Voting for Beer

The competing “President of Beers” ad campaigns are vaguely amusing, but fortunately we don’t actually choose beer in a national election. Often, votes in a political election are compared with dollars spent in a market, but in reality elections and markets are two fundamentally different ways of selecting something. For instance, here is a beer ballot from Palm Beach County, Florida:
image

and here is a genuine market for beers in Fairfield, Ohio:
image

courtesy of my favorite grocery store, Jungle Jim’s. See the resemblance? I hope not, because there really is no comparison. Other than the size of the selection, how would political selection of beers differ from buying beers in a nominally free market?

Beer selection via bullets ballots

  • Whichever beer won would be the only beer available for the next four years.
  • You would have to pay for the elected beer whether you liked it or not, or even if you didn’t drink beer.
  • Even if you had no strong preference for Bud or Miller, you would be admonished to vote, as that would somehow, magically, improve the quality of the choice.
  • If you did have a strong preference, some elementary math would tell you that voting for it would have essentially no chance of influencing the outcome.
  • People would get in loud confrontational arguments on the merits of Bud vs. Miller. Even sober people.
  • If you started talking about microbrews or imports, people would consider you a bit nutty.
  • The Complete Joy of Homebrewing would be a book owned only by wacky anarchists.
  • In order to appeal to the least common denominator, Miller and Budweiser would eventually come to have nearly identical, weak, flavors. Oh, wait.
  • Despite this, people who had never tried other beers would insist that the two are quite different
  • What a nightmare world. Fortunately, despite its being heavily taxed, regulated, and licensed, the market for beer is still nominally free. Some key features of a beer market are:

    Beer selection via a market

  • You can choose any beer available, buy it, and drink it, no matter how few other people like it.
  • No one else will expect to be forced to try your favorite beer, so they will take nearly no interest in your preference.
  • You can make your own beer at home, or start a microbrewery, if nothing on the market is to your taste. In fact, I highly recommend homebrewing for the tax avoidance alone.
  • You can choose not to drink any beer at all. I don’t recommend it, but I’ve heard of people doing it.
  • imageWithout a healthy market, this blogger’s beer fridge (right) might not be properly stocked. That would be an immense shame, and I wouldn’t even be left with the small comfort of crying about it into a proper beer. The next time you’re spending some quality time carefully selecting a few bottles of the magical brew to welcome into your home, remember: beer, unlike national defense, police, airline safety, and road construction, is just too important to leave up to the vagaries of the political process.

    44 thoughts on “Voting for Beer”

    1. Fin du Monde is indeed excellent, Garth, as was Maudite which I have also tried. I’ll look for the Big Rock stuff next time I stock up–the fact that it’s not in the pic doesn’t mean much, as a fridge can only hold so much beer.

      Charles, I stand by my selection of Chili Beer. It’s not something I enjoy every day, but on a hot summer afternoon it’s excellent. Plus it can be used to separate the men from the boys.

      The only one in there right now that I regret buying is Leinenkugel’s Berry Weiss. Way, way too sweet, even for a fruit beer. The wife likes it okay, though.

      Thanks for the kudos, everyone else. I even got a link at Reason’s ‘Hit and Run’ (thanks, Minty.)

    2. I note that your fridge contains Fin du Monde.  An excellent choice.  You are obviously a man of rare and exalted tastes.  Another great Quebecois beer is Maudite (French for “damned,” I believe).  Should Quebec ever separate from the ROC (Rest of Canada), we should demand Unibroue in compensation.  ;-)

      Parenthetically, I note a disturbing absence of any of the great microbrewery beers from Big Rock in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.  Could it be that these most excellent libations have not yet penetrated your local beer market?

      And the picture on the label of Fin du Monde (“End of the World”)?  The Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador.  ‘Nuff said.

      (Ooooooo, I’m gonna get a pounding by my acquaintances from the Rock…)

    3. Malarbusto,

      The 1-meg Flash animation “You Own Your Life” serves as libertarianism 101.

      The late Roy Childs had some interesting things to say as well. Note: like Lewrockwell.com, The Last Ditch is infested with creepy, creepy creeps. There are gems hidden in the mire there, though. The Epistemological Basis Of Anarchism is perhaps the best piece ever written on the subject.

      These will not answer your questions, but they will provide you with the tools to formulate your own answers to these and future questions.

