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The U.S. Transhumanist Party – Four Years of Advocating for the Future – Gennady Stolyarov II Presents at RAAD Fest 2018

The U.S. Transhumanist Party – Four Years of Advocating for the Future – Gennady Stolyarov II Presents at RAAD Fest 2018

Gennady Stolyarov II


This is the video that American voters need to see prior to the 2018 elections. Watch it here.

On October 7, 2018, the U.S. Transhumanist Party marked its four-year anniversary. On September 21, 2018, at RAAD Fest 2018 in San Diego, CA, Chairman Gennady Stolyarov II spoke in advance of this occasion by highlighting the U.S. Transhumanist Party’s recent achievements – including a doubling in membership over the past year, the revived Enlightenment Salons, a Platform that rivals those of the two major political parties, and Mr. Stolyarov’s own candidacy in 2018.

Join the U.S. Transhumanist Party for free, no matter where you reside. Fill out our free Membership Application Form. It takes less than a minute!

Visit the U.S. Transhumanist Party Values page.

See the U.S. Transhumanist Party Platform.

See the Transhumanist Bill of Rights, Version 2.0.

Watch the U.S. Transhumanist Party’s subsequent meeting at RAAD Fest 2018 on September 22, 2018 here.

View Mr. Stolyarov’s official page for his candidacy for the Indian Hills General Improvement District (IHGID) Board of Trustees.

Gennady Stolyarov II Presents at the “Meet the Candidates” Night of the Indian Hills General Improvement District

Gennady Stolyarov II Presents at the “Meet the Candidates” Night of the Indian Hills General Improvement District

Gennady Stolyarov II


The video recording of Gennady Stolyarov II’s presentation at the “Meet the Candidates” Night (October 17, 2018) at the Indian Hills General Improvement District has been posted here.

Mr. Stolyarov’s candidacy has previously been unanimously endorsed by a vote of the U.S. Transhumanist Party’s members.

There is some technical flaw with the audio around 8:52 – the time that Mr. Stolyarov discusses protecting homeowners’ property rights and opposing the establishment of a homeowners’ association. You will hear several parts of these remarks simultaneously – but you will likely still be able to discern Mr. Stolyarov’s position. About a minute afterward, the proper linear audio stream resumes.

After completing his presentation, Mr. Stolyarov issued the following written statement:

I am pleased with the outcome of “Meet the Candidates” Night at the Indian Hills General Improvement District this evening. The seats were nearly all filled, and approximately 25 residents appeared in person. All candidates’ responses were recorded and will be posted on YouTube in the coming days. I will provide links as soon as I become aware of them.

I was able to use the allotted time to present my intended messages regarding my qualifications and my priorities of maintaining essential infrastructure, promoting growth, supporting technological and factually, rationally grounded solutions, and being attentive to all residents and representing the District as a whole in a nonpartisan manner. The statements and questions were thoughtful and generated a civil, meaningful discussion about events in the District. This is what political activity should be about – not factionalism, tribalism, or blind partisanship.

Many residents and the other candidates appeared to be sympathetic to my approach and positions – and my hope is that this will enable them to recognize me as a good consensus candidate who can draw support from all constituencies in the District. I stated at the event that I would be honored to work with any of the other candidates if they are elected to the Board alongside me.

Whether my objective of not being last in the vote count can be met remains to be seen; this election will probably surprise everyone. However, this event most definitely helped – and I hope the videos will help as well.

Early voting in Douglas County begins this Saturday, October 20, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Courthouse in Minden. I have been conducting research on the ballot questions and candidates in the contested races for several hours per day; now I am close to finalizing my own preferences.

Please inform any of your acquaintances who reside in the Indian Hills GID about me and my candidacy!

Become a member of the U.S. Transhumanist Party for free, no matter where you reside. Fill out our free Membership Application Form here. It takes less than a minute!

Are You Being Tricked into Voting for the System? – Article by Sandra from The Right Side of Truth

Are You Being Tricked into Voting for the System? – Article by Sandra from The Right Side of Truth

The New Renaissance Hat
Sandra from The Right Side of Truth
June 29, 2017
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For years, we’ve been sold the idea that the political system of the United States is a choice between two very different parties. On the Left, we have the progressive-liberal Democratic Party championing forward thinking and social good, and on the Right, we have the conservative Republican Party, sometimes called the GOP (short for Grand Old Party), touting the ideas of less government and traditional values.

At least that’s what we’ve been told. These stark differences are pushed at every debate and every public event. However, what the parties rarely discuss is how similar most of their policies are in practice.

So exactly how is it that these two parties continually trick us into voting for one or the other? How is it they manage to stymy progress time and time again, thrusting us further into the past? Not surprisingly, their tactics are both extraordinarily basic and brutally effective. Here’s how they do it.

Drumming Up the Non-Issues

The favored tactic by public masters of deception is presenting non-relevant ideas to distract us from what truly matters. Every election we see it, and 2016 was a perfect example of this. Both candidates kept their audience focused on personal attacks and empty promises, constantly avoiding the real issues.

Take for example the issue of “the wall.” Democrats historically voted in favor of constructing a border wall with Mexico; Hillary Clinton, largely seen mocking Donald Trump on the topic, was quite in favor of it in the past. While the two candidates bickered over the wall and who should pay for it, there was never any real debate between the two about whether or not it was a good idea because under the surface both candidates supported it.

Yet if we return to the present, we can see very little being done in terms of large-scale action. The President—who is not a legislator—has not suddenly conjured up a solid concrete wall across the entire US-Mexico border. That it was suggested this would happen was absurd to begin with and little more than a distraction.

And it’s not the only distraction we see virtually every election. “Major” issues come up conveniently every four years regarding topics such as abortion, marriage, and military spending. Yet the moment the elections end, these issues become silent. No significant changes or votes are held because neither party ever intended to do anything in the first place.

The third-party candidates that seriously have an interest in changing our policies never receive a serious moment in the public’s eye. Debates are always between two parties, and the results are always the same no matter who wins. Alternative ideas are shut out, even when they come from within one of the major parties, as we saw in the 2012 election with Ron Paul’s repeated media blackballing despite a commanding voter base in the primaries.

The “Outsider” Candidate

Those who genuinely believe the idea that the controlling parties would allow an outsider (that is, someone with different views than the status quo) to become a serious candidate are sorely deceived. This is another tactic used to mislead the public into thinking they have a real choice.

While it pains me to use the same example repeatedly, the 2016 election is just one of the best in a long time to truly demonstrate how good these parties are at fooling us. We were fed two choices—Hillary Clinton, the “safe, regular Democrat” choice (and trust me, the party never gave Bernie Sanders a second thought), and Donald Trump, the Hollywood businessman with a mouth.

Surely Trump, with his uncouth speech and disrespect for the Republican Party, was the outsider—right? Yet in office we see him making the same choices any GOP candidate would have made. He is still pro-War, pro-Keynesian economics, and shows no major signs of instigating any promised changes.

Other than speech patterns, nothing would have been different under any other GOP candidate or under Hillary Clinton. To begin with, the president is the head of executive power; he or she does not independently pass laws nor create funding for public projects. All of these faculties fall to the House and the Senate, which are also dominated by shills that vote nearly exclusively on the party line.

The running of candidates such as Donald Trump, Barack Obama, and even Ronald Reagan are simple feints to distract us from the real issues. And the real issue is the perception that there are no alternatives. By funneling our votes into a predictable “A or B” pattern, the parties work together behind closed doors to ensure they remain in power with no challenge to their plans or wealth.

