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Following up on the Moral Imperative to Vote

Max Stearns


I previously posted on my blog about the moral imperative to vote. I also have engaged on-line and through a series private chats with Professor Chris Freiman, whose original blogpost helped motivate my own.


Professor Freiman planned on series of posts, and rather than tackling his arguments at once. I decided it makes the most sense to respond granularly as he does so. He has now posted his second. Responding is important because I am convinced voting, and yes, voting wisely, is the single most compelling moral imperative we face. Simply put, it is vital to avert a series of even deeper existential crises in November. I am certain that the analysis in each of his related posts is deeply flawed.


First, with respect to his generalized argument, it is simply irrelevant to imagine too many people offering the services of mechanics or any other private services or goods. Markets are not perfect, but generally speaking, through the price mechanism, they do fairly well in private resource allocation through marginal valuations. By contrast, voting is not a private good. The examples are simply inapt.


Second, the fairness examples involving moral duties to contribute, such as the variety of requirements for a successful camping trip, with the need for water, food, firewood, etc., are also inapt. Obviously collective behaviors for group projects of any sort require some modicum of coordination, and the specifics vary from setting to setting. Part of what markets also do is to facilitate institutions that work toward coordination in myriad settings, and one size does not fit all. Borrowing from an inapt setting to discuss voting fails to advance the ball. Winning an election turns on the collective behaviors of vast numbers of persons, in the tens of millions nationally, rather than individualized marginal judgments respecting how one vote will affect the collective outcome or what other things a person, in theory, might be doing.


Third, the rejoinder to Professor Julia Maskivker's Collective Samaritanism Argument does not, in my view meet the occasion. Of course it is true that wasting marginal effort in pushing a car, following an accident, off the highway and, for which there are already enough people to compete that task, when a person on the roadside needs CPR, is both stupid and wasteful, potentially with tragic consequences. But the example misses the point. This is a matter of triage. The Good Samaritan example appears designed to demonstrate that for some efforts doing what is right is compelling separate from individual marginal assessments, especially given incomplete information. Professor Freiman's counter assumes this away by forcing a marginal analysis of two simultaneous crises in real time, each potentially capable of risking lives. But there's simply no conflict between voting and doing those other things that Chris imagines compete with doing so.


Consider this analogy: Imagine a high stakes professional sports game, like the seventh in a World Series, the Stanley Cup, or the Super Bowl. Would anyone say to a player or group of players for the team with favored odds "hey, maybe your should spend your time volunteering for a charity instead of practicing and playing. Ater all, we are predicted to win." Of course, not. After the victory, have it at, but until then, focus on the prize.


The 2020 election is existential. I respect Professor Freiman, and still, I remain troubled by the timing of a book and blog post series that risks conveying that not voting is just fine, provided those who decline doing so, by their own lights, imagine they are engaged in some other morally compelling task. Our nation is in crisis. And without a victory in November, those crises threaten to become existential, if they are not already. The simple fact is that other regarding persons, those who do such additionally valued things, are also those who almost invariably vote. There is no conflict. Those who abdicate the moral responsibility of voting, or who do so by voting third party, instead imagine that commitment to an ideology, e.g., libertarianism, extreme progressivism, or something else, somehow exempts them above the moral obligation to do what is right and to vote, making a real choice between real candidates, warts and all. What is right in November is clear: Voting, and specifically responsibly, which means for Biden/Harris. And for one reason. Only that ticket can defeat Donald Trump and bring an end to this tragic nightmare.


As with the Super Bowl and charity, I'm fine debating moral philosophy. But let's start in December. Until then, let's focus on what matters. And let's vote.


I welcome your comments.

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