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“If You Don’t Vote, You Have No Right to Complain”

With the presidential election coming later this year, and one that I might not vote in, I thought it was an appropriate time to respond to a criticism I’ve received in the past but never answered adequately.

“If you don’t vote, you have no right to complain.”

Here are three reasons why I think that’s wrong:

1. An individual vote doesn’t matter.

In 2012, the United States had 129 million people turn out to vote. Even if we divide that by 50 and account for some of the differences in state sizes and voting procedures, it’s still clear that your vote is a nearly infinitisemal part of the total. The truth is that your vote only counts in the case of a tiebreak. If there is no tiebreak, even if you hadn’t voted, the results would have turned out the same.

Why is this relevant? Because it doesn’t make sense to say that unless you did something of symbolic value, with no real impact, you have no right to complain. The argument’s plausibility rests on you being able to do something about your situation, and if it loses that, it loses its basis.

2. If a person’s views are outside the box, those views can’t be furthered by voting.

Imagine a box of opinion in mainstream politics. Anything within this box is votable – there is some candidate or the other that represents the opinion and is willing to fight to make it reality. But what if your views are outside the box? If your views aren’t represented by a candidate with plausible chances of becoming president, then they simply can’t be furthered by voting for existing candidates. Once again, voting turns into an action without consequence. (In reality, presidential elections are worse than the box analogy makes it seem: you actually have only two distinct points to choose from, and any view outside, and also, in between, is not votable – I could add more nuance to this, but I’ll leave it there for now)

3. There are other ways to advance a political cause than through voting.

The biggest fallacy the argument exhibits is its overwhelming emphasis on the importance of voting, as if there exist no other means to change a society one lives in. You can start a blog, talk with your friends, talk to strangers, start an organization, donate to an organization, educate yourself, live your ideals, join a protest, etc. etc. Even complaining itself is a way you can advance your cause. And with that, I think the argument is fully demolished.


Photo Credit: The Daring Librarian via Compfight cc

Bonus Video:


This Nonsense about Social Security That Many Are Propagating

It’s old news that Social Security is unsustainable. In fact, I myself made a post about it last December.

According to Glenn Greenwald though, this is all a big lie concocted by right-wingers and neo-liberals to “slash entitlement benefits for ordinary Americans.” Earlier criticizing Martha Raddatz in the 2nd presidential debate for her wording of a question about SS, he stated “That social security is “going broke” – a core premise of her question – is, to put it as generously as possible, a claim that is dubious in the extreme.”

He then cites a passage from David Cay Johnston stating:

Which federal program took in more than it spent last year, added $95 billion to its surplus and lifted 20 million Americans of all ages out of poverty ()?

Why, Social Security, of course, which ended 2011 with a $2.7 trillion surplus.

That surplus is almost twice the $1.4 trillion collected in personal and corporate income taxes last year. And it is projected to go on growing until 2021, the year the youngest Baby Boomers turn 67 and qualify for full old-age benefits.

Well, I have a great idea. Why don’t we take Greenwald’s own method, that of examining premises and assumptions, and apply it to what he and Johnston have said about Social Security?

There is no lockbox. There is no treasure chest lying somewhere in Washington with a bunch of surplus money from SS laying around, ready to be used. Yet Greenwald and Johnston are operating on the assumption that there in fact is.

When Social Security earns a surplus, the money is used to buy government bonds, i.e., loaned to the government. The government owes this money to SS and pays interest year after year. Interest paid from the government to SS above what SS needs for its expenditures are reinvested in government bonds. This is not a lockbox; this is an IOU.

Social Security’s income is derived in two ways, from payroll taxes and from the above mentioned interest payments from the federal government.  If for some reason, interest payments and taxes are not enough to cover the program’s required expenditures, SS will be forced to call upon the federal government for some of its $2.7 trillion back.

But the government doesn’t have this money. It, too, derives its income in several ways. It can tax, borrow or print. Taxes are already not enough to cover government expenditures. The federal government currently borrows nearly 40 cents for every dollar it spends.

The current state of SS is that in 2010, its expenditures started exceeding non-interest income. In other words, interest income is starting to play a larger and larger role. The federal government is being relied on more and more to pay this expanding interest income.

In 2010, this deficit of non-interest income v. expenditures was $49 billion. It is projected to be about $66 billion from 2012 to 2018, and then shoot up tremendously.

How is the government going to pay all this money? Well, it’s going to have to borrow even more than it does now. And paying off a credit card with another credit card simply isn’t sustainable.


UPDATE 10/18:

I may have set up a straw man in claiming Johnston and Greenwald are “operating on the assumption” that there is a lockbox. Nothing is mentioned by Greenwald to change my opinion regarding him, but after re-reading Johnston’s post, there are a few statements he makes that point out he does understand how the surplus is funded. However, I do stand by my reply below in the comments that is he understating the problem.

Why Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 Plan is Actually 9-9-9-9-9

Ask Herman Cain a question about economics and you’re bound to get an answer containing the phrase “9-9-9”.

Or various forms of “I don’t know” but I think that’s mainly for foreign policy and sexual harassment allegations.

Unfortunately for Herman Cain, 9-9-9 is actually a complete lie. Nevermind the fact Cain likes to deny that relatively poor people will have to pay much more in taxes than before if his tax code is actually revenue neutral, but there are actually two more 9’s in his plan that he conveniently forgets to mention. The first is unique to Herman Cain, and the second is a tax all politicians like to overlook.

Peter Schiff exposes the 4th 9 by pointing out Cain’s “plan eliminates the deductibility of wages and salaries from corporate income.” The effect this produces is a brand new 9% payroll tax. To explain this more clearly, Cain’s plan eliminates the entire tax code and replaces it with a 9% personal income tax, 9% sales tax, and 9% corporate tax. However, by eliminating the deductability of wages and salaries from corporate income, an additional 9% payroll tax is created, because corporations will essentially pass on this tax to the wages of wage earners.

For example, take our current payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare. A common belief is that the employee pays half of these payroll taxes and the employer pays the other half. But the actual truth is that 100% comes out of the employee’s income. The half that the employer pays also simply comes out of the employee’s wage because the employer will now pay the employee a lower wage to make up for the fact that he/she now needs to pay a payroll tax. The same effect is produced by eliminating the deductability of wages/salaries from the corporate income tax (corporations will lower wages by whatever amount they have to pay in additional taxes because of the elimination of wage deductability).

As for the 5th 9:

Notice Ron Paul and Rick Santorum (probably because of Paul’s reaction) snickering when Cain gives his answer. I think it would be safe to say we would have an additional 9% inflation tax if Cain was in office. Greenspan blew up two of the biggest bubbles in our history, the dotcom bubble and the housing bubble. Actually, 9% is probably an understatement, I think it’d be more responsible to call it something like 9-9-9-9-20 (perhaps still understating).