The “Thrown-Away Vote” Fallacy

Dictating how things are from above with tools such as the mainstream media or political announcement is only so effective. On many levels, people can see through the deception of public figures and come to different conclusions. How is it then that so many of us continue to fall victim to this scam?

Surprisingly, the problem is truly at the root of our culture, and it’s been instilled in most of us basically since birth. It’s the idea that voting outside of the two choices we’re given (Red or Blue) is a wasted vote. We’re taught to think voting for a third or fourth party is somehow a vote for whichever candidate we don’t want to win.

This is a logical fallacy that’s been perpetuated for decades to discourage us from breaking away from the two-party system. If enough people believe it, it becomes true to some extent—people fear throwing away their votes and thus don’t vote for anyone outside the standard parties.

But we already know from the Senate and the House that this is simply incorrect. While no third-party president has served to date, several unaffiliated or third-party candidates serve or have served in Congress. Their ideas were different, and their voter bases were small enough to avoid widespread control.

Breaking the Illusion of Choice

If we truly wish to end the illusion of choice in the voting system, we need to recognize the inherent flaws within the system. From the outset, the American system was designed to discourage the illiterate mob from having final say over major candidates. It was designed back when few citizens had a formal education, thus the Electoral College that supersedes the popular vote.

Because of this, changes need to be made within and without the current major parties. We must collectively vote out the leadership of both the Democratic and Republican parties while simultaneously pushing for third-party representation. Not just for a single party such as the Libertarians either—we need multiple parties represented because not all interests overlap.

No single party could ever hope to represent the needs of conflicting groups. Farmers do not share the same values as corporate America, and manufacturers run counter to mom-and-pop businesses just the same as the interests of the wealthy conflict with the poor. And this is totally natural!

We the voters must take responsibility by researching the issues that are important and by seeking candidates that suit our needs. That means watching documentaries, reading books and blogs, and listening to podcasts. Even entertainment venues such as Netflix—when the content is locally available—have something to offer to help us broaden our perspective.

And as might be expected, no perfect political system exists. At the end of the day, the real enemy of freedom isn’t just some evil council of political masterminds striving for world domination. The biggest opponent of choice is staring at us in the mirror. Will you overcome your fear of uncertainty? Tell us in the comments.

About the Author: Sandra is a political activist and free thinker who’s never afraid to speak her mind. Despite the seemingly hopeless situation in Washington, she’s confident that by coming together we can make real changes for the better. See her website at The Right Side of Truth.

Has Donald Trump Unleashed the Neo-Nazis? – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

Has Donald Trump Unleashed the Neo-Nazis? – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

The New Renaissance HatJeffrey A. Tucker
September 8, 2015
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Donald Trump went from clown to contender in a mere 30 days. He is now polling in at 30% among Republicans, a 12-point spread from Ben Carson who is #2. Trump still loses next to Hillary by 2 points, but her nomination is not secure.

A race of Sanders vs. Trump would be quite the sight, straight out of the 1930s. It’s the Reds vs. the Browns all over again. My own sense is that the Browns could win this. Then we have a serious problem. As much as we loathe the establishment, it could be worse.

It’s time libertarians get serious about realizing that there exists such a thing as Brown-shirted socialism. It masquerades as patriotism. It seeks national greatness. It celebrates the majority race and dehumanizes the other. It is violently protectionist. On cultural matters, it is anti-leftist (“politically incorrect”). It is unapologetically authoritarian.

Even given all this, we are mostly mystified by it. It doesn’t strike us as a coherent ideology. It seems like a string of bad policy ideas (and some not terrible ones too) rather than a real political tradition. This is because we, as libertarians, are well-schooled to fear the socialist left but have little preparation to understand the threat from the other side.

Events of the last weeks should heighten our consciousness. There really is a brown-shirt movement in the U.S. It’s been building for many years. They have their organizations, books, websites, and splits within splits. The neo-Nazis are the most extreme variant. But fascism has many other types of expression, each reflecting a special interest, but each of them leading to a special kind of authoritarianism.

That the neo-Nazis support Trump is an established fact. Notorious racist, anti-semite, and unapologetic former KKK grand dragon David Duke has endorsed Donald Trump for president. So has the mega-popular website Stormfront.org, with its overtly neo-Nazi editorial outlook.

The American Nazi Party (yes, there is such a thing, as founded by George Lincoln Rockwell) is also all-in with support: “He tells it as the majority of the population FEELS, and he’s far ahead in the polls because of it.”

When Trump was asked about all of this, his response was that he didn’t know about it, but that this is not surprising since “everyone likes me.” He said he would be happy to repudiate their support “if that would make you feel better.”

Is this just the leftwing media looking for any excuse to smear a great American? Many of his supporters think so. And this is because the American left has been traditionally reckless about flinging the labels racist and anti-semite (and so on) against anyone with whom they disagree. However, let’s remember that just because the boy cries wolf constantly doesn’t mean that wolves do not exist.

Some people say that this supposed neo-Nazi/racist/nativist group is tiny and irrelevant? That’s what I used to think.

Until recently. I was a critic of Trump early on, for his trade and immigration views. I wrote an article that ended up in Newsweek.

Then I became a target. My social feed blew up with scum of the earth suddenly taking me on as their enemy. I was the target of the most vicious hate campaign I’ve ever experienced. I wish this on no one.

In the course of two weeks, blocking accounts of neo-Nazis and their affiliated friends became a part-time job. I now know more than I ever wanted to know about a movement that is actually large and growing right in the United States. You can call it extreme right if you want to, but its views on politics are not that different in substance from the extreme left. They have different styles but they are both authoritarian to the core, lustful for power to achieve their own aims.

As regards the right-wing authoritarians, Trump is their savior.

Here is a typical example. A Twitter account (“Seth Rubenstienberg”) features a Nazi-era caricature of a Jew. It posts incendiary posts such as this one: “if whites ever manage to get another ethno-state in the future, women’s bodies should be regulated. None of this my choice bullshit.”

The account has only 216 followers. That does not sound like much. But I’ve banned at least 50 such accounts. Multiply that account by 1,000 times and you have something serious going on. And when all these people are tweeting at you at once, it can be overwhelming.

It’s been true with Facebook too. The neo-Nazis came crawling out of their holes in the ground to denounce me as an enemy of the race, a self-hating white, a “cuckservative” (their favorite term for their enemies), and so on.

They having been posting on my wall incessantly. Many of their accounts celebrate other movements with only one degree of separation from the real deal. Instead of announcing themselves as neo-Nazis, they choose other causes: white nationalism, protectionism, anti-immigration, men’s rights, the hope for theocracy, and so on.

But for me, it’s become so inevitable as to become boring. I’ve learned to smell these people a mile away. You dig a bit and you land right where we started: straight-out hate rooted in Nazi ideology.

I’ve banned one FB account every few hours for weeks now — truly offensive material.

On the one hand, it is a credit to American democracy that we have such free speech, and I would oppose any government shutdowns of such accounts and sites. The worst mistake anyone could ever make in opposition to brown-shirted politics is to shut them down by force. That only reinforces their deluded perceptions that they have hit on a fundamental truth, and are being persecuted for it.

But free speech reigns on social media, and it’s given me an education about the existence — and the danger — of this movement that I once supposed was an invention of the “liberal media.”

Here is the question I keep asking myself. I’ve been on social media for a long time. Why is this just now happening? The answer is Trump. His free-wheeling style and open attacks on immigrants and foreigners, and hard-core promotion of trade isolationism, has emboldened them as never before.

As for how important they are, consider that the most popular neo-Nazi website, The Daily Stormer, has a higher traffic ranking than the Cato Institute or Heritage Foundation. These people are not irrelevant. They are real and growing.

