By Bryan Caplan
Thanks to Gerald Gaus’ critique of The Myth of the Rational Voter (part of a full forthcoming issue of Critical Review on the book), I’ve discovered a fun passage from one of my least-favorite thinkers, J.S. Mill. I knew that Mill was an advocate of plural voting for the well-educated, but I didn’t realize that he’d worked out a detailed system. Here’s Mill’s rationale for plural voting:
But there is a wide interval between refusing votes to the great majority, and acknowledging in each individual among them a right to have his vote counted for exactly as much as the vote of the most highly educated person in the community; with the further addition that, under the name of equality, it would in reality count for vastly more, as long as the uneducated so greatly outnumber the educated. There is no such thing in morals as a right to power over others; and the electoral suffrage is that power. When all have votes, it will be both just in principle and necessary in fact, that some mode be adopted of giving greater weight to the suffrage of the more educated voter; some means by which the more intrinsically valuable member of society, the one who is more capable, more competent for the general affairs of life, and possesses more of the knowledge applicable to the management of the affairs of the community, should, as far as practicable, be singled out, and allowed a superiority of influence proportioned to his higher qualifications. (first emphasis mine)
And here’s Mill’s specific weighting scheme:
The most direct mode of effecting this, would be to establish plurality of votes, in favour of those who could afford a reasonable presumption of superior knowledge and cultivation. If every ordinary unskilled labourer had one vote, a skilled labourer, whose occupation requires an exercised mind and a knowledge of some of the laws of external nature, ought to have two. A foreman, or superintendent of labour, whose occupation requires something more of general culture, and some moral as well as intellectual qualities, should perhaps have three. A farmer, manufacturer, or trader, who requires a still larger range of ideas and knowledge, and the power of guiding and attending to a great number of various operations at once, should have three or four. A member of any profession requiring a long, accurate, and systematic mental cultivation,—a lawyer, a physician or surgeon, a clergyman of any denomination, a literary man, an artist, a public functionary (or, at all events, a member of every intellectual profession at the threshold of which there is a satisfactory examination test) ought to have five or six. A graduate of any university, or a person freely elected a member of any learned society, is entitled to at least as many.
And here’s a punchy – and rather Hansonian – retort to critics:
No one but a fool, and only a fool of a peculiar description, feels offended by the acknowledgment that there are others whose opinion, and even whose wish, is entitled to a greater amount of consideration than his.
I’m still no fan of Mill, but now I suspect that his most famous works aren’t his best.
P.S. I’ll be in Boston this week for a post-APSA Critical Review conference inspired by the journal’s forthcoming MRV issue. The conference is on Sunday, and it’s open to the public; just RSVP to Jeff Friedman. I’ll arrive in Boston on Saturday afternoon; email me if you want to meet up.
P.P.S. I just fixed the broken link to the CR conference.