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Becoming a Better Voter: Reading for the Next Election

How much time and energy have you devoted to the Presidential election? Has this been time and energy well spent? Will it make a difference? Most importantly, what can you do to ensure that you actually make a difference going forward? The problem isn’t that voters aren’t “informed.” The problem is that voters are badly informed and poorly equipped to use the information at their disposal. How can we better equip ourselves to make better decisions both in the voting booth and in public policy? Reading more tweets and Facebook posts from the campaigns is probably a poor use of your time, and the outcome of the 2012 election at this point is probably not something you can influence. In this light, I humbly suggest that you add the following books to your reading list for before the next election:

1. Jason Brennan, The Ethics of Voting. Published in 2011, this is one of the most provocative books I’ve read in the last few years. Brennan develops a theory of what it means to vote ethically given that the consequences of bad governance are so dire. He argues that you have to vote based on having justified beliefs about what will actually advance the common good. This requires a familiarity with basic economics, for example, and it is a familiarity that most elected representatives sorely lack. Brennan echoes a theme from the economist Bryan Caplan’s 2007 book The Myth of the Rational Voter: we do not get bad public policy because the system is corrupt. We get bad public policy because people vote for it, enthusiastically.

2. Christopher J. Coyne, After War: The Political Economy of Exporting Democracy. For good or ill, governments make war. It behooves us to understand the consequences of foreign adventures. While no one would seriously object to peace and freedom in the Middle East, for example, it is a serious mistake to equate worthy objectives with good policy ideas. A goal is not an outcome: wanting peace and prosperity in the Middle East doesn’t mean that we can get there by fighting wars. In After War, Christopher Coyne describes the track record of American interventions abroad. It isn’t good. Another excellent read along these lines is Ralph Raico’s Great Wars and Great Leaders: A Libertarian Rebuttal. PDF and ePub versions are available from for $0. Here’s the PDF.

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Art Carden is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and an Associate Professor of Economics at Samford University’s Brock School of Business.