    4. Very interesting article. I’m new to Libertarian ideas (my sister’s been trying to get me into it), and I’m afraid I don’t understand how you’d reverse the analogy. Do you mean we’d replace winner-take-all with proportional representation?

      If someone could email me at malarbusto@yahoo.com with links to reading material that would explain this, I’d be most grateful.

      Malarbusto

    5. Thank you all for your help. I’ve read the links you suggested, and I’ve noticed a couple of things. The article on voting (http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Olympus/7695/CHAPTR06.HTM#83), for instance, indicates that we should simply not participate in the political process in the hopes that the State will wither and die. And there does seem to be an overall theme in what I have read that the government is, by definition, illegitimate and should be disbanded, or at least severely curtailed, in favor of an unrestricted free market.

      Yet it seems to me that without massive government intervention, free markets would not exist. The very ability to enter into a contract depends on knowing that if the other party violates that contract, you can sue them in a court of law and bring the power of the State to compel the other party to either fulfil their side of the contract or pay you monetary damages. But if government is by definition illegitimate, enforcement of contracts is left up to individuals, which then becomes a matter of who has the most ammo.

      I know I have a lot to learn about libertarian philosophy, and I really appreciate your help!

      Malarbusto

    6. Malarbusto: “Where the beer analogy *does* come into play is that when you vote for a political office, you’re locked into all the political positions the wannabe officeholder has. If you vote for Bush because you support his tax cuts, you’re getting his religious ideology, which you may disagree with. If you vote for Kerry because you think he’d have a better foreign policy, you’re getting his economic policies, which you may disagree with.”

      Nope, the bundling is not really relevant. Even if there’s a bundle available that you prefer, your vote doesn’t buy you that bundle. You get whichever one wins.

      “So would the answer be for the American people to vote on each issue, and reduce the political office to a functionary who implements the majority votes on each issue? And if so, how would you protect against the tyranny of the majority? I’m thinking specifically of the asinine ballot measures banning gay marriage in 11 states.”

      You recognize that politics is not the way to decide that issue. Or any issue, for that matter.

    7. So would the answer be for the American people to vote on each issue, and reduce the political office to a functionary who implements the majority votes on each issue?

      There’s a practical difficulty here: what exactly is an “issue”? For instance, you might identify “foreign relations” as an issue, but there are several hundred countries other than our own, so is that really one issue or several hundred? Could you conceivably put each one to a vote every time, e.g. whenever the ambassador of Japan wanted to discuss import tariffs? Probably not, so even in your scheme of a functionary who implements majority votes there would still be the problem of interpreting what the will of the majority is in order to carry it out. In other words, a politician would argue (quite correctly) that the current system is no different from your own in principle.

      The solution to the problem is that moral questions are not subject to majority vote; bluntly, a wrong action is still wrong even if 10 people “vote” and say it isn’t. As you say, it’s either a woman’s right to choose an abortion or it isn’t.

      Here’s a section on voting from those links I gave you:
      http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Olympus/7695/CHAPTR06.HTM#83

      Keeping the abortion example in mind, I quote from the fourth paragraph:

      “To commit a crime by proxy is to have someone else impose your will for
      you. The most convenient and frequent manner of committing acts of harm by
      proxy is to use government to commit the crimes you want done. All you have
      to do is vote for whichever criminal promises to use force in the way you
      wish. The very act of voting is an attempt on the part of voters to delegate
      to another person a power that they could not justly possess themselves. “

    8. Malarbusto:

      Off the top of my head, here are a few links:

      http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Olympus/7695/ – This is an objectivist perspective on libertarianism

      http://www.lewrockwell.com – The website that everyone at no-treason loves to criticize for various reasons

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libertarian – This is kinda the obvious thing to look for, sorry!

      http://www.strike-the-root.com/ – Another journal of liberty

      http://www.praxeology.net/ – Discussion of libertarian ideas from an Aristotelian philosopher

    9. Stefan,

      Thanks for the links. I followed them and read several essays, but I couldn’t find anything specific to my question.

      I think the thing I’m having trouble understanding is this: if I buy a six-pack of Fat Tire or Killian’s Red, I’m not in any way preventing someone else from buying a six pack of Rolling Rock or Bud Light. But if I “buy” the political position “Women have the right to choose to have an abortion”, someone else cannot “buy” the political position “Abortion should be outlawed”. They are mutually exclusive: either a woman has the right to choose to have an abortion, or she doesn’t.

