>Voting a waste of time? No, not quite Whyte

>Former Cambridge philosopher lecturer and Times columnist Jamie Whyte offers a trenchant and provocative piece explaining why voting is a waste of time and we should ‘vote’ with out wallet, rather the usual pencil-on-a-string at the church hall. As citizens what we want, he says, is basically good political management plus civil and political rights as an insurance policy that we can use them as needed to check those in power as. The solutions to political problems are he says basically known and agreed in any case. Politics, he claims, only matters in times of crisis and societies where an overweening, authoritarian state dominates social and economic life.

None of his arguments are very original – Olson’s Logic of Collective Action highlighted the irrationality of voting forty years from a logical individual perspective and he also echoes an influential recent line of academic research puncturing the neo-Toquevillian mantra that Participation-is-a-Good-Thing and disengagement from public affairs automatically Bad. However, ironically his piece is more of a convincer – even for someone like me fed up to the back teeth with ritual invocations of civil society and civic engagement a nostrum for all social ills in both Eastern and Western Europe as– that there are some serious flaws in some of the these types of arguments.

Rather anti-politically, Whye sees economic participation and power as kind a substitute for political participation. In many ways, I guess it is. But political participation – or at least the right to participate – is a kind of countervailing power to the very unequal distribution of economic power. If we junk or downgrade politics too much economic equal translates ever more rip roaringly into inequalities of political power.

Here it is interesting to note how fact political rights are incommensurate with economic rights – i.e. you can sell shares and options, but you cannot (legally) directly buy up or sell off votes, as some more utopian neo-liberals have seriously suggested (after all just about everything else is saleable, right? And I’m sure there would be plenty of happy sellers queuing round the block at Tesco or logging on to www.sellyourvote.com)

I guess Whyte might shrug his shoulders as this – “Inequality, who cares, that’s the price of freedom”. His assumption – again very anti-political this time in a technocratic and managerial sense – that all solutions are agreed and known is also rather blown apart, by the example he gives of marketizing healthcare. There are plenty of choices and conflicts of interests here which require political choices – and as far as I’m concerned even the basic direction he suggests is the no brainer he seems to think.

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