Don’t Vote!

UPDATE: I no longer agree with this message, but I’m leaving it up for posterity’s sake. This was written at a time when I was utterly indifferent who won the presidency. As a centrist who has both conservative and liberal sympathies, I trusted the democratic process to work itself out. However, the rise of Trump has illustrated the fact that, in one of our two major political parties, there is no adult supervision. The inmates are running the asylum. So I voted in 2020 and will continue to vote. Also, being a father has changed me. I want to set an example of civic responsibility to my children. 

This is an old article I published for MySpace, recycled and remixed just in time for Obama-Romney.

If you do as I recommend, you will save time, money, and enrich your life. In fact, taking my advice is easier than ignoring it because I am asking you NOT to take action. Don’t vote!

Classic economists’ joke:

Two economists run into each other at the polls.
Economist A: “What are you doing here?”
Economist B: “My wife made me come. What are you doing here?”
Economist A: “My wife made me come.”

Economics hinges on rational behavior and how rational people behave. According to this theory, voting is not rational behavior. There’s an entire theory dedicated to voting, the Paradox of Voting, which states that “for a rational, self-interested voter, the costs of voting will normally exceed the expected benefits. Because the chance of exercising the pivotal vote (i.e., in an otherwise tied election) is minuscule compared to any realistic estimate of the private individual benefits of the different possible outcomes, the expected benefits of voting are less than the costs.”

My two-pronged argument against voting:

  1. Your vote doesn’t matter.
  2. Your candidate doesn’t matter.

Your vote doesn’t matter.

To calculate your chances of changing the outcome of an election, the truly random method would be 1 / n where n = total voters. However, elections are rarely random since most states have significant predictability. In California or Texas, your chances are much closer to zero because we’re sure those elections won’t be close. In small, politically divided states like Iowa, your chances will be a little higher, but still equivalent to zero.

So instead of true randomness of 1 / n where n = total # voters, I’ll use 1 / n where n = # votes the winning candidate gained over the loser in past elections, a ridiculously generous methodology. Here are some of history’s closest state presidential elections:

2000 Florida (Bush by 541)
p = .0019
* Statistically closest election ever

1876 South Carolina (Hayes by 889)
p = .0011
* 8.4 million votes cast in the whole country
* Women couldn’t vote

1916 California President (Wilson by ~4000)
p = .00025

1976 Ohio President (Carter by 11,116)
p = .00009

In each of the closest elections in US history, under my insanely generous methodology, one voter’s chance of changing the outcome, when rounded to the closest percentage point, equals 0%.

So use your time wisely, rationally!

Your candidate will not change your life.

George W. Bush and a Republican Congress presided over the largest inflation-adjusted federal spending increase since LBJ (33%). Discounting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, non-defense spending under Bush grew 4.8%, second to only Richard Nixon (another Republican).

Obama has not closed Guantanamo. Drone attacks have increased. The US intervened in Libya. The American government will probably (someday) begin helping the Syrian rebels.

Ron Paul is a nutbag. Ron Paul as president would be less effective than Gustavo Petro as mayor of Bogota. He’s a congressman. He votes on policy. He’s not a leader or a doer. He can’t build coalitions. People don’t like him. Did you see him on Bruno? He’s a freak. He would get nothing done. He’d be a lame duck for four years. If you are going to vote, voting for your favorite policy guy is naive. Vote for the guy who can get things done. Ron Paul is not that guy. He’s a nutbag.

The American system was designed with checks and balances. A new president can’t change much alone. There’s Congress, whose members are elected by an extremely diverse range of communities advocating for an extremely diverse range of interests. There’s a justice system, whose members are appointed by the presidents elected during extremely different national mood swings. Obama, Romney, Ron Paul, or whoever else you think can make a difference isn’t taking the wheel of a car. He’s taking the controls of a train. And the tracks are pretty much set.

An extremely effective leader can make some differences, as Bush launched a preemptive war and Obama got a health care bill through. But both of those acts were pulled off under extreme circumstances (post-9/11 and post-Bush-hatred) and each act had to or will have to stand the test of time from all the other powers. Even with extreme circumstances, the track is already laid. The train’s going in the same direction as always.

But what if everybody says that? What if nobody votes?

Everybody doesn’t say that. At least 150 million people will vote. Saying “But what if everybody says that?” is irrational. Be rational!

Take the time you’d spend at the polls and, instead of wasting it, spend it with your kids. Or with your significant other. Or work. Or do something that really enriches your life. Don’t waste your time voting.


There is one argument for voting that might work on me: an emotional appeal based on American soldiers who have fought and died for our country and to preserve our democracy. However, I believe they also fought for my freedom not to vote. Plus, this is an emotional appeal and I, on the other hand, am a rational person.

This article is for US citizens voting in American elections. If I lived in Iraq, Venezuela, or any other nation with an extremely delicate political situation and voting was a brave, important act, I’d advocate voting. Maybe.

But in the United States of America, DON’T VOTE!

Just for fun:

“The people can elect whoever they like as long as I get to choose the candidates.” – Boss Tweed



  1. “Take the time you’d spend at the polls and, instead of wasting it, spend it with your kids. Or with your significant other. Or work. Or do something that really enriches your life. Don’t waste your time voting.”
    How long does it take? I can do it in 10 minutes in the UK
    and that is including travel time.


  2. WRT Petro, while voting is irrational, being involved with terrorist group attempting to overthrow the government is not, because it has led to a good political career for him and various others in democratic countries. Yes M-19 was a terrorist group, whether officially labeled or not, rehabilitated or not, the attack on the Supreme Court with the assistance of Pablo Escobar proves it.