Why should I care? I’m a devoted follower of the economist Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973), a genius and a Jew. He was driven out of his home in Austria because of the rise of Hitler. And why did Hitler rise? Because a population was fed up with the corrupt political system and a failing economic structure — a situation not unlike our own.

Mises was a dedicated opponent of the socialist left. His first major book on political theory (1922) took them on. But, little more than a decade later, it was not the red shirts that ruined his life. It was the brownshirts who are socialists of a type but use race hatred, misogyny, nativism, and the hope for religious and political domination as a means of control. They drove him from his home and stole his money and books. He barely escaped death.

Are we seeing the rise of a fascist movement in the U.S., and has Trump unleashed them? Is this our Road to Serfdom? Judging from Trump’s rise, and what I’ve experienced in the last week, there is no basis for pretending otherwise.

Jeffrey Tucker is Chief Liberty Officer of Liberty.me (http://liberty.me/join), a subscription-based, action-focused social and publishing platform for the liberty minded. He is also distinguished fellow Foundation for Economic Education (http://fee.org), executive editor of Laissez-Faire Books, research fellow Acton Institute, founder CryptoCurrency Conference, and author six books. He is available for speaking and interviews via tucker@liberty.me.

On Moral Responsibility in General and in the Context of Voting – Article by G. Stolyarov II

On Moral Responsibility in General and in the Context of Voting – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
November 3, 2012
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Here, I aim to briefly outline the general nature of moral responsibility as well as its implications for how a person ought to approach voting in an election.

Moral Responsibility in General

The source of all morality is the life of the human individual. As I explain in my video series, “Life as the Origin and Basis of Morality” (see Part 1 and Part 2), the life of the individual is the necessary precondition for any moral system, and therefore the preservation of that life is the foremost moral principle. The principle has to be universalizable to all individuals, or else one’s claim to the legitimacy of protection for one’s own life would be arbitrary and simply a matter of “might making right” (that is, if one can protect oneself against stronger individuals who do not recognize this legitimacy). If, however, one recognizes that the moral primacy of life is an abstract principle that can be applied to every person, then one can justly claim the moral high ground in defending one’s own right to life as an implication of this principle.

The existence of moral responsibility arises from two facts: (i) human beings can choose their actions, and (ii) various human actions can have varying degrees of beneficial or harmful consequences to human life. An action is moral if it benefits the life of any human being (including the actor) without harming any other human being. An action is immoral if it directly and unavoidably harms the life and infringes on the legitimate prerogatives of any human being – even if some other party might benefit from the action. Because each individual human being is an end in him- or herself, no action that “benefits” some people by harming others can be considered moral.  The deliberate and direct infliction of harm upon any person trumps any possible benefit that can be gained from an action. Furthermore, in reality (contrived hypothetical “train-track” scenarios notwithstanding), it is causally impossible for a harm to result in a benefit and for genuine benefit to be unachievable without harm.

Moral responsibility can be a source of both praise and criticism. A person should be praised if he is morally responsible for a beneficial action. A person should be criticized if he is morally responsible for an accumulation of sufficiently harmful actions. It is possible for a generally good person to be morally responsible for a harmful action. This alone does not make the person evil, and a person may compensate for a harmful action through restitution to its victims. Once appropriate restitution has been made, the harmful action should cease to adversely affect our judgment of the perpetrator. However, restitution to persons other than the victims would not suffice, because the benefit of one person cannot outweigh the harm done to another. If irreversible harm has been done, the moral wrong cannot be fully righted, and therefore the perpetrator must always bear some degree of moral responsibility. However, the adverse judgment of the perpetrator can be mitigated if the victim remains alive and decides that the perpetrator can confer a certain alternative benefit that would compensate for the harm without undoing it.

To clarify, this principle does not prohibit or denounce the use of force in order to defend oneself against harm or to punish a wrongdoer who has inflicted harm, as long as the punishment is proportional to the harm and has the effect of preventing future harm committed by such a wrongdoer. However, the retaliatory use of force is only appropriate if directed against genuine wrongdoers, exercised with extreme care for its proportionality, exercised lawfully, and performed without “collateral damage” to innocents. Infliction of harm upon an innocent person is never morally justified, for any goal.

A person is only morally responsible for actions directly within his or her control. A person does not bear any share of “collective guilt” for the actions of others whom somebody deems to be “similar” to that person in some respect. Neither does a person bear any “blood guilt” for the actions of ancestors or descendants. Sometimes a person’s actions may contribute to a larger harm – as when large numbers of people make poor decisions that result in a combined substantial damage to the lives of some innocents. In that case, each person whose actions directly contribute to the harm bears some degree of moral responsibility, in proportion to his or her contribution to the harm. However, in such cases, it is extremely difficult to isolate the contribution of any particular individual, and so the most practical remedy is not restitution, but rather the persuasion of individuals to desist from continuing to contribute to the harm.

Because moral responsibility relates to actual benefit and harm to human beings, there can be no moral responsibility for “victimless” actions, though one can bear moral responsibility for either benefiting or harming oneself. The moral responsibility for harming oneself can only be compensated for through reparations to oneself – i.e., through performance of actions that benefit oneself and undo the harm. Thus, actions that harm oneself alone cannot be undone by adhering to the dictates of others, and so no prohibition or external punishment can ever be appropriate for such actions. This is why a legitimate legal system would only prohibit and punish harm inflicted by an individual upon others and would allow an individual to harm himself without legal penalty. In this way, a class of immoral actions (harms to oneself) ought to be entirely legal. If an action does not damage the life of either oneself or others, then it can be neither illegal nor immoral.

While morality ultimately focuses on consequences, an individual’s intent in carrying out an action can have long-term effects on that individual’s moral standing. It is possible to have ill intent in carrying out an action but, through good fortune, to end up harming no one. In that case, no moral responsibility can exist because no one has been harmed. However, a person who continues to act upon ill intent is extremely likely to cause actual harm through repeated action. Therefore, acting with ill intent is like a game of Russian roulette as far as moral responsibility is concerned. One might escape moral responsibility any given time, but the probability of incurring it in the future is close to certain. Furthermore, acting with ill intent ultimately damages the individual’s capacity to choose morally, as it results in the reinforcement of habits of thought which oppose the preservation of human life and the cultivation of human civilization.  Likewise, good intent can assist an individual in committing moral actions by cultivating habits of thought that render moral choices easier. However, good intent must be reflected in benefits to human life before an action can be considered moral. Good intent cannot absolve a person of moral responsibility for a harmful act, though it should (if aided by an understanding of cause and effect) assist the person in avoiding similar harmful acts in the future.

 Moral Responsibility and Voting

In any scenario of voting, the individuals who participate are numerous, and the outcome results from an aggregation of individual votes. No given person can be said to specifically be responsible for the outcome of the election being one way or another, even if the outcome results from a difference of one vote (because anyone else’s one vote would have had the identical impact). Nonetheless, if the outcome of an election is the rise to office of politicians who perpetrate harmful actions, then the people who voted for those politicians share some of the moral responsibility in the harms – since, without the vote, those politicians would most likely not have come to power (unless they staged a coup). A clear case of this is the moral responsibility of the Germans in 1933 who gave Hitler’s Nazi Party the plurality of the vote. Were it not for this moral sanction, the harms committed by the Nazi Party would never have come to pass. Of course, the moral responsibility of the typical German voter who supported Hitler was slight compared to the moral responsibility of the actual Nazi leaders and their followers who actually partook in carnage and destruction. Nonetheless, by committing an action that clearly demonstrated support for the Nazi Party, even the otherwise peaceful Germans who voted for it helped to make its atrocities possible.

