Revolving-door veteran Peter Orszag, formerly of OMB and currently of Citigroup, proposes making voting mandatory in a piece over at Bloomberg.
Some poll results show why this is a bad idea:
- 11 percent of Americans genuinely believe that President Obama is a Muslim. That’s 1 in 9 people whose ignorance alone should qualify them for disenfranchisement.
- When President Obama was inaugurated, 13 percent of Americans thought he was conservative. After more than a year of non-stop, wall-to-wall election coverage, more than a quarter of Americans either didn’t know or misidentified Obama’s political ideology.
- Only 39 percent of Americans believe in evolution. Self-explanatory.
- 69 percent of Americans believe free trade costs jobs. Trade, by refining the division of labor, affects the types of jobs, not how many there are. That isn’t so hard to understand, but most voters can’t be bothered.
- 70 percent of Americans would like to raise the minimum wage. This is the same thing as finding that 70 percent of people do not know basic economics. By pricing our least productive employees out of work entirely, minimum wage laws hurt them at least as much as they help the people who get a raise.
In short, the median voter in America is a boob.
And the median voter is precisely who decides elections. Politicians, at least successful ones, must pander to people who have roughly the same politico-economic acumen as my cats. Hence the slew of unwise policies in both the Republican and Democratic party platforms.
Keep in mind that the least educated people are also the least likely to vote. Mandatory voting, by bringing the uneducated to the polls, would make the median voter an even bigger boob than he already is. This could well lead to even worse policy outcomes than we have now.
But consequentialism isn’t all there is to it. There is also the principle of the thing. This is a free country. Voting is a choice, not a duty or an obligation. People should be able to choose for themselves whether or not to vote. Peter Orszag shouldn’t make that decision for you.