This is the second in a series on rights, power, voting, and utility.
Part 1: The 19th Amendment -- Good Idea?
Part 3: Why Do We Need Democracy?

There's no such thing as a "right to vote". There's the power to vote, but no-one has a natural, God-given right to vote. We have the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but none of those require or imply the right to vote. An absolute dictatorship could respect our God-given natural rights, and be entirely just. For instance, most families don't operate as democracies, and yet most families respect these basic rights.

One my my friends (I hope she's still my friend) responded to my earlier post about the 19th amendment and said that she doesn't want to apply economic principles to civil rights. However, economic principles apply to every human endeavor, whether we recognize it or not. No one needs to come put a price tag on your forehead for there to be a cost associated with the rights and powers you enjoy. That cost is there automatically, regardless of your approval, and economics is merely the study of the costs and benefits associated with everything humans do.

Costs and benefits often aren't monetary -- generally economists refer to "utility" to describe how valuable something is to a person. Love and affection, the power to vote, $1000, clean air -- all of these items have utility to people, and different people will value them differently. When it comes to the power to vote, I hypothesized that if you were to walk up to a random guy on the street and offer him a 20% permanent raise in exchange for his power to vote, he'd probably sell it to you. Most people don't vote, and many who do don't take it very seriously. If Joe Shmoe won't sell his vote for a 20% raise, maybe he will for 50%, or 100%, or 1000%. There's a price, you just have to find it and be willing to pay it. Some people may place infinite value on their power to vote, but I doubt there are many such people -- especially if you separate the power to vote from the natural rights we hold so dear.

With all that understanding, it's quite reasonable to wonder whether or not giving women the power to vote was a wise idea. I agree that it has moral value, and we gain some utility as a society from that good morality, but does that moral utility out-weigh the utility of every effect that has arisen because women can vote? It's possible that that moral utility is more valuable to you than anything else, but I doubt that's the case.

The question is whether or not our present circumstances are overall better or worse than they would be if women had never been given the power to vote. Yes, there is some degree of utility that arises from the moral good that was done in granting women that power, but that utility is not of infinite value.

For instance, the War on Drugs would probably not exist if women couldn't vote; the War on Drugs costs us billions of dollars a year and incarcerates millions of otherwise-innocent people. It also encourages a lot of violent crime associated with the black market. On the other hand, the War on Drugs probably reduces drug use, and reduces the societal costs associated with that. So, your opinion of the War on Drugs can influence your opinion of the total utility gained or lost when women were given the power to vote. There are many other issues that have been affected by the 19th Amendment, and all of them should affect the way you value the power of women to vote.

Courtney has some links to the conversation going on at Dean's World. In the comment section there she promised a post on the subject herself -- but so far, nothing!

Continued in part 3, "Why Do We Need Democracy?"

Dean Esmay explains some of the thinking during the early suffrage movements.



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