A person who does not vote for a winning candidate (either by voting for a losing candidate or by not voting at all) cannot have moral responsibility for what transpires when the winning candidate is elected, because he did not grant support to and sometimes explicitly opposed the winning candidate. He can therefore justifiably say, of what transpires afterward, that it did not transpire with his approval or assistance. In electoral situations, it is seldom the case that a single person can make all the difference (unless he is exceptionally good at persuasion of vast numbers of people), but a single person can choose not to be part of the problem. This is why a person should always vote his conscience (if he votes at all) and should never support a candidate who might commit incremental harm relative to the status quo, in that person’s view. However, a person could justifiably support a candidate who might bring about incremental benefit, even if that benefit is not as comprehensive as the voter might desire.

It is important to note that voting for a candidate who would commit incremental harm is not justified by the presence of a candidate whom one expects to commit even greater harm. Because harm can never bring benefit, it should follow that the infliction of lesser harms can never avert greater harms. The person who actively supports a move in the direction of harm (relative to the status quo) simply legitimizes the political system’s infliction of harm upon himself and others. By signaling to the political system that he will tolerate a certain degree of incremental worsening of his situation, he invites politicians to gradually ratchet up the degree of harm they cause, as long as they can claim (justifiably or not) that their opponents would bring about even greater harm.

In this case, what is the nature of the moral responsibility of the person who votes for a “lesser evil” in his mind? If the “lesser evil” loses, then there is clearly no moral responsibility if the person did not otherwise engage in harmful behavior to promote the “lesser evil” or to damage those who criticized the “lesser evil.” However, support for a losing “lesser evil” can lead to unfortunate habits of thought that would leave one vulnerable to the entreaties of politicians who intend to inflict harm. Just like ill intent in committing an action leaves one vulnerable to committing harm in the future, voting for a losing “lesser evil” leaves one vulnerable to voting for a winning “lesser evil” in the future. If one votes for an incrementally harmful candidate who wins, then one does share in the moral responsibility of those actions which a reasonable person could have anticipated on the basis of the candidate’s past record, rhetoric (including any tendencies for duplicity and lies contained therein), and character. This moral responsibility is clearly not of the same caliber as the moral responsibility of the politician who actually inflicts the harms, or the enforcers who act on his behalf. Furthermore, because the moral responsibility of voters is always highly dispersed, it is impractical to design appropriate restitution for it. Rather, the sole practical remedy is for the voters in question to recognize the mistake of their prior actions and, in the future, to work to the extent of their abilities to undo the harms of the winning candidate’s actions in office. For instance, a person who recognizes that he was deceived into supporting a “lesser evil” who won can focus his efforts on defeating this politician or similar politicians as the next election approaches. This person could also work at persuading others not to make similar mistakes.

The most reliable way to avoid adverse moral responsibility in voting is to vote for a candidate whom one considers to be an improvement over the status quo in absolute, not relative, terms – and without regard for how others might vote. Morality is not based on consensus, but on objective truth. One’s own understanding of objective truth, and the continual pursuit of improving that understanding, is the best path to moral action and the habits of thought that facilitate it.

As the ISideWith.com survey of voter preferences shows, if voters truly voted in accordance to their understanding of the most preferable courses of action, the American electoral landscape in 2012 would be quite different. For one, the 2012 Presidential contest would clearly be between Gary Johnson and Barack Obama, rather than between Obama and Mitt Romney.

Lesser of Two Evils: A Final Shot – Article by Charles N. Steele

Lesser of Two Evils: A Final Shot – Article by Charles N. Steele

The New Renaissance Hat
Charles N. Steele
October 26, 2012
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Mr. Stolyarov has responded to my twopart essay on Mitt Romney as a lesser of two evils.  Here I comment on his response .  I don’t want to rattle on endlessly, so this will be my final “shot” in the debate, unless Mr. Stolyarov asks for my response on specific questions.  I am grateful to him for the opportunity to discuss these issues in this forum.  I’ve found it useful, and hope others have as well.

Mr. Stolyarov’s part 1, “The Imperative of Libertarian Rejection of the Two-Party Trap,” is a reply to my part 1 “Is it Evil to Vote for a Lesser Evil?” in which I express doubt about his assertion that “in casting one’s vote” [one earns a] “share of moral responsibility in what would transpire if one’s candidate of choice (even half-hearted choice) gets elected.”

I’m suspicious of this “moral responsibility.” My piece explores whether someone who votes for a candidate has moral responsibility, and if so, what is the nature of that responsibility.  I take pains to keep it a general argument and avoid discussion of the 2012 election.  Unfortunately Mr. Stolyarov doesn’t really answer the questions I raise and instead addresses details of the current presidential candidates.  To the extent he does mention the moral responsibility of a voter, he simply asserts it.  At some points he asserts that a voter provides “moral sanction” in voting for a candidate, but this is something I directly challenged.  Elsewhere he claims to be a consequentialist, and that one bears responsibility only for contributing to actual harms.  I think this conflicts with his “moral sanction” argument.  It also fails to explain how a non-swing voter who votes for a winning candidate shares any moral responsibility at all, since his vote didn’t matter.  In short, I don’t think Mr. Stolyarov’s “Imperative” adequately addresses the philosophical issues I raised, and I remain skeptical of the “moral responsibility” one allegedly bears in voting for a lesser evil.

In part 2, “Why Mitt Romney Will Not Benefit Liberty,” Mr. Stolyarov really lets Mitt Romney have it (and does a good job of it).  We agree in our dislike for Romney.  I also share Mr. Stolyarov’s disgust at Romney’s unwillingness to attack Obama on important matters of principle.  But the question at hand isn’t “Is Romney bad?” but rather which candidate – Obama or Romney – is a lesser evil, or are they equally bad?  I gave four areas of fundamental importance in which Romney easily surpasses Obama, in my view.   I don’t think Mr. Stolyarov succeeds in showing that Romney and Obama are equivalent in these four areas.  Allow me to revisit them.

1. General Vision

Mr. Stolyarov discounts the differences between progressives and conservatives, and argues that conservative skepticism of government is a thing of the past.  This can’t be correct.  The Tea Party phenomenon is explicitly an anti-big-government phenomenon.  It was behind a crushing electoral blow to progressive and moderate Democrats and Republicans in 2010.  Regardless of any inconsistencies, confusions, or errors expressed by Tea Partiers, one can’t sensibly argue the movement isn’t exceedingly skeptical of government, often quite hostile to it.  Conversely, one can’t sensibly argue that progressives aren’t overwhelmingly enamored of ever more government solutions to problems in almost every aspect of life.  Mr. Stolyarov repeatedly refers to the Republican Party establishment.  It’s true that this “establishment” hasn’t welcomed the Tea Party, but the bulk of the support that exists for the GOP today is from people skeptical of big government, not people enamored of the Republican leadership.  To miss this is to miss one of the most important political developments of the last ten years.

Mr. Stolyarov missed my point about the “Peoples Rights Amendment” (PRA).  The PRA isn’t about campaign finance reform.  It is about ending all constitutional protections for all rights of any organization: a business firm, a non-profit organization, a church, a labor union, a political party, anything.  Among other things, it would mean that news organizations, publishers, internet service providers, YouTube, etc., would no longer be protected by any part of the Bill of Rights, and certainly not by the First Amendment.  Under PRA, Mr. Stolyarov will be free to stand on a soapbox in the city park and speak, but You Tube will have no legal protection if legislators decide to ban Stolyarov’s videos.  He’ll be free to publish The Rational Argumentator on a home printer, but his internet service provider will have no legal protection if legislators decide they disapprove of his essays.  Democrats have actually introduced this totalitarian nonsense in the House, with the endorsement of Nancy Pelosi; it’s not simply some pipe dream.  They are promoting similar proposals at the state level.  I cannot think of anything that Republicans are proposing that would so fundamentally change America’s political system to enable totalitarianism.  Regarding the examples Mr. Stolyarov provides (NSA, SOPA), I’m unaware of how Obama and Romney (or Democrats and Republicans) differ.  If Democrats aren’t demonstrably systematically superior, then it can hardly be said that these are relevant.

