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Need Advice

I was never able to listen to the videos on C-Span. When I clicked on the videos, the website always showed me a page that says "the page cannot be displayed." Is there some program I am supposed to download?

Scott Scheule

You're fighting a public good problem, buddy. The reason I'm going to watch 24 instead of listening to the speech is because, even were I to listen to that speech and be inspired to save the Constitution--or at least, the parts of it that Al Gore likes (Commerce Clause anyone? Tenth Amendment?)--I can't realistically have any impact on the situation. Even if I put any effort into it, I'll only reap the slightest share of the benefits. Your readers, fine rational people that they are, do similar calculations, and the product you're after--good government--end up underproduced.

There are things I can control, things I'll reap most of the benefits of. These include 24, looking for women, and educating myself. Those are the things I'm going to do.

This is essentially why government doesn't work.


Need Advice - RealAudio.com should be able to set you up with a free real player that will display most of the c-span video.

Scott -

Short version - at times you disappoint me.

Long version - there *is* an argument that an informed electorate might elect their representatives for their both political philosophies/platforms and the likely impact those philosophies are to have on the future.

I disagree with your implied assertion that an individual can have no outcome on "the situation" - in fact, individuals paying attention to and discussing where the country is headed directly impacts "the situation" insofar as they, collectively, create the political will for the appointment of special counsel and the curbing of executive branch abuses.

It's really a question of vaulation. If you value how the country is governed/structured, you ought to pay attention to the current political situation and discuss it with fellow citizens. Suppose the benefit is your grandson's ability to embrace your (and at that future time, his) particular brand of anarcho-capitalism without being hounded or tortured by government stooges for "dissenting thought" which might "increase the risks that terrorists could strike our country." Or whatever the justification of the day is.

Granted, you may well already know Gore's arguments; I expect many of our law school peeps do.

Granted, K.Sutherland is an entertaining actor.

But your post here, suggesting that there's nothing one can pursue but the most myopic and unmarginal self-interest. . . Well, I think it speaks for itself.

Scott Scheule

Nonsense. My post deals not at all with the myopia or lack thereof of one's own self-interest (though behavioral economics research does suggest we are systematically myopic), nor does it come close to suggesting that self-interest is the only thing that can be pursued. I do believe that individuals tend to act in their self-interest, a conclusion which I believe both the majority of modern economics and evolutionary biology supports.

Regardless, you completely miss the point when you say: "If you value how the country is governed/structured, you ought to pay attention to the current political situation and discuss it with fellow citizens." I do value that political situation, obviously, as I have to live under whatever that political situation may be. But if I cannot change that situation, then irregardless of the value thereof, it is irrational to pursue that end. Far better to pursue one of my ends which will bear fruit, such as television enjoyment.

The public good problem, illustrated: Assume one million voters, far less than the actual amount. My change of having an effect on the composition of the government is at this point statistically insignificant. 99% of the time, it makes no difference whatsoever if I vote or not.

I'm rational, and knowing my vote makes no difference, I don't expend energy (such as clicking on your Al Gore link) becoming a better voter: Why bother? There will be no effect.

Every rational person makes the same calculation: nobody becomes a better voter. Those few who vote do so for the same reason people cheer at football games: they're irrational, or they're being entertained.

That is the public good problem.

It is perfectly true that this is not the only result of the situation. If we assume everybody really loves voting, and really loves voting intelligently, such that they'll get utility out of doing so even though their individual votes don't have an effect, then there's no problem at all. I think that assumption exceedingly unrealistic unrealistic, far more unrealistic that the assumption that people generally act in their own best interests. I can think of good reason why people should have evolved in such a way as to intelligently pursue their own selfish ends (technically, their genes' selfish ends): I cannot conceive why they should have evolved to be good voters.

I submit that the alternative to this public choice framing of democratic government is civil republican naivete, so out of touch with reality that it is harmful to the electorate at large, especially the least well off.

To be sure, I am not making an argument about what is possible, I am making an argument about what is likely.

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