  3. More important is the Nassim Taleb criticism of this type of statistical analysis: What is the impact of the highly improbable should it come to pass?

    A Democrat might argue that had Gore won in 2000 the attacks of September 11th would have been averted as well as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; a housing bubble and economic collapse; the Patriot Act stripping Americans of civil liberties; the bungling of Hurricane Katrina; etc. etc. The world would be an extraordinarily different place all on account of a “single vote” placed by a Florida Democrat who had been convinced to stay home by such statistical analysis as the above.

    Taleb’s whole point is to not only be wary of the highly improbable and how it is calculated (the tails are fatter than you think), but to protect yourself, as best you can, from its underestimated and unknown effects (black swans). If going to the polls to vote can do that for you, it beats staying home and wanking to internet porn.

    Consider voting a cheap hedge against the highly improbable.

    Regarding checks and balances, a very good argument can be made that the White House has over time–but particularly during the Bush and Obama administrations–eroded that system to consolidate power with the President.


  4. @ jesse

    There’d have been a war in Afghanistan regardless of which party were in power.

    If Dems had won, I doubt a preemptive attack in Iraq, but then Saddam Hussein would still be in power but he definitely would’ve done something more than lobbing missiles as Clinton did. Maybe not troops on the ground but there’s no way the Dems would’ve kept ignoring his defiance of UN inspectors in the wake of 9/11. Politically they’d have had to do something, That’s why they didn’t shut it down in Congress when they had the chance, and why a significant amount of Dems supported it. And even if they didn’t depose Hussein, there’d currently be yet another Arab Spring civil war ala Syria.

    The Patriot Act also passed with significant Democrat support, and has repeatedly stood up in court in front of both Republican- and Democrat-appointed judges, and Obama’s Justice Department uses it.

    Katrina would’ve been the same bungling because what it all came down to is 200,000 people were stuck in a flooded town. It would’ve been a disaster either way, and as time has passed more and more blame has come down on the jaw-droppingly incompetent and corrupt politicians of Louisiana.

    BTW excellent comment! But I’d bet my bottom dollar that Nassem Taleb doesn’t vote 🙂


  5. Nassim Taleb hates what Obama has done in his four year tenure and he has no use for Timothy Geithner, who was appointed by O.

    Taleb would look at voting as a free option. Even though his vote probably wouldn’t impact the election, there is a chance. Granted he lives in New York, a very leftist state.

    Taleb was born in Lebanon and would surely vote for Romney if he is in fact a US citizen.


  6. Your argument that any two candidates will produce the same results actually trumps your statistical argument. Its bulletproof…but its hypothetical.

    At the very least you would have to admit that energy policy under Gore in the White House would have been vastly different than the pro-big oil, Texas policies of Bush. Gore would likely have tried and been successful (given the Democratic congress) to pass all the environmental legislation he has dedicated his life to and makes movies and writes books about. If that Gore Green Revolution happens then we have a dramatically different economy today and oil and coal producers are many of them out of business. Texas and Western Pennsylvania are hurting bad. The car industry is also transformed by fuel costs and emissions standards. The EPA would be the most feared government agency. And sky high fuel prices and carbon limits have put many other businesses out. And who knows what other unintended consequences and unknowns (black swans). The policies and ideas Gore has publicly backed are speculative and extreme, and, though good for the earth, would have been highly damaging to US economic competitiveness.

    But this too is all hypothetical.

    My reason for voting in this election is perhaps I’ll be the single deciding vote in electing Romney/Ryan and ending the reckless money printing at the Federal Reserve. Obama supports these policies and both Romney and Ryan have pledged to replace Bernanke. Given the dollar’s slide against the nuevo sole I’m a little surprised you’re not interested in this too. I do, however, understand the counter argument that all the Fed knows how to do is print money and why would a new Fed chairman be any different.

    Taleb is a Ron Paul supporter.


  7. With regard to the above comment; Money doesn’t care about politics. Bush entered office with the Dow at 10,500, and left at 8,000 for a loss of 24%. Obama entered at 8,000 and will likely be re-elected at 13,300, for a gain of 70% – over a shorter time frame of course. But the trend is clear. Check out the Dollar/Euro index over the past five years. It bottoms on Bush’s watch in 2007 and has been on an upward trend since, based on up-trending bottoms. “Ball don’t lie”, nor does the price and volume action. A strong Sole has a lot more to do with a booming Peruvian economy than any underlying weakness in the dollar, just like a weak Ukrainian Hryvnia is about a moribund economy and less about any strong dollar. Regarding the Fed, aka; the Goldman Bankers – keep the presses rolling and the liquidity flowing and they (and I, but probably not you) will get/stay aboard the soul train make bank on all asset classes that follow inflation.


  8. andy, its called a carry trade. borrow in the usa at 0% and invest in Peru at their 4.25%. the feds commitment to suppressing rates indefinitely has unleashed the greatest carry trade the world has ever seen using the dollar.

    ”but probably not you”

    i’m a retired futures trader. in the event of any inflation i’ve got myself hedged just fine.


  9. touche. sure jesse, legends of big money made on the carry trade with the yen, et al. But, I don’t have access to the fed window for 0% money, do you? I’ve not met many futures traders who survived to tell the tale, in fact you’re the first, The equities minefield is my preferred method of adventure, I just hope I don’t end up like another Jesse, as in Livermore.

    Pardon the snark, I painted you a gold/doomer – my bad.


  10. @ Jorge

    I made enough money to live how I wanted and I stopped. That’s the short version.

    I traded interest rate spreads (NOBs), Eurex, some currencies but eminis only rarely. I’m not a good scalper.


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