Regarding gun control, Mr. Stolyarov is simply misinformed.  The fact that no new gun-control legislation has been passed is beside the point.  The Obama administration has worked to undercut private firearm ownership, not through legislation but through regulation, subterfuge (“Fast and Furious,” for example), and international negotiations (which are on hold pending the outcome of the election). And the proposals for a renewed assault-weapons ban (AWB) are more draconian than the Clinton version, not less.  Proposed restrictions on ammunition sales, handgun ownership, semiautomatic weapons, etc., are more restrictive than anything we’ve previously suffered under, not less.  And Heller is not settled law, if Obama is able to appoint one more progressive to the Supreme Court.  Progressives would like to eliminate most privately owned firearms.  Their attacks on the Castle Doctrine/Stand Your Ground laws show that this hostility is directed at honest citizens and is not about crime prevention.

My examples suggest that progressives are seriously working to eliminate the Bill of Rights.  On the other hand, Mr. Stolyarov responds that he’s concerned about “Occupy” protesters being pepper-sprayed at UC Davis.  I’m uncertain what this event has to do with the Romney v. Obama choice, but he and I have very different definitions of “peaceful.”  My definition of peaceful does not include forcibly blocking public thoroughfares and occupying public spaces so that others cannot exercise their legitimate rights to use them.  It’s shameful that taxpayer money is now going to these “victims.”  But again, how does this indicate anything about the differences in the candidates or the issues I’ve raised?  I think it’s irrelevant.

2. Health-Care Reform

Mr. Stolyarov is probably correct that for Romney and the Republican leadership think of the political base primarily as a means for winning elections.  That’s exactly why Romney wouldn’t veto a PPACA repeal, were it presented to him.  It’s crazy to think he’d veto it against the will of everyone in the GOP and then “rely on political amnesia” to get him by in 2016.  He’d have nothing to gain, and everything to lose.

I didn’t discuss specifics of the PPACA, but I don’t believe the mandate is the worst part.  The mandate isn’t a giveaway to insurance companies.  Without a mandate, the requirement to sell insurance without regard for pre-existing conditions and without risk rating would trigger adverse selection that would eliminate private insurance almost overnight.  Other bad parts of the law include the Independent Payments Advisory Board (IPAB), a component that has the potential to do great harm to American health care.  But then, the PPACA is 2000-plus pages long; there’s lots of mischief in it.  (The Romneycare bill was only 86 pages.)  But this is all beside the point.  The President does not have a line-item veto, so if a Republican Congress repeals PPACA, Romney cannot pick and choose which pieces to preserve.  He’ll sign and we’ll be rid of it.  There’s no other way this can happen.

3. Supreme Court Appointments

Mr. Stolyarov sees a “clash of interpretations [legal philosophies] as too many steps removed from the outcome of a Presidential election. To be sure, the President may appoint Supreme Court justices, but that is all. How the justices subsequently rule is out of the President’s hands.”

It’s true but completely irrelevant that how justices rule is out of the president’s hands.  From a libertarian standpoint, progressive legal theories are worse than libertarian legal theories, obviously.  It’s also obvious to those who study the matter closely that Romney is far more likely to appoint justices sympathetic to libertarian theories than is Obama.  The two candidates are not even roughly similar in this regard.  This alone is sufficient to make Romney the lesser evil, and is a place where he might well do positive good.  Alternatively, if Obama appoints three Ginsburg clones, it will be a very dark day indeed.

4. Economic and Fiscal Issues

I’ll admit that this is the weakest part of my argument.  But still, on environmental regulation, Obama is clearly worse.  It even appears that EPA may have put new energy regulations on hold until after the election.  It’s very likely that an Obama victory will lead to much heavier regulation of one of the bright spots in our economy, the boom in hydrocarbon production.

On fiscal policy, neither candidate (and neither party) has seriously grappled with America’s looming sovereign-debt crisis.  It’s quite obvious, though, that Democrats would be much happier seeing government take a greater share of the economy in revenue than Republicans would – the recent battles over the debt ceiling are evidence of that.

Conclusion

I’ve made two very distinct lines of argument in this exchange.  Concerning the philosophical issues of a voter’s moral responsibility, I think Mr. Stolyarov has largely talked past my arguments.  In the end, I don’t think a voter should worry about “moral responsibility.”  My advice to a libertarian voter: study the principles, issues, and candidates carefully, and then vote (or abstain) according to whatever you think will do the most to further liberty.  Don’t waste any additional effort contemplating the moral responsibility you’ll allegedly bear.

Concerning whether Mitt Romney is the lesser evil, Mr. Stolyarov provides lengthy critique of Romney, a case for voting for a libertarian alternative such as Gary Johnson, and blistering scorn for the Republican leadership and their treatment of Ron Paul’s supporters.  In each case, he does so eloquently.  But these are tangential to the question at hand – is Mitt Romney the lesser of two evils?  I think that I’ve made a strong case that from a libertarian standpoint, Romney, bad as he is, is superior to Obama.  In the end, we’ll never know, of course.

Dr. Charles N. Steele is the Herman and Suzanne Dettwiler Chair in Economics and Associate Professor at Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, Michigan. His research interests include economics of transition and institutional change, economics of uncertainty, and health economics.  He received his Ph.D. from New York University in 1997, and has subsequently taught economics at the graduate and undergraduate levels in China, the Russian Federation, Ukraine, and the United States.  He has also worked as a private consultant in insurance design and review.

Dr. Steele also maintains a blog, Unforeseen Contingencies.

Romney v. Obama: Tweedledum and Tweedledee? – Steele’s Response to Stolyarov – Part 2 – Article by Charles N. Steele

Romney v. Obama: Tweedledum and Tweedledee? – Steele’s Response to Stolyarov – Part 2 – Article by Charles N. Steele

The New Renaissance Hat
Charles N. Steele
October 17, 2012
******************************

In his article “Is Mitt Romney Truly a ‘Lesser Evil’?”, Gennady Stolyarov took issue with my contention that a Mitt Romney victory is preferable to another term for Barack Obama from a classical liberal standpoint.  In Part 1 I responded to Mr. Stolyarov’s arguments concerning the moral responsibility one might bear in supporting a bad candidate over a much worse candidate, a “lesser evil.”  Here I make a case that Romney and Obama certainly are not Tweedledum and Tweedledee: Mitt Romney is indeed a lesser evil compared with Barack Obama from a libertarian/classical liberal perspective.

I must emphasize at the outset that I am not arguing one should vote for Mr. Romney.  I am making a case that Romney is the lesser of the two major party evils, not that one must support him.  If in one’s judgment an abstention or perhaps a vote for another candidate, such as Gary Johnson, does more for liberty, then one should act accordingly.

However, I also think that our current political situation is quite precarious; if we confine our vision to the federal government and its policies, America is in an unusually dangerous position today, quite unlike anything I ever expected to see in my lifetime.  If current trends continue, I think there’s some not insignificant chance that the First and Second Amendments could soon have “dead letter” status – formally in effect but no longer valid nor enforced – and that the probability of this is much higher with a continuation of the Obama presidency.  I also think that America is on track for a fiscal and economic disaster unprecedented in modern history, and that the Romney-Ryan ticket is at least marginally superior to Obama-Biden in this regard.

