Clear Your Conscience; Voting Does Not Imply Consent to the Government

no treasonRecently, I got into a short discussion on Facebook whether voting implies a Lockean “consent of the governed.” My (friendly) opposition claimed voting is consent because voting is an affirmation of your United States citizenship. They claimed it is a voluntary action; nobody is putting a gun to your head to make you choose whether to vote or not. Hence by virtue of voting, you are signing a contract agreeing to abide by the Constitution and laws passed by the government, regardless of the outcome of the election. I didn’t think it was appropriate to (nor would I have been capable of) respond in a Facebook post, so here is my response.

My initial reaction was an intuitive feeling that voting, or participating in the system in some other way, cannot be considered consent. In the same way we may assert someone who is coercively imprisoned cannot be said to be consenting to their imprisonment if they accept food from their imprisoner, we cannot say that participation assumes consent. Likewise, someone using government roads or some other service cannot be said to be consenting to the government; in the case of roads, individuals are left with very little choice but to participate and use the government roads since it has monopolized the production and maintenance of roadways, through its coercive system of taxation, by which they can provide this benefit for free. This effectively monopolizes the system because no business can compete with free goods and services. In both situations, individuals are left with no real choice but to participate in the system, since the State has all but made it impossible to withdraw from it.

To understand the underlying issue of whether voting may imply consent, we must first reference the 14th Amendment, which states “All persons born or naturalized in the United States…are citizens of the United States.” For some, this is a blessing; so many individuals have crossed over the border between Mexico and the United States illegally in the past few decades with the intention of having a child on U.S. soil so their child can become a U.S. citizen and be entitled to all the perceived blessings that come with it. For those radical libertarian, anti-government, and anarchist individuals born in the U.S. who consider U.S. citizenship more of a burden than a benefit, this presents a problem. Whether they like it or not, from the moment they are born on U.S. soil they are subject to the coercive power of the US government even though they never originally consented to it. The 14th Amendment, de jure, at the moment one is born, implements an initial condition of coercion upon any individual born within United States borders. Even should they totally abstain from participation in any government services throughout their life, they will be subject to U.S. laws by virtue of the barrel of a gun pointed at them by a federal agent should they not obey government dictates like taxation. The government’s claim on you may be illegitimate, but that won’t save your from being unjustly victimized at the hands of a despot. Certainly, an individual who abstained from government obligations would be morally justified in doing so and the government would be acting as a coercive criminal if they did not recognize it as such. The government threats of jail or death for such a refusal can readily be classified as circumstances in which any contract created between government and (unwilling) subject was created under duress, and is void. The initial and ongoing compulsion executed by the American government is the compelling evidence leading to a rejection of the sentiment voting implies consent to the government.

With the 14th Amendment, the government has presented the choice of either refusing to participate in the system and be punished, or participate in a system in which one has a minute chance of rectifying one’s abject condition (prior to this they would have claimed dominion over the individual anyway, albeit with a fuzzier justification, mostly through property taxes). And with the 16th Amendment granting the government the unwarranted ability to tax one’s income, the ruthless circle of plunder was completed. This is the true nature of the so-called “voluntary” decision of whether to vote or not. As Lysander Spooner said in No Treason, voting, in these circumstances, is a defensive measure adopted in the hope of rectifying the wrongs perpetrated by an illicit government. As an analogy, imagine you were kidnapped and held in prison against your will. Let’s say your captors decide to give you the choice of playing a game of dice with them; if you roll five 6’s in a row, they will release you. They say you can either participate in this game of dice or you can persist in this state of involuntary bondage. However, they stipulate that your participation in the dice game constitutes consent to further imprisonment should you not roll the five magic 6’s that grant you your freedom. Would anyone say this is a valid contract? Would anyone assert since you were given the choice of whether or not to participate in this dice game it was a voluntary action expressing consent? I think we may see, after some reflection, the absurdity of claiming that voting, or any other participation in the government, may constitute consent to the government. We could make a similar analogy with a slave being born into slavery and coerced to operate within the system. Pretending they had a choice by giving them the chance to choose a white slave master, in the hope of their being treated less harshly by a more benign master, no more validates their slavery because they voted on it than does the above situation legitimize their imprisonment because they agreed to play the dice game. The voting paper could explicitly state “voting is a contract and participating is a declaration of consent” but this contract isn’t valid because they are actively threatening the individual with compulsion.

