On not being obliged to vote Democrat …

by Daniel on November 1, 2010

As the US goes to the polls, there is not exactly a shortage of commentary telling people how important it is that they vote, and so it’s been almost traditional (by which I mean, I did it at least once) for me to provide a small voice for the forces of apathy. This year, though, I want to address a particular and in my view rather pernicious species of electoral wowserism – the belief on the part of the Democratic Party that it has something approaching property rights over the vote of anyone to the left of, say, the New York Times opinion page.

The argument I want to establish here is that the decision about whether or not to vote Demcrat (versus the alternative of abstaining or voting for a minor party) is a serious one, which is up to the conscience of the individual voter to make, and which deserves respect from other people whether they agree with it or not. Obviously in making that argument, I’m going to have to venture into a number of unpalatable home truths about the Democrats as they are currently organised (abstract: ineffectual, cowardly, surprisingly warlike, soft-right, generally an obstacle to the development of social democratic politics), but let’s get this clear right up front – voting Democrat might often be the right thing to do in any given case, depending on local conditions; it might even usually be the right thing to do. What I’m not going to accept, however, is that it is always or definitionally the right thing to do.
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Crowding out the big society?

by Chris Bertram on November 1, 2010

Windsor and Maidenhead Council (UK) “is planning a reward scheme”:http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/oct/31/council-plans-big-society-reward (supermarket tokens and the like) for volunteers to help implement David Cameron’s “Big Society”:

bq. it is likely residents would get a loyalty card similar to those available in shops. Points would be added by organisers when cardholders had completed good works such as litter-picking or holding tea parties for isolated pensioners. The council says the idea is based on “nudge theory” – the thought that people don’t automatically do the right thing but will respond if the best option is highlighted. Points would be awarded according to the value given to each activity. Users could then trade in their points for vouchers giving discounts on the internet or high street.

Maybe the Council should have read more widely, since according to another body of literature (Bruno Frey, “Sam Bowles”:http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/320/5883/1605 ), they risk sending out a signal that only a mug performs good works for no reward. An interesting natural experiment, to be sure, but not one that I’d wish on the residents of Windsor and Maidenhead.