I’ll address four areas in which I believe there are fundamental differences between Romney and Obama: 1. general vision, 2. health-care reform, 3. appointments to the Supreme Court, and 4. economic and fiscal issues.  I’ll close with a few qualifications that temper my argument.

1. General Vision:  This presidential election is not so much a choice between Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama as it is between two competing visions of the role of government.  Romney and Obama are both very poor standard bearers for this conflict of visions currently underway, but one would have to be oblivious to American politics of the past twelve years to miss the significance of this election.  There is, for a change, a real ideological difference.  On the one hand, there’s the progressive view that supposes the state is the fount from which all good things and all social advance flow (“You didn’t build that.”), and on the other, there’s the view that government is limited by the rights of the individual, and that most of civilization is built by free people acting in the market.

The progressive vision sees government intervention as the solution to every imaginable problem.  This was perhaps best stated recently in a Washington Post op-ed by E.J. Dionne.  There is no question that Obama and the Democratic Party represent the progressive-left view.  If they are sometimes loathe to admit it, it is simply because it is currently bad politics to do so – the Tea Party backlash was more than they’d bargained for.

Pitted against progressivism is the view that government must be restricted to certain limited functions.  American conservatives, for all their many and various flaws, do tend to understand this.  American voters outside the progressive/left camp certainly do, as the Tea Party arose out of anger over big government: government bailouts, exploding government debt, the general expansion of government in health care.  It was Ronald Reagan who observed that the “heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism.”  Whether one agrees or not, it is certainly true that conservatives are far more skeptical of government than are progressives.  Currently the Republican Party is the party of skepticism about government.

It would be a simple thing to expose the many cases of Republican hypocrisy on these issues – I often do so myself.  But let me ask this question – which party – Democrat or Republican – is more likely to propose legislation containing more and more interventions, programs, entitlements, and social engineering?  If the reader is genuinely uncertain (I doubt most are), read the respective platforms of the parties (here for Democrat  and here for Republican). The first platform contains proposal upon proposal for expanding the role of government; the latter refers repeatedly to specifics about restricting overweening government.  No one is bound by a platform, but the platforms do give the vision, and these visions are fundamentally different.

Does this matter?  For an example, consider how the two parties have responded to the Citizens United decision.  Republicans have applauded it on free speech grounds.  Conversely, Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic legislators have introduced in Congress a constitutional amendment, the “People’s Rights Amendment,” that would effectively eliminate the First Amendment protections of freedom of speech and press.  As George Will put it in Washington Post, “By proposing his amendment, McGovern helpfully illuminates the lengths to which some liberals want to go. So when next you hear histrionic warnings about tea party or other conservative ‘extremism,’ try to think of anything on the right comparable to McGovern’s proposed vandalism of the Bill of Rights.”  (Or, I might add, try to find anything in the Democrats’ platform even mentioning any threat to free speech from our government.  It certainly contains nothing even vaguely rivaling the Republican denunciation of speech codes, Fairness Doctrine, McCain-Feingold, and other restrictions of free speech.)

As another example, consider the right of the individual to keep and bear arms, and the protection of it by Second Amendment.  Republicans are supportive of this, while Democrats generally oppose it.  The Republican platform specifically defends the inherent individual right to keep and bear arms, applauds Heller, and explicitly opposes new gun controls, including the “Assault Weapons Ban.”  The Democrats relegate the right to “an American tradition” and imply it is created by the Second Amendment.  They then call for new gun controls and further restrictions on ownership.  If the Democrats should, at some point, manage to gain control of both houses of Congress and pass a new, more draconian “Assault Weapons Ban” or legislation to “close the gun show loophole” [i] as they promise, who is more likely to veto it – Romney or Obama?  For that matter, we already know that Obama has sought gun controls under the table by supporting U.N. negotiations for a treaty that would regulate and restrict private firearm ownership.  President Obama is more hostile to our rights to arms ownership and to self defense than any other president in history.  Romney’s record in Massachusetts was poor; he signed a state version of the AWB.  But unlike Obama, he has not argued in favor of banning all private ownership of handguns, all private ownership of semi-automatic weapons, civilian concealed carry permits, and outlawing self-defense.  As his base is generally very strongly opposed to an AWB, it is hard to believe he would betray them on this hot-button issue.

Again, it’s not that the Republicans are libertarian – they are far from it.  It is rather that the Democratic Party has gone so far to the left that they are the greater threat to liberty.  They would willingly destroy both the First and Second Amendments.  They’ve sponsored legislation to do it.  Without these two amendments it’s hard to see what checks at all we’d have on government.  It is the Democrats’ progressive vision that is the greater threat to liberty currently.  Romney might be a weak reed, but he’s at least on the side that opposes this progressive vision, and a President Romney would be beholden to his more conservative, anti-big government constituency.

2. Health-Care Reform:  Here’s a good application of my above argument.  The PPACA (a.k.a. Obamacare) is a terribly flawed approach to health-care reform.  It reduces, rather than increases, consumer choice.  It increases, rather than reduces, government interference in the health-care sector.  It will prove to be fiscally irresponsible and is likely to reduce the quality of health care.  If the Republicans manage to hold both houses of Congress, they will almost certainly repeal it.  (The Senate can do so even with a bare majority if Republicans are willing to end the filibuster, something legal scholars across the political spectrum have suggested is reasonable.)  A President Obama would surely veto a repeal.  A President Romney would sign it.

This would likely be the only chance we will have to get rid of this bad legislation, for the longer it stays in place, the more firmly it will be entrenched, with more special interests defending it.  On the other hand, if Republicans fail to repeal the bill, Romney would be far more likely to temper and slow the implementation of PPACA than Obama would.

Mr. Stolyarov has suggested Mitt Romney would veto a repeal because of similarities between the PPACA and the Massachusetts reform, but this makes little sense for two reasons.  First, the PPACA is much hated by the Republican base (for that matter the majority of Americans dislike it).  A repeal would be extremely popular.  It’s simply incredible to think that a President Romney would defy his party and practically 100% of his supporters in order to save Barack Obama’s hallmark program.  I can’t imagine anything else he could do that would make him more likely to lose the GOP nomination in 2016.

Second, it’s not clear that Romneycare and Obamacare really are the same thing, despite a similar basic framework.  The Massachusetts bill signed by Romney was different from that which was implemented.  Romney used his line item veto on a number of the more draconian parts of the bill.  The Democratic legislature overrode these vetoes, and the bill was implemented by a Democratic governor who further altered it.  Furthermore, at the time Romney signed the bill, the situation in Massachusetts insurance markets was far worse than perhaps anywhere else in the United States.  In this context, Romneycare – at least Romney’s version of it – was arguably an improvement over the status quo in Massachusetts.  Thus when Romney argues that the reform might have been right for Massachusetts but not for America in general, he’s not necessarily being disingenuous.  In short, it’s hard to believe that Romney is not key to any chance of repealing the PPACA and not superior to Obama on health-care reform.

3. Supreme Court Appointments: The next president will likely make as many as three appointments to the Supreme Court.  Whoever is president in the next four years will very likely have the chance to change fundamentally the makeup of the Supreme Court.  This might be the single most important reason for preferring Romney to Obama.

