potential of voters electing candidates and policies that advocate for profligate spending.

Some may argue that seniors have a right to vote on policies that directly impact them such as social security. Especially considering they have rightfully paid into these entitlement programs their entire lives.  However, this perspective does not consider the facts Baby Boomers are collecting far more than what they have paid into these programs. Due to the vast number of Baby Boomers collecting and their lengthier life expectancy when compared to previous generations. Two variables were not considered when Social Security was first established in the 1930s. Effectively creating an intergenerational transfer of debate and inflation to be borne by subsequent generations. In many ways, this distortion in incentives is more dangerous than that of younger voter blocs. At least they will someday have to contend with the consequences of such policies. The intergenerational transfer of entitlement programs and publicly funded pensions has to be one of the most salient examples of fiscal illusion. Shifting payment to the children and grandchildren of the beneficiaries effectively severs the connection between spending and taxation.

This is not to say that senior citizens do not possess the facilities for sound judgment. What incentive do they have to support fiscally responsible policies? Very little. Ultimately, they will not be the ones picking up the bill. This sheds light upon the land ownership requirement for voter eligibility implemented earlier on in American history. If you are not subjected to taxation you are going to be less mindful of economic matters afflicting the country. This criticism is notably aimed at college students who can vote but do not meaningfully contribute to the tax pool. Elderly citizens are in a similar situation. Most no longer work or only work part-time. Yet, they collect large sums of money collected in the form of government allocated benefits. Naturally, if you are making meager sums of money, you are going to be relatively insensitive to the levying higher taxes on the upper-income brackets. Even if such targeted taxation would result in less investment in the U.S. economy. Then again if you are already retired, why would this be alarming?

If an individual is receiving publicly funded benefits later in life they are shield from having to pay for these services. They are also disconnected from the adverse ramifications of this vast re-distribution of resources. Considering the lack of sensitivity to the consequences, this makes this voter demographic a prime candidate for manipulation by political pressure groups. Lobbying organizations that advocate on the behalf of seniors such as AARP understand that Social Security and Medicare are both powerful bargaining chips. The scintillating spark to ignite the indignation and ire of senior voters. Not to mention acknowledge that it is the secret weapon in mobilizing elderly voters to become devout participants in the political process. Few demographics are as steadfast regarding political participation than seniors. Groups such as AARP attempt to align the incentives of seniors towards voting for an elected official that is left-of-center. Due to their historical congeniality towards entitlement programs. Fostering a decades-long coalition between the left and seniors’ advocacy groups. Typically, promoting fear-mongering surrounding the potential of right-wing politicians eliminating treasured entitlement programs. Most of these claims are either highly speculative or hyperbolic. Due to the fact to alienating your most loyal demographic of voters would be political suicide. The threat of losing the senior vote will keep even the most vehement budget-hawk on their toes. The myth of Republicans being willing to commit political suicide remains strong. Leading these groups to skew the voting of incentives of seniors towards less fiscally responsible policies and candidates.

Individual votes are indeed inconsequential in elections. It’s more the overall aggregate voting pattern of a specific voter bloc that is significant. The key is to pander to the sensibilities of your targeted demographic. Either through factual discourse or the spread of misinformation. There are so many strategic groups gunning for the senior voting bloc, that unless one is well-versed in political science it would be difficult to distinguish these attempts at manipulating voting behavior from well-intentioned advocacy. Unfortunately, there is quite a bit of overlap between the two. Only confusing matters. It is important to remember that someone other than seniors stands to benefit from advocating for generous entitlement programs through increased job security. That is the administrators operating these departments that manage programs such as social security. Those employed by AARP benefit from having a cause to advocate. It is not pure beneficence these organized bodies push for increasing allocations for entitlement programs. I believe that most seniors still have the cognitive capacity to navigate these waters. Why should they have to?  If you worked your entire life, raise kids, etc. why still grapple with constantly being manipulated by the invested interests in Washington?  From the standpoint of mental health, it may also be advantageous to implement a voting age limit.

If those entering their golden years have an iron-clasp on their entitlement benefits at what age should they cease to be eligible to vote? This answer is quite simple. As soon as an individual is old enough to qualify for Social Security. Presumably once a person reaches retirement age they will opt to receive these benefits. Meaning they no longer have a stake in supporting fiscal responsible policies. To remedy the incentive problem, I would be willing to compromise with the following contingency. If a senior citizen would like to retain the right to vote they should forfeit the ability to collect Social Security. While they may not completely have skin in the game in they no longer generate taxable income, their incentives structure has been completely compromised by a boundless array of publicly funded entitlements. Once you start to accept these benefits and begin to expect them, you have already sold your vote to advocacy organizations, bureaucrats, and opportunistic politicians.  Making relinquishment of voting rights a fair trade-off if one is looking to receive social security.

Why Are They Urging Us to Vote?

