Notes on the inadequacy of voting

The notes are based on Liberalism Against Populism by William Riker. The following are what I’ve found most interesting:

1. Even if the individuals’ preferences are consistent, the amalgamation of their interests might lead to conflicting results. This can be due to strategic voting, i.e. people deliberately vote for their less favored candidate to facilitate the winning of their favorite choice. It can also result from particular voting methods. The sequence that people need to choose and the pool they’re choosing from are key to the results of voting.

2. Different rules of aggregating individual preferences (majoritarian, utilitarian, positional, etc) are efficient in different ways; they address varied ethical principles. Furthermore, we cannot implement two methods at the same time, so comparison is not possible and therefore we are unable to conclude whether a particular method is superior to others.

3. Populism fails because the “general will” is not clear, and therefore voting results are best interpreted as the winning of one choice over an array of choices rather than the winning of a better claim of the democracy ideal. We cannot say X is better than Y simply because X beats Y in a series of elections. There might be another option Z which is restrained by Constitution or oppressed by X. In other words, some relevant alternatives might not even be addressed. X can be self-enforcing in terms of enacting the laws and rules according to their beliefs of the “common will”.

4. Liberalism democracy survives because it is a random popular veto and does not require voting results to be fair and just. It regards the voting as a potential means to get rid of the bad leader but not necessarily retain the good one. Individuals as well as the candidates are merely in the dynamic development of the society. The veto generates freedom because a tyranny faces a threat that it will be thrown out of office if it violates the interests of enough voters.


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