Obama and his party are closely associated with the new “democratic constitutionalism” movement in legal theory.  This movement seeks to “take back” the Constitution from “conservatives” and make it once again a “living” document, i.e. one without fixed meaning, permitting progressive politicians and judges to interpret it however they wish to favor their political agendas.  One common doctrine in this thinking is that the distinction between negative rights and “positive” rights is essentially meaningless, and one person’s “right” (to health care, housing, and whatnot) creates a similar obligation on others to provide it.  It’s unclear to me what sort of society would result from consistent application of this doctrine that replaces genuine rights with entitlements, but it would not be a free society, nor would it have a functioning economy.

Conversely, there’s also been a new interest in federalism in legal thought (it’s to this that the democratic constitutionalists are reacting) which favors strict Constitutional interpretation, separation of powers, strict limits on governmental powers, and the idea that individual rights are imprescriptable, rather than gifts from the state.  The movement has both conservative and libertarian aspects, and is in many respects libertarian.  Needless to say, Republicans are more closely associated with this movement than are Democrats.

If Obama selects nominees for the Supreme Court, it is likely that we’ll have justices who are in line with “democratic constitutionalism,” and with the notion that our Constititutional rights should not be considered “absolute” sense, but rather subject to international norms.  Romney is unlikely to draw from this crowd, and far more likely to draw from judges with at least some sympathy for the new federalism.

Ilya Somin of Volokh Conspiracy is worth quoting at length on this issue: “Republican judges are far from uniformly good on libertarian issues. But the Democratic ones are overwhelmingly bad. Moreover, cases such as Kelo and the individual mandate decision have sensitized conservatives to the importance of appointing judges committed to federalism and property rights. That reduces the chance that future GOP nominees will waffle on these issues, as some past ones have.”

“[Also] the younger generation of conservative jurists and legal scholars have been significantly influenced by libertarian thought on many issues. This is far less true of their liberal equivalents. Whether you choose to blame liberals for this situation or libertarians, it’s a crucial point. Other things equal, a party’s judicial nominees tend to reflect the dominant schools of thought among its legal elites.”

On this issue, it’s simply absurd to imagine that Obama and Romney are equal from a libertarian standpoint.  They are not.  Obama is far, far worse.

4. Economic and Fiscal Issues: On economic issues, neither Romney nor Obama is very good from a free market perspective.  But they are not equally bad.  Obama has a much stronger preference for activist regulation, including environmental regulations, health care regulations, labor regulations, and financial regulation.  Obama also is more likely to favor targeted subsidies to special interests – green energy for example.  Conversely, Romney is more likely to rein in regulatory agencies such as EPA, and less likely to favor extensive regulation.  Mr. Stolyarov suggests that Romney is anti-entrepreneur in practice, but it is small entrepreneurs who are most hurt by regulation.  Large established firms have teams of lawyers and accountants and frequently can benefit from gaming the rules; in practice, Obama is a greater threat to entrepreneurship.

On fiscal issues, I think Romney is at least marginally better than Obama.  Neither has any real plan to actually reduce spending.  But Romney and Ryan have been willing to put forward the idea that entitlement programs as they exist are unsustainable and must be radically restructured.  Obama assures us this won’t happen.  Yet it will.  Our entitlement programs are unsustainable and will be cut – it is simply a matter of whether we plan to make these cuts now, rationally, in such a way as to minimize economic disruption, or whether we wait until economic crisis forces the cuts, resulting in economic shock and great disruption.  On this matter I give a slight edge to Romney… although if Obama is reelected and then begins following a more “Republicanlike” path, it would not shock me – the unsustainability of entitlements is not in dispute, except in campaign rhetoric.

On taxation, the fiscal crisis will almost certainly lead anyone in office to seek more revenues.  Obama has stated a clear preference for increases in marginal rates on higher income earners, higher corporate taxes, and an increasing number of tax breaks, this last for purposes of social engineering (a.k.a. buying votes).  Romney has endorsed a reduction in marginal rates and a broadening on the base by eliminating deductions and exemptions.  The latter approach reduces the economic distortions of taxation and also returns it to the purpose of collecting revenue, rather than shaping citizens’ behavior to match politicians’ goals.  Again, Romney is preferable to Obama on this issue.  I fear it might already be too late for the United States to avert a sovereign debt crisis, and the record of politicians from both parties of fiscal responsibility is dismal.  But the approach Romney has laid out it preferable to Obama’s.

So there it is.  I am not a fan of Romney, nor of the Republican Party in general.  But after looking at these four areas, I think it’s clear that Romney is certainly the lesser of two evils compared to another four years of Barack Obama.  It should also be clear why I think the current political situation is dangerous.  Eight years of Bush ’43 followed by four years of Obama have empowered the federal government and put us well on the road to an authoritarian “soft despotism.”  If current political trends are not checked by some countering force, the near and medium future look rather bleak.  If a Romney victory would simply slow the trend and thus buy time for countering forces to take effect, that would make Romney the lesser of two evils.  With either candidate, the immediate political future will be a mess at best, but the mess will be much worse with Obama.

I’ll close with three caveats.  First, unless one votes in a swing district in a swing state, none of this matters anyway since one’s vote does not matter.  Second, it’s been observed that sometimes a politician from political party A finds it easier to pursue party B’s platform than politicians from party B do, because he faces little opposition from within his own party when he does.  Perhaps a second-term Obama will do the opposite of what I suggest above.  I have little reason to believe he would, but cannot rule it out.  The same might occur with Romney, although I suspect his interest in a second term precludes this.  Finally, Mr. Stolyarov notes that a vote for Gary Johnson “could be seen as a social statement, rather than a purely electoral one,” and signal increasing support for libertarian ideas.  In Part 1 I suggested that perhaps there is some merit in Mr. Stolyarov’s “strategic argument,” that voting for a third-party candidate who proves to be a spoiler might send a message to political parties; his “social statement” argument further strengthens this case.  (It is not clear, by the way, whose voters Gary Johnson “steals;” I know one erstwhile Obama supporter who is voting for Johnson as the only anti-war candidate.  I understand some polls suggest this phenomenon may cost Obama Nevada.)  Particularly given the shameful way the GOP treated Gary Johnson, Ron Paul, and its more libertarian members, it certainly deserves a comeuppance.  However, this seems to me an issue separate from whether Mitt Romney is the lesser evil.

I could say more, but this is sufficient.  I thank Mr. Stolyarov for the opportunity to make my case, and look forward to his responses.


[i] In fact, there is no such thing as a “gun show loophole.”  Firearms sales at gun shows are covered by the identical laws that cover sales elsewhere, including background checks for dealer sales.  “Closing the loophole” is progressive-speak for making it illegal for citizens to buy, sell, or otherwise trade firearms with each other; only federally licensed gun dealers would have this right.

Dr. Charles N. Steele is the Herman and Suzanne Dettwiler Chair in Economics and Associate Professor at Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, Michigan. His research interests include economics of transition and institutional change, economics of uncertainty, and health economics.  He received his Ph.D. from New York University in 1997, and has subsequently taught economics at the graduate and undergraduate levels in China, the Russian Federation, Ukraine, and the United States.  He has also worked as a private consultant in insurance design and review.

Dr. Steele also maintains a blog, Unforeseen Contingencies.

Is it Evil to Vote for a Lesser Evil? Steele’s Response to Stolyarov – Part 1 – Article by Charles N. Steele

Is it Evil to Vote for a Lesser Evil? Steele’s Response to Stolyarov – Part 1 – Article by Charles N. Steele

The New Renaissance Hat
Charles N. Steele
October 2, 2012
******************************

Mr. Stolyarov gives a thoughtful reply to my contention that given a choice between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, Romney is the lesser of two evils.  I respond, but find I must do so in two parts.  Mr. Stolyarov makes two kinds of arguments in his reply to me; one is a philosophical one on the ethical nature of voting and the second an empirical one about Romney and Ryan.  In this note I address Mr. Stolyarov’s philosophical argument.   I ask many questions here – please note carefully that most of them are not rhetorical.

