On this website, there is a page that describes the basic tenets of Meritocracy. If you took the time to read that page, you would have come across the section entitled “The Meritocratic Vote and Citizen Examinations”. That section introduces what I prefer to call “qualified suffrage”. It states:
“A person’s voting power is based off of academic qualifications, work experience, or a citizen’s examination.”
Yes. Welcome to tyranny! The Meritocrats seek to take your vote away “for your own good”. Probably to institute some sort of Stalinist dictatorship in which they can operate independently and attend to their personal desires unencumbered. Yep. You got us!
Whenever I present the idea of qualified suffrage to a real life human being, this is the sort of reaction I receive. I am invariably met with the objection that this would be an easy system to manipulate. I am told that it would give near dictatorial power to those who establish qualifications and enforce them.
I believe that a fear of this sort of system is rooted in irrational prejudices. It is my contention that qualified suffrage would be much more difficult to manipulate than universal suffrage. The reason it is seen as worse is because our current system effectively conceals how universal suffrage is manipulated. Additionally, the issues of our present system are tolerated purely on the basis of their familiarity. In reality, the present form of manipulation is much more difficult to identify, much more difficult to counter and far more effective than the manipulation that a well-ordered qualified suffrage system would allow for.
Qualified Suffrage Denies Free Reign To The Media
Have you ever had buyer’s remorse? Have you ever made a decision you regretted? Be honest. The question should be understood to mean “Are you human?” Are you subject to the same mental frailties as the next person and are you manipulable concerning matters you never seriously studied?
Have you read the full text of every executive order, court decision or bill you have expressed an opinion on? Again, be honest. If you happen to have done this, do you have any faith that the rest of the population does the same? Does even 20% do this?
They don’t, and you are probably as happy as I am to admit that. This is just the sort of complacency qualified suffrage is intended to counter.
If they do not do this research, how do you think they come to their opinions? They receive a cliff notes version from their preferred news source. This news is framed in a way that emphasizes certain facts and ideas over others. This gives enormous power to the people who provide these cliff-notes.
As an experiment, you might try limiting your news intake for an entire year to only sources that support the ideology you oppose. This should give you an idea of just how much power the media has. It is near dictatorial! The truth should be obvious. If you are not an expert on a subject, then your opinions on that subject are not your own. This is not real freedom.
Manipulating Qualified Suffrage Is Not Easy
If you are already on board with the quite fashionable opinion that the media has near free reign to shape opinion, I ask you to weigh that power against the power possessed by those who determine the qualifications of voters. How easy do you think it would be for economists to collude to give, for example, Friedrich Hayek emphasis in economics qualifications? How about Marx or Keynes or Mises? It appears easy because it is such an obvious tactic to take, but how easy is it?
This obviousness, fortunately, would make it nearly impossible. Just run through your mind the scenario of an economist trying to organize a meeting among his colleagues to this effect. He’d become an instant pariah!
Imagine instead a scenario where an economics student expresses an unpopular opinion. Can he be expelled? On what grounds? Do you think they wouldn’t do this today if they could get away with it? Evidently, they cannot, given the diversity of opinions held by economics students. Maybe higher academia might be a bit more restrictive, but it is still diverse and the level that would be required for a vote is still wide open to any intelligent student.
Media Is More Effectively Abused Than Qualified Suffrage
Contrast that with what the media can do. People go along with their chosen news sources voluntarily. They are given the illusion of freedom and lazily take in their information uncritically.
Criticism of the media is mere fashionable lip-service. Rather than do the difficult work of becoming educated, folks simply further restrict their sources to those they deem to be on the right side of the issue. This retreat into partisanship serves only to make these people easier to manipulate. Most, of course, are probably aware that they do this. Unfortunately, changing this behavior falls into the same category as losing weight or quitting smoking. People simply pat themselves on the back for recognizing it as a good idea.
The result is that media manipulation is given a pass because we have the theoretical option of doing something about it. We won’t, but knowing that we can is enough for many of us.
So, put the two situations side by side. Abuse of qualified suffrage depends on a very obvious and challenging form of manipulation that exists as a mere theoretical possibility. Abuse of universal suffrage, by contrast, is seen today and is met with a retreat into partisanship and the ineffectual reassurance that if we wanted to do something about it we theoretically could.
Abuse of Qualified Suffrage Would Actually Be Countered
The comparison does not end there. Remember the scenario where an economist might seek to give primary emphasis to Friedrich Hayek in voter examinations? Such a measure, should it succeed, could easily be met by a myriad of individuals beefing up on Hayek in order to counter Hayek’s influence.
In fact, it would be met with that. It would be met with that, because the criteria would be crystal clear. Study would no longer be seen as a “good thing to do”, but an imperative for anyone who wished to make a difference. People would study Hayek whether they agreed with him or not, and his detractors would fight to get in to fix the system. Gone would be the lackadaisical smugness with which people deal with media manipulation. “People are stupid. Ha, Ha. Not me. I only watch John Oliver. He tells me how dumb they are.”
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Isn’t that what people should be doing anyway? If you want to criticize a philosophy, it behooves you to learn about it in order to be taken seriously. As it stands, people do not do that and that carries some consequences.
What happens if you know nothing about Hayek and someone presents you with an argument Hayek formulated? You would not be in a very good position to counter them rationally. A couple of possibilities exist in this scenario. You can dismiss them outright on partisan grounds, in which case you are a pawn for the party you subscribe to. Alternatively, you could seriously consider their argument, in which case you are in a poor position to be critical at all. Either way, you are easy to manipulate.
Contrast this with being forced to understand Hayek or else excuse yourself from the ballot box. This would obviously weaken the resolve of those who would otherwise opt for partisanship, but how would it effect those who are more open-minded? Well, serious study works over a longer time-frame than casual encounters with glib personalities. It gives the student much more time to examine whether they really hold to the beliefs being presented.
Think about it. Would it be easier to sell skin cream with sketchy click-bait ads or to make skin cream formulas mandatory reading in public schools? You don’t sell with logic. You sell with emotion and short, easily-digested quips. Serious study denies the scope for this.
If you still fear qualified suffrage, ask yourself if it is a rational fear. It is not natural that you should have such a fear. Universal suffrage is very familiar. Qualified suffrage is alien. Human nature would make the latter more frightening. Nevertheless, this has no bearing on the risks whatsoever. I ask you to consider the genuine risks of both sides before casting judgment.
Jason Calhoughney writing for the Apollo Institute of Reason AIR Review©