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The 2020 Election season will be historically noteworthy for several reasons. One characteristic that cannot be underscored is the aggressive voting campaigns. Celebrities have been demanding we all vote. Internet advertisements have been hounding us to vote. Campaigns at the state and national level have been emphasizing the accommodations made to enable near-effortless voting. Which is perceived as being particularly important with the looming specter of COVID-19 threatening to reduce voter turnout. Historically, voting rights and “get out and vote” initiatives have been the enterprise of left-wing political interests. Not that conservatives are inherently anti-voting, but due to the fact, right-wing populism is a new phenomenon.

Voter empowerment has always been a thinly-veiled attempt to pander to the average constituent. The aptitude of an individual vote holds little sway over the actual outcome of elections. Making the overall influence of a solitary vote is near-zero (P.603). The advocates urging the every-day citizen to vote side-step this issue through embellishing upon the impact of a single vote. One vote will not sway the overall aggregate electoral vote. That one vote is numerically inconsequential. Even on the microscopic scale of a small village of two-hundred residents, a single vote only 0.5 percent of the vote. Exemplifying the fact that the ruling power of voting comes from the aggregate voting power of various political coalitions. The collective-decision making power of organized political interest proves to be more effective than a single disorganized voter (p.54-56). The attempts to summon all eligible voters to do so serves as circuitous means of forming a like-minded voting bloc. The paradox being those who have an invested interest in promoting the institution of nominally democratic elections need to prey upon the illusion of every voting carrying weight in the polls.

Generally, the promotion of participation in the “democratic” process is purported to be for the “common good”. A profoundly ambiguous statement that could be applied in a litany of various subjective interpretations. What is advantageous for one person may be detrimental to another. Making claims of initiatives being in the name of the common good board-line spurious.  There is something of a gulf between the best interest of the individual versus that of society (p.284). Without a clear and concise criterion of what constitutes public interest, political pressure groups are enabled to take the reins and divert the cause for their purposes (p.283). The utilization of powerful imagery helps the invested interests mold public perception like clay. Conjuring apocalyptic images of a world with health care, social security, and other entitlements brought forth by a tyrannical despot. Allusions to tyranny captive the imagination of the American voter quite vividly due to the context of the nascent years leading to the Revolutionary War. Most of these claims are hyperbolic and are intended to urge the viewer to vote.  The foreboding catastrophe resulting from not casting your one measly vote may result in the demise of the republic.  Such tactics are nothing more than providing misinformation that is tantamount to psychological manipulation.

Aside from this exaggerated claim being cartoonish, they do not consider informal checks on power. By virtue of the median voter theorem, a true contender in a political race would not dare commit the cardinal sin of outright eliminating such programs. Some may discredit this argument as our current president is somewhat unorthodox. Even if the pressure of government agencies or constituencies does not hold, the pressure of lobbying groups will.  For example, the hyperbolic bombastic rhetoric of the Republican party overturns social security is laughable. Equal to political suicide. Seniors organizations such as AARP weld a significant amount of lobbying power. Could effortlessly embark upon a rapturous counter-campaign against the GOP. Potentially leading to a drastic drop in the senior vote, arguable one of the most active voter demographics in the country. The dystopian tone of these advertisements reflects a sensationalized depiction of political reality. A fabricated reality was political pressure groups have surrendered all of their political purchasing power to the voter. Which is a highly unlikely scenario. Especially when confronted with the fact that there is a plethora of perks and money to be made by lobbying. Only serving to solidify the fact that the myth of “every vote counts” is a pure illusion.

If the consequences of not voting are not as desirable as perpetuated by the media and the voter has next to no control over the result, what is the point in trying to mobilize voters? Stressing the moral imperative of arriving at the polls over hell or high water?  The observant reader probably notes how it was previously mentioned that voter empowerment was an enterprise of the left. Coupled with the storied history of left-wing media bias, the motives of the “get out and vote” campaigns become much more salient (p.49). There is a tightly woven network of celebrities, musicians, actors, and media personnel who operate as the mouthpiece for the moral imperative of voting. These de facto “Baptists” help paint the grisly picture of an America where the interests of the common person have not been represented. Doing all of the heavy lifting for the true beneficiaries. Those who stand to benefit politically from such initiatives. Democratic politicians, trade associations, administrators for entitlement programs, the community organizers who host and plan voting drives, and so on. Most of these interested parties stand to benefit through career advancement, increased job security, increases in social clout, etc.  All of these concentrated benefits were acquired without productively contributing to society. Textbook definition of rent-seeking. The morally suspect part of these unearned benefits is that isn’t obvious that these self-interested individuals truly haven’t contributed to society.  Due to the virtuous choir of the media mouthpieces creating the smoke-screen for the beneficiaries to hide behind, we are deceived into the belief they are working for our benefit.

