Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Voting For Economic Self-Interest

Benjamin Franklin said"When the people find they can vote themselves money,
that will herald the end of the republic."

Commentators are astonished that middle-class conservatives seem to vote against their economic self-interest by voting for Republicans. Let's break it down.

First, we believe that, as the cliche goes, a rising tide lifts all boats. The economy is not, as Marxists believe, a zero-sum game, in which some get rich only when others get poor. More often, either everyone prospers or no one does.

Suppose two people acquire wealth at different rates, one becoming only a little better off while another becomes filthy rich. The social justice crowd would have us believe that the people who are only a little better off are actually worse off, because their envy blinds them to reality. The gap has widened, which they take as conclusive evidence of injustice.

If you have no car, and someone sells you his clunker at a bargain price, you are happy. Then, when the former owner of your clunker drives up in a Certified Pre-owned Lexus, you're envious: you have a clunker, and he has a Certified Pre-owned Lexus. When is your car going to break down? Yet before you had to walk to work in the snow and rain, and now you can drive. You're not driving a Certified Pre-Owned Lexus, but you're not driving Certified Pre-Owned Nikes, either. You're better off, not worse off, and the circumstances of that other fellow are irrelevant except to your own envy.

And thus is it in general.

But back to voting: a person's vote indicates his mindset: is he voting for what's best for him, or is she voting for what's best for her country? To the extent that a single vote matters, a person ought to cast it in favor of something larger than his own petty interests, if that is defined as what the government is going to give him.

We have public schools. They should be teaching that Franklin quote, and from it the principle it conveys, which is as old as democracy. Perhaps then the people would know that their vote is an important choice between the health of the Republic the satisfaction of their own envy.

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