I Don't Agree with His Bart-Killing Policy, but I Do Approve
of His Selma-Killing Policy
Alone in the voting booth, Homer J. Simpson had a
dilemma. “Diamond” Joe Quimby, Springfield’s umpteen-term incumbent
mayor, was in a tight race against the upstart challenger, Sideshow Bob.
After a tough campaign, Homer had to decide which candidate deserved his
support. On the one hand, Sideshow Bob had attempted to murder Homer’s
son Bart—normally the sort of thing that would be a deal-breaker for the
average voter. On the other hand, Bob had also tried to kill Homer’s
much-loathed sister-in-law, Selma Bouvier. While Homer certainly
couldn’t condone the attempt on his son’s life, neither could he
overlook the challenger’s efforts to rid the world of Selma.
Reluctantly, he voted for change.
While Homer may have been weighing an
unusually personal grab-bag of policies, his predicament is familiar to
any Canadian looking to vote for the “best” platform this coming October
19. You might agree with the Liberals’ plan to raise taxes on
upper-income earners, but oppose
Justin Trudeau’s support for Bill C-51.
Or perhaps you like the NDP’s plan to bring in a national childcare
program, but are not so keen on their willingness to
lower the bar
for Quebec separation. The Conservatives and Greens also propose a
hodgepodge of policies that only a committed partisan could support in
their entirety, since major party platforms contain not a series of
ideologically coherent ideas, but rather whatever mishmash of
contradictions the focus groups told its pollsters would lead to
electoral success. Apart from the rare single issue party (such as the
and a few fringe groups that claim ideological purity (such as the
and the Communists),
all political parties are the same in this regard.
This issue arises not only with policies
that are analogous to buying goods and services, like whether or not to
build a hospital or subsidize daycare, but also with policies that are
analogous to charitable giving. For example, a party may call for
increases to welfare payments, foreign aid, health care for refugees,
and so on. Most people with money to spare are happy to donate to causes
they support, but they are unlikely to agree with every “charitable”
plank in a party’s platform. They may want to give money to causes that
the party is not advocating (say,
microcredit in South Asia
or an African fistula hospital).
And while they’re still free to do so, they of course have less money to
give thanks to taxation. But what’s worse is that in order to vote for
policies that they do like, they will in all likelihood end up endorsing
causes that they oppose, such as government funding for
access to abortion.
“Apart from the rare single
issue party and a few fringe groups that claim ideological
purity, all political parties’ platforms contain not a
series of ideologically coherent ideas, but rather whatever
mishmash of contradictions the focus groups told its
pollsters would lead to electoral success.”
While we are accustomed to our political
choices being designed in this manner, let us not forget that this
situation is highly abnormal. There is no other field in which totally
disparate choices are arbitrarily bundled together such that they have
to be accepted or rejected wholesale. A business may bundle the sports
channel with the women’s network, or bedsheets with pillow cases, but
never a screwdriver with a watermelon or a toilet seat with singing
lessons. And yet that is essentially how our political alternatives are
presented to us: If you want the smartphone, it only comes with tampons.
The consequences of this dilemma are grave.
For one, it makes a (further)
mockery of the notion that electoral results reflect “the will of the
people.” Setting aside the
that policy details determine how many votes a party gets, how can
anyone be certain of which proposals its voters supported, which left
them indifferent and which they opposed but decided to overlook?
Moreover, given the sheer number of policies in a modern political
platform, it is almost impossible that a party’s voters were aware of
them all, much less that they understood them and analyzed them
Crucially, there is no way to solve this
problem by implementing some reform or another. It is not the result of
a loophole or oversight that can be corrected, but a design flaw that is
inherent in the system. As long as there are political parties that
formulate electoral platforms, they will continue to offer us a
potpourri of ideas that are too numerous to properly digest, usually
inconsistent with one another, and above all presented as a single
take-it-or-leave-it proposition with no way for voters to express
different views about different elements. The winners of the election
will inevitably claim that the people have endorsed their platform, no
matter how absurd the claim is on its face.
The only way to avoid falling into this trap
is to remove decision-making from the political realm and transfer it to
the private sector. When purchasing goods and services, consumers are
not forced to acquire bundles of unrelated good and services. Nor, when
giving to charity, are donors compelled to support totally unrelated
causes whether they believe in them or not. And, of course, we can each
decide individually what to buy or what cause to support, whereas when
these decisions are made through the political process, we are all stuck
with whatever the voters (in truth, the government) decides. The
political process compels us to make choices in a way that is unnatural,
undesirable and unnecessary. All of us—Homer Simpson included—would be
better served by a process that allows each of us to make these
decisions separately, for ourselves.
From the same author
Thank You, Edward Snowden
333 – June 15, 2015)
Omar Khadr: How Scary?
332 – May 15, 2015)
Discriminatory Discrimination Laws
331 – April 15, 2015)
A Requiem for Spock
330 – March 15, 2015)
The Good Citizenship Award
329 – February 15, 2015)
First written appearance of the
word 'liberty,' circa 2300 B.C.
Le Québécois Libre
Promoting individual liberty, free markets and voluntary
cooperation since 1998.