      Where the beer analogy *does* come into play is that when you vote for a political office, you’re locked into all the political positions the wannabe officeholder has. If you vote for Bush because you support his tax cuts, you’re getting his religious ideology, which you may disagree with. If you vote for Kerry because you think he’d have a better foreign policy, you’re getting his economic policies, which you may disagree with.

      So would the answer be for the American people to vote on each issue, and reduce the political office to a functionary who implements the majority votes on each issue? And if so, how would you protect against the tyranny of the majority? I’m thinking specifically of the asinine ballot measures banning gay marriage in 11 states.

      Thanks!

    10. No Mackeson Stout, though. That’s too bad, Andy. That stuff is like a complete meal in a bottle. Well, kind of. I mean, a complete meal that also gets you kind of buzzed and maybe isn’t all that complete.

    11. Note: the reason I “love” to criticize Lew Rockwell.com is because they are a pack of racist bastards, fascists and fake “libertarians”. Also because I am trying to get Karen De Coster to go out with me.

      I’d say avoid Confederate Lew like the plague, Mr. Malarbusto, but I suppose you should go and see the true horror of their website for yourself. Just don’t pet the Kinsella – he’s got rabies.

      Speaking of dear Karen, I hope that this:

      http://www.boomspeed.com/starlight/nbd_k_kari.gif

      will serve as a peace offering.

      (Okay, it’s “Kari” not “Karen “. They didn’t have a Karen. What do you want? Will nothing appease your anger, Ms. DeCoster?)

    12. Malarbusto,
      As a law student and a student of the law I can let you in on a little secret about contracts. Well over 99% of contracts do not result in a law suit. Of those that do go to court, 97% of law suits are settled by arbitration or mediation or otherwise settled out of court (so called Alternative Dispute Resolution). Actual government enforcement is the the exception of the exception of the exception, not the rule. Furthermore, the trend towards non-geovernmental dispute resolution has been growing rapidly. For more information on how the free market can provide legal rules try Machinery of Freedom, by David Friedman and Structure of Liberty by Randy Barnett

    13. Yet it seems to me that without massive government intervention, free markets would not exist. The very ability to enter into a contract depends on knowing that if the other party violates that contract, you can sue them in a court of law and bring the power of the State to compel the other party to either fulfil their side of the contract or pay you monetary damages.

      First I would contest the assumption that contracts are without meaning apart from force or the threat of force-e.g. when shopping at Walmart or promising to mow the lawn; a walmart employee who just took your money at the checkout lane would probably be more worried about being fired then having someone initiate force against him. It is indeed possible for people to lie, fabricate, and otherwise fail to fulfill their end of a contract, but this doesn’t justify institutionalized violence (or the threat of it) against everyone.

      Second, I will quote again from Mr. King’s book (link: http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Olympus/7695/CHAPTR05.HTM#76):

      “The legal positivist thesis is that “man’s ability to contract, and
      thereby offer consent, is made possible only by the establishment of a
      government which can define the rules and enforce the rights that make
      consent possible in a social context in the first place.”
      However, if this were true it would be impossible for a government to be
      established by any means that involve contract and consent, which,
      supposedly, cannot exist prior to the establishment of the government. In
      general, if rights do not exist until after a government has been
      established, then there can be no right to establish a government. So by
      what principled means could government be started? And since there are many
      and contradictory government theses about the function of laws, which
      government is to be considered the determinator of true laws?”

      Then farther down,

      “Furthermore, if there were no natural rights–no independently-existing
      ethical principles–then there could be no standard for judging the
      legitimacy or efficacy of government-made laws–no means by which the
      behavior of government could itself be evaluated. “

    14. Most people try to pay their bills on time and as per their agreements with the companies they owe money to in large part because if they don’t it will /affect their credit rating/. Most people try to avoid driving dangerously in part because if they get in an accident or get caught breaking the law it will /affect their insurance rates/.

      In both these cases, antisocial behavior is being punished primarily through competitive market mechanisms. There’s no monopoly on credit companies, credit rating agencies, or insurance firms, yet somehow credit providers and insurance providers have an incentive to investigate abuses and share enough information that people who abuse find their lives tend to get more difficult over time. So that’s a model for reputation-based contract enforcement – have a few competing agencies that keep track of reputations and share information to some degree, supported by the people to whom the information is useful. This doesn’t require bizarre new institutions – it’s already how the world works right now.

