Mises Wire

Elections Now Decide Who Can Operate Your Car

With the approval of Biden’s infrastructure bill, it now turns out the US government is even in control of a “kill switch” that could disable your car if you are deemed “impaired.” Likely few voters realized the 2020 election was essentially a referendum on whether or not the feds allow you to drive your car.  

Elections should matter, but only if you care who gets the contract to repaint the town sign. However, for questions of individual significance, elections shouldn’t matter whatsoever. And they shouldn’t matter, since a vote cannot resolve questions of significance. Nevertheless, elections do matter, especially federal ones, which explains the rising rancor and sectional division in our society. As the realm of the state expands, the questions being decided by a ballot—whether office or issue—are rarely inconsequential or trivial. Instead, the answers to those questions decide who, through the state, gets to initiate aggression and who suffers the consequences. 

This is not how it should be. Consider a question before a voluntary organization that is to be decided by vote, such as five friends choosing where to have dinner. Since the organization is voluntary, the selection should be one that satisfies—at some level—all five. Otherwise, anger and alienation will arise, and some form of secession may occur as one or more members decide to boycott the decision.

From an individual standpoint, there are questions of little significance—say, whether the group meets at 6:30 or 6:40. Then there are questions of some significance, though not consequential significance, questions where the individual decides to remain with the group instead of seceding—it could be an individual preference for a burger over pizza, with the bundle of pizza and group being preferred to a burger and secession. Finally, there are questions which are both consequential and significant, such as adherence to vegan ideals when the majority favors burgers served in a cloud of burnt grease. In this instance, secession might be the peaceful solution. Nevertheless, where partial (nullification) and complete secession are not allowed, issues arise.

Questions of no significance are of no significance—they are de minimis, so to speak. However, questions where the preference to remain in the group is bundled with other questions are of interest. Let’s assume you always favor burgers while your four friends always favor pizza. In this instance, a vote is of no value to you. Democracy will never serve your personal interests. Instead of a vote, you need an agreement giving voice to the minority (you), such as one where each member has a turn selecting the restaurant.

Or maybe you and one friend always go for burgers, two others are stuck on pizza, and the fifth can be swayed either way. In this instance, campaigning and voting might make sense. Those activities may be fun sport for all, with the campaigning and outcome of no real consequence to either side—remember that the preference for the group is, in most instances, higher than the choice of meal. However, depending on the level of subterfuge and similar tactics, the campaigning may poison the outcome and fracture the group. Before this happens, the group should decide whether it wants continued reliance on voting and its associated outcomes or to create an agreement that satisfies all.

Then we have those issues where a vote can never resolve the question. Must a vegan eat meat simply based on majority rule? Of course not. But what if secession is forbidden? What if the majority of the group believes the sanctity of the group exceeds that of the individual, with force holding the group together? Rancor and division must arise.

None of the voting issues above would improve if, instead of a direct vote, the group chose so-called representatives to function as proxies. These wouldn’t be proxies, as they couldn’t be proxies. There is no way an altruistic representative could express the complete desires of more than one voter on any given issue of individual significance, let alone a lengthy agenda. And since representatives cannot vote the desires of their constituents, they are free to vote their own preferences, which are the only preferences that matter to them. So much for representative government.

As I detailed above, questions of individual significance cannot be settled by vote, so they shouldn’t be subject to vote. Questions of individual significance must be settled by agreement that allows for partial (nullification) or complete secession. Any other system implies force and will ultimately end in strife and violence.

We should live in a society bounded by contracts with regard to the essential matters and ruled by voting for matters that are of no real individual consequence. But that is not our world; we live in the opposite.

Now, it turns out our previous presidential election was (inter alia) over a possible kill switch. That is, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, passed last month, requires the installation and use of technology designed to “passively monitor the performance of a driver of a motor vehicle to accurately identify whether that driver may be impaired.” And if the driver is “impaired”? Then, the new tech shall “prevent or limit motor vehicle operation if an impairment is detected.”

The potential here for abuse, of course, is quite remarkable, as the legislation requires widespread surveillance of drivers and the built-in ability to disable a vehicle. It all carries with it the potential for disabling the vehicle by others outside the vehicle.

Who knew that election would decide this issue? I surely didn’t. Of course, we have no foreknowledge of the impacts of the new law. But we can and should assume the worst. Will a kill switch be realized? And, if so, what will the implications be? Will it apply to just impaired drivers? But who defines impaired? Is a honk in support of an American version of the Canadian truck convoy a sign of mental impairment?

The kill switch, and the power to control it, along with a myriad of similar laws and regulations of consequential significance, are not questions to be decided by vote. Those questions could be resolved by valid contractual agreements, with unanimous approval of all impacted. Yet they are not. The answers to those questions arise from votes that resolve nothing other than the certainty that dissent, disagreement, and division will arise.

So instead of living in a world where I pass the town sign and mutter to myself, “I wonder who got that contract?,” I live in a world where, in just a few years, I may mutter, “Who truly owns or controls my car?” And nothing good will come of that.

Image Source: Getty
Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
What is the Mises Institute?

The Mises Institute is a non-profit organization that exists to promote teaching and research in the Austrian School of economics, individual freedom, honest history, and international peace, in the tradition of Ludwig von Mises and Murray N. Rothbard. 

Non-political, non-partisan, and non-PC, we advocate a radical shift in the intellectual climate, away from statism and toward a private property order. We believe that our foundational ideas are of permanent value, and oppose all efforts at compromise, sellout, and amalgamation of these ideas with fashionable political, cultural, and social doctrines inimical to their spirit.

Become a Member
Mises Institute