UPDATE: I had Reich’s nickname not correct in the initial post–please note that this is around the Robert Reich in ~ Berkeley, no the plunder Reich in ~ Stanford.

You are watching: If you don’t vote you lose the right to complain

Here’s Robert Reich, previous secretary that labor and now a professor at Berkeley, asserting a typical trope:


I can write 3 whole books on what’s wrong through this type of thinking; in fact, by the end of this calendar year, ns will have done so.

Reich is repeating a common idea: you don’t have the right to complain unless you vote. I assume right here Reich means you forfeit your liberty or permission right to complain, no your claim right. The is, he’s asserting the if girlfriend don’t vote, you should not complain, not that if girlfriend don’t vote, climate it would be permissible for the federal government to prevent you indigenous complaining.

But why would certainly you forfeit your appropriate to complain if girlfriend don’t vote?

The most evident explanation is that if you don’t vote, girlfriend didn’t perform something that might influence federal government in the means you desire it come go. Girlfriend didn’t placed in even minimal effort into do a change. If you can’t be bothered come act on your discomfort with politics, then you must shut up.

By analogy, intend I complain to mine wife: “It’s also damn cold in this house. Damn, ns hate exactly how cold that is.” She asks, “Well, did you turn the warm on?” i respond, “No, i can’t it is in bothered to acquire up, walk end to the hall, and turn increase the thermostat.” She asks, “Did girlfriend at least put ~ above a sweater?” ns respond, “No, i can’t it is in bothered to go to my closet and fetch a sweater.” She would certainly justifiably respond, “If girlfriend can’t it is in bothered to placed in this minimal effort, girlfriend shouldn’t complain. I don’t desire to listen any more out that you.”

But poll isn’t favor that! The trouble is the individual votes don’t make any type of difference. Top top the most optimistic evaluate of the efficacy of separation, personal, instance votes, votes in, say, the united state presidential election have the right to have together high together a 1 in 10 million opportunity of break a tie, yet only if you vote in a swing state and vote for among the two significant candidates. Otherwise, the opportunities of break a tie or having actually any impact are vanishingly small. (Reich votes in California, and also even ~ above the Edlin-Gelman-Kaplan model, his poll doesn’t matter.) On less optimistic but more widely embraced estimates the the efficacy of individual votes, separation, personal, instance votes have actually a snowball’s opportunity in hell of making a difference in any major election. (Even then, save in mind: This uses only to voting for candidates from the two major parties, candidates who appeal come the fixed of ignorant and also irrational voters. If you’re voting third party, her vote typically matters also less than that.*)

So, the analogy that a person complaining about the cold but being do not want to rotate on the warmth or put on a sweater doesn’t apply. Reich is really saying something like this:

Robert ReichOctober 27

I ran right into someone this morning who complained about how bad he is. Ns told him, “If you’re no playing the lottery everyday, you forfeit your ideal to complain about being poor.” The problem with bad people is that they don’t buy enough Powerball tickets.

Perhaps Reich instead way something choose this:

Citizens have actually a duty to vote.If a citizens doesn’t discharge this duty come vote, she loses she (permission) ideal to complain.

But why accept either of this claims? Let’s begin with case 2. Also if we accept for the sake of discussion that citizens have actually a duty to vote, why organize that failing to discharge this duty would somehow deprive them specifically a permission best to complain? (Keep in mind, you can’t use the debate I just refuted above.) Why no instead host that they lose their permission best to listen to Taylor Swift, or your permission best to clock his movie?

But the much more pressing trouble is the see that citizens have a duty come vote. In The ethics of Voting, i systematically refute all of the best disagreements on instead of of a duty come vote. The very best debates on behalf of a duty to vote organize that you have actually a duty come vote due to the fact that you 1) should contribute to the typical good, 2) shouldn’t free ride top top the delivery of windy goods listed for you by your other citizens, or 3) have actually a duty to promote your fellow citizens’ welfare. But, together I point out in the book, if any of these duties exist, these room all an extremely general duties that deserve to be discharged any number of ways besides voting. Voting isn’t necessary; it’s simply one the many possible ways to promote the usual good, avoid complimentary riding, or promote citizens’ welfare. Further, voting isn’t sufficient to discharge those duties, due to the fact that many human being vote badly, in means that top top a collective level often tend to weaken the common good and harm their other citizens. Reich shouldn’t advocating that world vote. The should rather advocate that many of lock abstain.

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*P.S. Don’t talk about “changing the mandates”. Mandates don’t exist; they’re just a popular myth.