    15. Malarbusto,

      Free markets can and do exist without government intervention. The vast market for illegal drugs, for instance, exists entirely outside the realm of government.

    16. The diabolical Stedman springs his trap:

      Sabotta: “No Mackeson Stout, though. That’s too bad, Andy.”

      Huh? Bottom row, third from left. Or do they have a stout as well as a triple (XXX) stout?

      Man, I hates you now. Well, not really. I just havn’t seen a bottle of that stuff in, literally, years. It actually used to be available at QFC and Safeway around here. Probably someone will now post that it’s being given away free to schoolchildren and the deserving poor at every Seattle street corner by the generous Mackeson company – I just failed to notice, being too preoccupied with small-minded schemes to slander fine people like Lew, who have done more to advance liberty than the entire rest of humanity put together. Stomping through helpless neighborhoods, a small dark cloud continually over my head (like in a Warner Brothers cartoon) – yes, too caught up in my dark cynical thoughts to look around and let a little sunshine into my life.

      I think we’ve all learned something here. Thanks, Andy.

    17. The 1-meg Flash animation “You Own Your Life” serves as libertarianism 101.

      That was an awesome presentation Lopez; your links beat Sabotta’s weird ones hands-down.

    18. Malarbusto:

      As for your contracts objection, I would recommend reading about the iterated prisoner’s dilemma, especially Tit for Tat (better to read Axelrod or Dawkins, but the Wikipedia articles should give something of an intro), and, within that context, thinking about how long corporations or individuals who consistently renege on contracts can expect to stay solvent, even if they aren’t subject to fines or jail time for reneging. In other words, would you do business with someone with a history of welshing on contracts?

    19. Malarbusto:

      I just read in Dr. Long’s anarchism talk that the argument you advance originated with Hobbes:

      http://www.mises.org/etexts/longanarchism.pdf

      The argument is essentially that you need governmental force in the background for people to cooperate. Long points out there are three key assumptions here:

      1) People cannot cooperate without law.
      2) If there is to be law, it’s got to be backed up with physical force.
      3) Option 2) is impossible without a monopoly on physical force.

      I have argued that assumption 1) is false, as does Long. For 2) he gives the example of the Law Merchant in the late Middle Ages (the agent of enforcement being boycott). For 3) Long cites medieval Iceland as a counterexample and doesn’t give much detail; however the falsity of premises 1) and 2) I think give a good answer to your question.

    20. Hi Micha,

      glad you asked! I’m from texas–strangely enough, from the same city as Kinsella. I’m currently an undergraduate student planning to enter grad school in a year or so. As for my connection to no-treason, I’ll be honest with you and say there isn’t any–I was just browsing the internet for libertarian related writings and happened across it (I think I came here from Swann’s page, reasoning that something earning his sharp criticism had to be either junk journalism, statism, or libertarian philosophy identical to his own except for minor differences). I’m relatively unfamiliar with blogs, and indeed most of the blogs I looked at were (uninteresting) web journals, so I was pleasantly surprised to come across a blog devoted to discussing libertarian ideas. This is partly because I don’t get to discuss libertarianism much in real life (most of my friends are Kerry-kissers), but also because of the excellent commentary here by people like Kennedy, Lopez, yourself, and others.

      Based on some of our discussions in the past, I think I should mention a few things. As you’ve probably guessed I’m a natural-rights libertarian; I first became acquainted with Rand’s writings and subsequently learned about libertarianism from them. As in many cases enlightenment was spurred by a correct recognition of reality: the nature of government as a band of secret robbers and thieves with a monopoly on force in a geographical area (up until that point I was mired in the error Jefferson identified as confusing society with government). As you also might guess, the reason I appear to have encyclopedic knowledge of King’s book (linked to further up the page) is that I have read all of it, and indeed it was upon reading it that I realized the anarchist impliciations of objectivism and libertarianism. So when I criticize consequentialism or consequentialist reasoning, I don’t mean to be criticizing you; it’s just that I’m not a consequentialist (although I hold a position similar to Dr. Long’s–namely that justice does, in some sense, have good consequences). In practice if I must argue with a consequentialist I’ll usually try and convince them to abandon consequentialism first (since then I can use natural-rights arguments stemming from man’s nature which I already know), and if that fails the only other thing to do is cast about for good consequences to exhibit.

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