I would recommend reviewing what Lysander Spooner wrote on why “Voting Does Not Imply Consent”. This is a succinct portion of his longer treatise, No Treason, addressing the issue directly. Here he touches on a slightly different analysis of voting, but still reaches the same conclusion that voting does not imply consent. “To take a man’s property without his consent, and then to infer his consent because he attempts, by voting, to prevent that property from being used to his injury, is a very insufficient proof of his consent to support the Constitution.” If it were the case that anyone born within the United States was not automatically a U.S. citizen and therefore not automatically subject to the jurisdiction of the federal government, and that the government did not attempt to expropriate the property of individuals with or without any actual consent, only then could we say that an individual, by voting, may be expressing consent. Only then would their choice truly be voluntary because they could live free of the laws and jurisdiction of the State by refusing consent and because they were not actively being expropriated by the government.

The idealist thing to do may be to refuse to vote or in any way participate in the government, knowing that you are vindicated when the government tyrannizes you and exercises its illegitimate dominion over you. For all intents and purposes, though, it is a rather foolish endeavor, especially in light of the above proof voting is not consent (at least not in the current and historical state of affairs in the United States).

Unfortunate Economics

In a recent article on The Bleeding Heart Libertarian, Jason Brennan talks about the problem behavioral economics poses to apriorism in Austrian economic theory. He says that Austrian economics, advanced by “hack” scholars such as Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard, bases its theory on the idea that all individuals act rationally. By this, we can assume him to mean that every individual acts purposefully and always makes the best choice given competing ends. Defenders of this Austrian apriorism are, to Jason Brennan, extremely naïve to believe this since behavioral economics data sets empirically refute the Austrian conception of man and choice over and over. For him, anyone with half a brain can figure out that humans don’t make choices that make them the best off economically, viz. they do not make value-maximizing choices. Brennan’s doctrine and perspectives on Mises and Rothbard are extremely convoluted and let’s see why.

Acting rational (redundant), from an outsider’s or non-Austrian perspective, can be defined as choosing the appropriate means to reach a particular end. There are two ways in which we usually characterize human action as irrational. First we may say that the means to achieve an end is irrational; we believe that either better means could be used to reach an end or the means chosen are utterly incomprehensible to the ends chosen. In essence, by saying this we believe that the only way man can act rationally is by choosing the absolute best means suited to reaching a particular end; nothing short of this will do. Second, we may say that the ends trying to be obtained are irrational; we believe the ends an individual has chosen are detrimental to their own well-being and is a foolish pursuit. No doubt, Brennan is focusing on the former.

As Jeffrey Herbener stated in his own refutation of Brennan, “Knowledge about human action learned by experience is contingent on the person, place, time, and circumstances of the action.” The problem characteristic of Brennan’s approach is behavioral economics attempts to define the circumstances surrounding a decision, a monumental task in the first place. Again, how can one truly know all the relevant circumstances surrounding a decision that would enable us to make a truly rational decision? Further, behavioral economics is a foolish pursuit because of one simple fact: value is subjective. Making the attempt (or lack of attempt) to quantify the subjective values an individual (let alone a group of individuals) holds is futile. These are not cardinal values; there is no way to measure them. Hence behavioral economics is going to make questionable conclusions because you have to arbitrarily quantify subjective values to even begin to create the framework for deciding whether someone’s behavior actually maximized value or not.

Moving on, we have to realize what is meant by purposeful human action, or “value-maximizing” human action. Since values are subjective, what is a value-maximizing choice for one individual may be different for another. The choice to go to McDonald’s and eat a double cheeseburger may be value maximizing for one, while staying home and cooking their own cheeseburger on the grill may be value maximizing for another. The science of human action says a priori when a human being makes a choice, he is displaying his preferences, and this action necessarily is a value-maximizing choice.

So many intangible factors go into deciding preferences; just because, given the choice, someone chooses the $7 an hour burger flipping job over the $9 an hour one does not mean that they acted irrationally. The fact that they chose the $7 an hour one means that some other tangible or intangible factors went into their demonstrated preference of the lower paying burger flipping job. Maybe their conscience won’t let them take a $9 an hour job when they know their marginal productivity of labor is only $8. Or maybe they like the number 7. Or maybe they asked their wife what job to choose. Or maybe they wanted to stick it to Austrian economists and try to prove that humans do not act rationally so they deliberately chose the lower paying job. Or maybe they went eeny, meeny, miny, moe and picked the $7 an hour job.

