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Thursday, October 28, 2004

Consequentialism and consequences

Matt mauls another fool

"Will Wilkinson... asks "Could it be that the sort of person likely to be "intimidated" out of voting isn't in general the sort of person who you want to be voting?" ...The people who I want voting are the people who will vote for John Kerry."

Deadly. Wilkinson is being pragmatic shading to cynical asking if universal sufferage maximisises social welfare. Matt replies saying (roughly) if you are going to be pragmatic, I think the way to get to the best outcome is to let only Matt Yglesias vote. Frankly that would be fine by me, but Matt is not considering the long term consequences of his proposal. I know he is mainly kidding but he writes

"Democracy has an instrumental value and there's no fact of the matter about what really is and is not a legitimate leadership-selection process. If I thought Kerry would be a terrible president and that Bush was a good one, I'd be applauding efforts to intimidate likely Kerry voters."

Like hell you would. OK Yglesias has made it clear that he is a consequentialist. It is not clear exactly which consequences he considers important -- I guess something between the sum of utils and Man as a species being achieving our Telos. But being a consequentialist does not mean caring only about what happens next Tuesday.

A consequentialist should realise that there is such a thing as respect for principles which are perceived to be Democratic. He might believe that such respect is misplaced because the only thing that matters is the sum of utils, but to be practical, we must deal with people as they are, and many of them believe that democracy is sacred. Even if this belief is a mistake, it is a very useful mistake. If we all were willing to do anything necessary for our candidate to win, the world would be a worse place. Voter intimidation and especially toleration of voter intimidation by disinterested observers undermines belief in democratic principles. It is ironic how often cynical pragmatists say that dishonesty might be useful when a dishonest declaration that honesty is the best policy is almost always useful. It is odder how my argument against cynical pragmatism is, in fact, William James' argument.

Consider, would you hack a few thousand Deibold machines in Florida to make sure Kerry won ?
Assume that 1) you won't get personally nailed and sent to jail 2) without fraud Bush would win (hey this is hypothetical) 3) the results will certainly look suspicious and there is a 99% chance the courts will conclude that the result is due to pro Kerry fraud and declare Bush the winner.

that is 100 % chance of further undermining peoples faith in Democracy and 1 % chance of getting Bush out of the White House. What would you do ?

I should admit that I wrote 90% then edited to 95% then to 99% but hey Bush is special. Usually the difference between two candidates is trivial compared to the value of a democratic tradition and I mean the practical instrumental value.

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