Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Don't Vote. It Just Encourages the Bastards.

It has been almost eight years since one of my favorite TV shows of all time, The West Wing, has been off the air. For those of you who have not seen it, it was basically Aaron Sorkin’s version of House of Cards; meaning that in this show, politics and government are nearly devoid of nastiness and corruption that actually define politics. Instead, the government is full of witty, intelligent, and passionate people who are full of quips, bright ideas, and, most of all, incorruptible ideals.  And they wish to work for the common good of the public – citizens and non-citizens alike.

In other words, the show was about as believable as Donald Trump’s hair.

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However, there were bits and pieces of the show that truly moved me. In one episode, when the Kennedy-esque President Josiah “Jed” Bartlett was giving a speech in front of an enthusiastic audience, he said:

Decisions are made by those who show up.

It was probably one of the simplest but most powerful rallying calls for citizen participation in government that I had ever heard on television. It rang even truer especially after George W. Bush defeated Al Gore in the 2000 US presidential election with a mere 327 votes in order to capture Florida’s twenty-five electoral votes.

Though our individual votes might be mere drops in the ocean, it does not change the fact that an ocean is made of a multitude of individual drops. So I was convinced that voting was a sacred duty that all free people in the world had to cherish and uphold.

What a fool I was.

In reality, politicians, regardless of party (or the lack thereof), live for the moment. That is because every politician, at least those in countries that are ruled by laws, always know that they will inevitably face the political Grim Reaper that we call elections. And very few politicians believe that there is life after political death. Only a few politicians who have achieved high office and still have influential friends in government (for example, click here, here, here, here, and here) after leaving office work as consultants (aka political liaisons) for mega-corporations via the ever-so-lucrative revolving door of politics. The majority of politicians face ignominy when they leave office.

And seeing how the vast majority of politicians wouldn’t know what an honest job was even if it whacked them on the side of their heads with a baseball bat, politicians tend to be the worst kinds of myopic sycophants on the planet.

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One myth that never seems to die is the belief that government officials are more attuned to making decisions for long term benefits. It is most likely because a lot of people romanticize government as the way we work together to solve problems; never mind that in reality what the politicians want is usually not in the public interest. And it doesn’t usually matter that the solutions often fail to solve the problems (see the war on porn or the war on prostitution or immigration policy, for example). For big government romantics, that just means we didn’t try hard enough.

In reality, politicians have no interest in programs or policies that impose short term losses on voters so that they may enjoy long term benefits. After all, if the politician isn’t elected or re-elected, he or she will not be in office to enjoy his or her constituents’ gratitude for the benefits that they will enjoy long after the politician has left office. All that matters to the politician is the fact that raising his/her constituents’ costs today will reduce his/her own chances of being in power.

Everything has a cost. Politicians know this. However, though they know that the benefits that the voters might enjoy today will come at a cost in the future, the politicians also know that the short term gains of today will improve the politician’s chances of being elected but the long term benefits of tomorrow does nothing to guarantee the politicians’ immediate desire of being elected. It is precisely why today’s increase in government debt does little to hurt him/her at the polls and the same reason that voters only begin to feel the burden of that debt long after those politicians are out of office.

Does the government need to repay its debt after having issued bonds or face inflationary pressures after expanding the money supply? Will people’s income be drastically reduced as they have to pay more for goods because of a devalued currency or perpetual deficits? Who cares? It doesn’t have to be repaid until twenty or thirty years later. Why worry about such trifling matters when the politician will not be around by then (as evidenced by various news reports that can be found here, here, here, and here)? Let the future crop of leaders deal with it; who in turn will pass the bill down further until the economy collapses!

It does not matter whom people vote for. They are all the same breed that feed at the trough of the public treasury.

(For people who are interested in more seriously understanding why politicians behave the way they do, all of James M. Buchanan’s works are available for free here. James M. Buchanan was the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1986. He was a leading proponent of public choice theory, which is a theory that assumes that politicians and government officials, like everyone else, are motivated by self-interest – getting re-elected or gaining more power – and do not necessarily act in the public interest. He accurately predicted that as time goes on, governments tend to run large deficits and let regulations proliferate thus leading to a permanent disconnect between government spending and government revenue.)

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For instance, in the recent televised mayoral debate between Representative Chung Mong-joon and Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, Representative Chung, the supposed conservative, accused Mayor Park of abandoning public projects. He was referring to Mayor Park’s ending of Seoul’s “New Town” (새마을) projects, which Representative Chung seems to think is needed to revitalize Seoul’s economy. Never mind economic realities!

And of course both men promised heavy government spending to improve the city’s infrastructure. Why not? It’s the public that is going to have to pay for these unaffordable bills through additional taxes anyway; not them! Representative Chung pledged to earmark ₩1 trillion (US$975 million) to replace old subway cars. Not to be outdone, Mayor Park promised to invest ₩2 trillion (US$1.95 billion) for the project.

As for welfare, well, according to
the Korea Herald:

Another major campaign theme is welfare expansion. In fact, the two parties’ 10-point election manifestos are filled with welfare promises.

The ruling (Saenuri) party pledged to fully subsidize influenza vaccinations for senior citizens, increase the number of social welfare service workers by 5,000 and cut interest rates on loans to farmers and fishers.

The party’s manifesto carries a price tag of 5.5 trillion won over four years. It suggested the abolition of tax deductions or exemption schemes to finance it.

The NPAD (
New Politics Alliance for Democracy Party) makes more costly promises. It pledged to make patient care services fully funded, first for public hospitals by next year and then for all hospitals across the nation by 2017.

Neither candidate said a word about how those projects would be financed. Why would they? Just like Stephanie Meyer, politicians’ bread and butter is selling ridiculous fantasies. Considering that, it amazes me that neither of the contenders continued their pissing match by pledging to spend up to ₩500 quadrillion.

To make matters worse, kids who think this is a great movie franchise are also voting.  Gods help us all!
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I am a Korean citizen and I live in Seoul. As a result, I have the right to vote in Seoul’s mayoral race. I will not be taking advantage of my right. Whenever two candidates are more or less the same, and just as equally ignorant and/or incompetent, I find that there is no obligation to vote. On top of that, I can cast my vote only so long as I think that at least one of the candidates has more virtues than flaws. However, when both candidates are morally and intellectually bankrupt, when there is no lesser evil, casting a vote for either candidate is a sinful waste of time and energy.

Many people that I have known tend to believe that voting is vital. Perhaps that juvenile “Vote or Die” campaign was actually effective. However, I am of the opinion that it is not wrong to abstain from voting. That is because not voting is also a form of voting. It is a way of stating that I don’t want any of the insipid choices that I have been offered.

However, I think that it is important to clarify that I am not choosing to abstain from voting because I am apathetic. That is hardly the case. I do care deeply about this country. I am choosing not to vote because at this point in time, voting is an empty and impotent act and I will not give this act any more credibility than it deserves by participating in this charade.

Author’s Note:
I wish I could take credit for the title. It was the title of PJ O’Rourke’s book of the same title.

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