How could we possibly quantify these subjective factors? We cannot. Thus, we must understand that human action is demonstrated preference; a priori, choosing one thing over another means one values the thing they chose over the thing they did not choose, regardless of what we think about the prudence of their decision-making or the way they go about valuing things. That is what is truly meant by acting rational and maximizing values. It is not choosing the thing which will bring someone the greatest $ value, the greatest long-run happiness, the least amount of harm, or any other criterion that a behavioral economist will try to present as “rational.”

As Jeffrey Herbener said, “Whether a person chooses “rationally” in the neoclassical sense or “less than rationally” in the behavioral sense, in a human action the person chooses. Choice is a universal feature of human action. It is no mark against the Misesian conception of economic theory that it does not address the contingent features of human action. That’s the task of economic history.” Our opinion of what ends are appropriate or what means are appropriate to reach a particular end is subjective. To that extent, rationality, in the sense Jason Brennan means, is subjective. Just because the thief chooses to obtain an income by stealing rather than earning it doesn’t mean their decision is irrational; our opinion of rationality depends on our point of view. Similarly, just because the thief chose to steal the $100 cathode ray television rather than the $1000 3-D television does not mean their decision is irrational. Just as when we exchange one item for another it necessarily means that we value the item we receive greater than the item we give up in return, when we choose one course of action over another necessarily means that we believe our course of action is suited to the end we are aiming for. The end itself may not even be totally understood or acknowledged by the individual striving toward it, but it exists nonetheless.

If you want to continue defining rationality as your own subjective opinions on what is rational and what is not, go ahead; but don’t try to present it as scientific or empirical when you are doing nothing more that deifying your own values and doing not much more than palm-reading to try to quantify someone else’s subjective values. As we can see, rationality in the context of Austrian economics does not mean whether we think a means is conducive to a desired ends, or the layman’s definition of rationality. They are not the same thing and cannot be used interchangeably. Nor can value-maximizing be defined as “choosing the thing which will bring someone the greatest $ value, the greatest long-run happiness, the least amount of harm, or any other criterion that a behavioral economist will try to present as ‘rational,'” because that is not what value-maximizing means in the cintext of Austrian economics.

PS. After I wrote this, I found a more eloquent version of what I said on Mises.org by Michael Rozeff, so check that out too.

On Loyalty

Freedom does not demand unquestioning loyalty to the government, nor to or any other institution or individual; it is an artifice of the tyrant to weaponize the word patriotism and demand strict obedience to his capricious doctrines regardless of right or wrong. Patriotism is a willingness to question and even oppose the government in pursuit of what is right. Loyalty is only useful to the individual whose actions are not worthy of inspiring voluntary association; they demand fealty in spite of their misdeeds and infidelity to the principles their associates share. Often, loyalty is demanded of individuals to the leader who acts contrary to their followers principles in the name of protecting these sacred principles themselves. Thus, it is those whom are accused of being disloyal who have actually retained their loyalty to their principles, rather than the leader who only pays lip service to them.

In short, unbending loyalty is only demanded by those whose actions do not inspire it. Let those without conscience persist in a servile state and have the chains of despotism operate as a noose upon the neck of their liberty. It is the ability to distinguish between, and act upon, right and wrong that is the characteristic of a true patriot in pursuit of liberty. One who cannot think for himself may find some use in living according to the gospel of loyalty. However, those with a modicum of dignity recognize their only duty is to be true to themselves and their principles despite any incendiary pejorative to the contrary. A true patriot cannot condone the existence and continuance of injustice committed by the State, manifestly sanctioned for purpose of protecting of those same individuals.

What honor is there in loyalty to Adolph Hitler? What is commendable about professing loyalty to a tyrannical government? What distinction is there in sacrificing one’s character to the dogmatic faith of government infallibility? There can be no honor in loyalty to a principle or person that is not honorable or does not act honorably. Honor is only conferred if the underlying principles one is loyal to are virtuous. Reductio ad absurdum, it is evident loyalty lacks any legitimacy as a principle unto itself. It is only in the devotion to moral righteousness that loyalty bears any fruit. Those individuals with character are the ones who will stand up for justice when their leaders actions only evince contempt for the principles they hold most dear. Anyone can roll over and allow the government to do whatever it pleases; consent is easy. Dissent is onerous; only a courageous few are willing to take a principled stand and refuse to allow any concessions to the State at personal risk to their own life, liberty and property. These few should be lauded as they are the bulwark of liberty.