Mr. Stolyarov’s philosophical argument concerns the moral responsibility one bears in voting: “[E]ven a true incrementally lesser evil is still evil and does not warrant one’s support. One key consideration in casting one’s vote is one’s share of moral responsibility in what would transpire if one’s candidate of choice (even half-hearted choice) gets elected.”

At first glance this seems a reasonable argument – after all, wouldn’t we think that, for example, German citizens who supported Hitler’s regime bore a good share of responsibility for its crimes?  And in general, if people vote for candidate A over candidate B, it’s reasonable to think they bear some responsibility for empowering A’s platform over B’s.  But the more I contemplate it, the less I understand the nature of  this “moral responsibility” voting, for three reasons.

1. When we vote, we vote under conditions of uncertainty about what the candidates will do should they win.  Two reasonable people might differ in their expectations over what opposing candidates might do if elected, even if the candidates are truthful.  And candidates are often less-than-truthful about what they will do if elected; sorting out what is and isn’t true is not necessarily straightforward.  Consider a presidential election between A and B.  If candidate A wins the election and what subsequently transpires is counter to what the voter in good faith expected, what is the voter’s moral responsibility?  Further, we also don’t know and will never know what B would have done.  Does that matter?  Might not a vote for what proved to be A’s bad policies have prevented B’s worse ones?

In many cases these issues are small, but not always.  And certainly in times of major institutional transitions, or economic crises, or other important changes, they are likely to loom large.

2. If one votes for a candidate who wins, does one then share responsibility for everything the candidate does?  When we vote for candidate A, we get the “entire package.”  We can’t limit ourselves to voting for her/his positions on some issues but not others.  Suppose one agrees with candidate A on fiscal policy, but disagrees on foreign policy, and conversely supports B on foreign policy and opposes his fiscal policy.  In order to decide between candidates, our voter must judge which issue is more likely to be of central importance in the next term, as well as which one is more important for the voter’s overall vision of what should be done.  For that matter, the voter might think that B’s fiscal policy is a more serious flaw than A’s foreign policy, but also believes institutional barriers (e.g. Congress) will largely block B’s fiscal policy while nothing would block A from pursuing the bad foreign policy, and hence reasonably vote B.

3. How much difference does one’s vote make, anyway?  The quote from Mr. Stolyarov suggests that if candidate A wins, a person who voted for him shares some responsibility for what transpires.  But suppose A wins with a very large margin of the vote.  In that case, there’s nothing the voter could have done to stop what transpires.  What is her/his responsibility then?  Conversely, suppose instead A loses, so nothing transpires from the vote and presumably no moral responsibility attaches to the voter.  How does anything differ in these two cases, with respect to the voter’s culpability?  I can’t see that the voter has behaved differently in the two cases; shouldn’t moral responsibility be the same?  Perhaps not, but the why not?  And how would the responsibility differ in either case had the voter instead stayed home and not cast a ballot?

Similarly, in every presidential election in which I’ve voted, I voted in Montana.  In none of these was the vote close enough for mine to have mattered, but that’s irrelevant.  Montana’s three electoral votes simply do not matter for the national outcome, so no matter what happened, my vote had no connection at all to what subsequently transpired.  Does this mean that I’m exempt of all moral responsibility when I vote in a presidential election?  Why or why not?

These three points involve “disconnects” betweens one’s vote, the outcome of an election, and what subsequently transpires.  It strikes me that these disconnects weaken the moral responsibility a voter holds.

Mr. Stolyarov does address some of my concerns (particularly those of point 2) when he observes “It may therefore be justified to vote for an imperfect candidate who could do some incremental good, but not for a candidate who would commit incremental evil – in the sense of reducing liberty compared to the situation that existed prior to his election.”

It’s clear, then, that Mr. Stolyarov is not committing the Nirvana fallacy.  But I still find his point quite problematic.  It is not always obvious what constitutes “incremental good/evil” on net, or how we identify an overall reduction in liberty.  Let’s simplify this case by assuming there’s only one voter and no uncertainty about what candidates will do if elected, so that there are no disconnects between the vote cast and the political consequences.  Again, the voter faces a choice among presidential candidates, but now her/his vote determines the election and s/he knows exactly what political consequences will transpire.

If A’s positions on issues X and Y reduce liberty, and his position on issue Z increases it, how is the voter to weight A’s net effect on liberty?  (Assume for sake of argument there are no other issues.)  Is A automatically disqualified because of his position on X and Y?  Or could his position on Z conceivably be sufficiently beneficial for liberty to outweigh the harm done on the first two?  I would think so, and I suspect Mr. Stolyarov agrees.  (Again, I should note that in some cases any reasonable person should be able to weigh these relative harms and benefits and get the same answer.  But in some real world cases reasonable persons might strongly differ.)

But also, doesn’t it matter against whom A is running?  If candidate B is worse, much worse, on all three issues, should not the voter choose A over B, regardless of whether the net outcome from A is positive?  (I would think so.) Alternatively suppose instead candidate B drops out of the race to be replaced by C, and C is superior on all three issues.  Shouldn’t that lead our voter to reverse himself and support C?

This seems quite sensible to me, but Mr. Stolyarov seemed to rule it out:  “There is no doubt in my mind that Mitt Romney would commit numerous incremental evils – and there is no justification for supporting him in any way, even if his transgressions could be predicted with certainty to be less severe than Obama’s.”  It should by now be clear why I find this position problematic.

On this point, Mr. Stolyarov agrees with my earlier assertion “real progress in expanding liberty will come from economic, technological and social processes, NOT from electoral processes. If elections and political processes do anything in this regard, it will be simply to respond to and formalize advances made by civil society.”  But he then concludes: “But if this is the case, then there is no point supporting anything other than the very best available option in any election.”

I can’t see how that follows.  In our one voter example, suppose candidate A will take the nation slowly towards a totalitarian state, and B will take it very rapidly.  Would it not be preferable to choose A over B, to buy time for countervailing processes to act?

All of these examples suggest – at least to me – that a voter might reasonably and morally vote for a candidate who will minimize damage to liberty, even if the voter has only reasonable expectation of this.

Mr. Stolyarov does have another point worth noting in this matter.  He suggests we vote for the best candidate, even a third party candidate who has no chance of winning: “[A] single person can send a message by refusing to play along with the two-party system. If enough of us begin to think this way, then the libertarian voters will become a force to reckon with, a credible threat to the two main parties that unsatisfactory candidates will be disfavored no matter what. As an added bonus, if enough people in general begin to vote based purely on their conscience, then the whole ‘lesser of two evils’ trap would disappear, the two major parties would need to rapidly evolve or would disintegrate, and government could become truly representative.”

Maybe so.  I certainly hope so.  But note that this is a strategic argument and quite different from the argument about a voter’s moral responsibility.  I find the moral argument to be unhelpful in this discussion.

In part 2 of my response I will try to make the case that Mitt Romney is indeed the lesser of two evils when compared to Barack Obama.

Dr. Charles N. Steele is the Herman and Suzanne Dettwiler Chair in Economics and Associate Professor at Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, Michigan. His research interests include economics of transition and institutional change, economics of uncertainty, and health economics.  He received his Ph.D. from New York University in 1997, and has subsequently taught economics at the graduate and undergraduate levels in China, the Russian Federation, Ukraine, and the United States.  He has also worked as a private consultant in insurance design and review.

Dr. Steele also maintains a blog, Unforeseen Contingencies.