Thanks to Scott Lemieux over at LGM, I have become aware of the work of University of Rochester Economics Professor Steve Landsburg. The man is … reprehensible is the word that most quickly comes to mind. I have found at least three different articles by or about him that indicates he’s someone who neither lives in the real world nor gives a rat’s ass about those who do.
I plan to tackle this in several parts, mainly because each of them makes me mad enough that I cannot concentrate on the others. I am going to start with the least objectionable, mainly because it deals simply with the political process, not death. Or rape.
In 2004, Lansburg wrote a piece called “Don’t Vote: It makes more sense to play the lottery.” We have seen this piece of idiocy before, from Steven D. Leavitt.
I am not going to recap that post here — I think I covered it well the first time and would be merely repeating myself. However, I would like to add a little more perspective.
Some results from the November, 2012 elections in Santa Clara County:
In the Campbell Unified School District, two candidates out of four were elected to the School Board. Out of over 104,000 votes cast, only 554 separated second — elected — from third — not elected. In the Mountain View-Whisman District, my elementary school district, the difference between being elected and not was 708 votes out of over 41,000 cast.
There were several other very close school district races in Santa Clara County. Oh, you say, those are just school board races… You think those aren’t important? Ask any parent of school age kids how important the school board is, especially in California, which has been underfunding education for decades and is forcing districts to make harder and harder decisions.
In the Measure M race, which would control the salaries of the local hospital board, less than 2100 out of 68,000 votes cast determined the outcome. This measure would affect the ability of the district to attract and keep qualified executives.
There were a lot of other races where less than 5,000 votes determined the outcome.
The mistake fools like Leavitt and Landsburg make is to act as though the only vote that matters is that for president. That’s important, yes (mostly for whom he or she nominates for the Supreme Court), but the place where things really happen is at the state and local level. Regulations from Washington may or may not affect your average individual in San Jose immediately, but that voter-mandated citywide raise of the minimum wage to $10 per hour sure will. Not to mention the local eighth-cent sales tax increase. Or the quarter-cent state sales tax increase.
School boards, city councils, planning commissions, water or hospital districts…. all of these matter immensely to most people. Are you worried about the effect that subdivision that they are putting up down the street will have on traffic? You fight that in planning commission meetings. Concerned about the stadium going up? That’s the purview of the county commission. (When I was campaigning for candidates for the Santa Clara City Council, one of the most often asked questions was — were they for the stadium? The answer, “yes,” usually resulted in a statement that the candidate had just lost that vote.)
By definition, all local races are decided by a small electorate. One vote really can make a difference. Rather than being one in many millions casting a vote — which to the blindly unthinking like Leavitt and Landsburg can seem unimportant — each voter is one of hundreds or tens of thousands, or less.
And each of those matters. A lot.
[Edited to correct my misspelling of Landsburg’s name.]