It can be surmised that the reason for the upsurge in a panic regarding this election is based on the motive to oust Donald Trump out of office. I disagree with his politics. After all, I am a steadfast and unwavering free trader. The magnitude of moral indignation facing the president is unjustifiable. To genuinely believe that Joe Biden is the white knight who is going to save the United States from uncertain cataclysm, is comical. Neither man ideologically represents the correct direction for this country. Then again, that may precisely be the reason both are the premier candidates for the job.  Lobbyists and bureaucrats need elected officials they can bend for their purposes. Needless to say, the droves and networks of various spokespeople urging us to vote are not truly working in our interest. Despite whatever flimsy claims they make. Voting does have a valuable quality as a form of self-express, but that is about it. The odds of your vote deciding the next election is nothing more than pure fantasy.

Politicians Are Beholden to the Voter

stickers with i voted inscription and flag of usa
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Matthew Miller’s The 2% Solution is filled with interesting and novel insights on the inadequacies of the political process. Miller a self-proclaimed radical centrist provides a rallying cry for all political pragmatists. Get over the drama/ trappings of political theater and get the bargaining table.  Yes, there will be trade-offs, but at the end of the day, the results will be worth the compromise. At least in theory.  Miller’s objectives are certainly laudable. However, clearly in the nearly 20-years since the book’s publication, few have taken his advice seriously. Miller certainly does not lack creditable credentials, after all, he was a senior advisor in the Clinton White house.

 

Miller does touch upon the root of the problem in the American phenomenon of ineffectual government. He cites the typical observations of the government’s ineptitude, invested interests, partisanship, etc. He does address one point that is often underscored by proponents of limited government. Typically were are so enamored with the inefficiencies and corruption in politics we forget about other factors that make government fail. How often are politicians avoiding making effective decisions due to not wanting to alienate their “base”? They are beholden to the voters to retain their position as an elected official. Frequently like to create the illusion of meaningful action (p.3).

 

Miller expounds upon how conservatives are generally between a rock and a hard place when it comes to social issues. Generally, Republicans are expected to give lip service to fiscal conservationism and small government. This cultivates a dilemma. The representative may personally favor some social safety nets, but will their core voters agree? The situation becomes more sticky when you take into account the attitudes of Swing voters. The proverbial Independent voter. As Miller quotes the  late Daniel Patrick Moynihan

” … Showing enough leg to convince the Independents we would like to attract that they are not neanderthals ..” (Miller, 2003, P. 28)

 

This juggling act is more about image management than producing good policy. However, this behavior is rational given the incentives of an elected official. Re-election! These balancing acts are more about voter appeasement than about doing what makes sense economically or socially. In my opinion, make the crusades embarked upon by many self-righteous politicians outright spurious. It is impossible to differentiate if they are passionate about the issue or the more so their re-election campaign.

 

Let me pick on a politician that demonstrates these principles,… Rand Paul. He’s a relatively unique Republican from an ideological standpoint. He has “Libertarian” tendencies. Similar to Senator Mike Lee of Utah. In terms of his re-election efforts, we can transpose Independent voters with Libertarian voters. Senator Paul will attempt to balance his campaign platform in a manner that will please mainstream Republicans but will also entice Libertarians to vote for him. While his target demographics may vary slightly from the majority of Republicans it is a similar concept. Attempting to strike the golden-mean, an image that is favorable in the eyes of Republican and Libertarian voters. This means making compromises on policy and diluting his ideological to pander to the other side.

 

Senator Paul also suffers from what I like to refer to as Soapbox syndrome. This is were a politician or activist who takes a stand on a minor issue or one that is convenient for them to be an advocate for. It is a blatant form of ideological rent-seeking. Instead of gain monetarily they gain more social creditably in the political sphere. James M. Buchanan was joking when he referred to politics as a form exchange. “Interpersonal trading to capture mutual benefits” (P.594). Taking on a policy issue as crusade you are giving X to obtain Y. Y  comes in the form of votes or creditably in certain political circles. Colloquially we refer to it has having cachet or currency. For example, presently the issue of policing reform has a lot of currency. This credibility transfers to anyone willing to take the position that is most congenial to the voters.

 

Bless his heart, goes on these short-lived crusades that make him appear to be a different type of politician. Remember back when he was fixated on term limits? I haven’t heard him gripe about term limits in awhile. Then again amid all the upheaval spawned from COVID-19 he probably has bigger fish to fry. It’s convenient in the here and now to give lips service to term limits, however,  the odds of such a policy coming into being are scant. Senator Paul knows this. There are far bigger issues than term limits. While implementing this policy may do some good in eliminating some of the invested interests. Not allowing senators to form longstanding relationships with lobbyists. It is easier to go off on a rant on the senator floor about term limits than to take the unions and lobbyists head-on. If he was truly committed to this issue why not impose your term limit. I am not suggesting he immediately resign. Say, ” After 15 years in the senator I am retiring. I will be full-time with my practice .” He would avoid looking like a hypocrite and it would be a graceful way to end your stint in the senate. He would be setting a good example, even if no one else wants to follow suit.