Last month, the digitally minded folks at FiveThirtyEight set out to answer a simple question: How many guns has the United States Transportation Administration confiscated at each U.S. airport? The TSA gave them the answer, in terms of both loaded and unloaded guns confiscated per airport. FiveThirtyEight presented this data as a list of airports, ranked in descending order by total guns confiscated. They then drew some general conclusions from the data, as presented (e.g., “Airports in Texas and Florida dominate the list” and “Do a quick gun-check the next time you’re about to head to the airport, it’ll save us all a lot of time”).
The brief critique of FiveThirtyEight’s post is that the site has added nothing to the understanding of this subject, beyond doing what, presumably, anyone else could do– request the data from TSA and list it in a simple chart– and no more. (Indeed, numerous news sites posted similar reports around the same time.)
Upon almost immediate reflection, it should be of negligible surprise that the airports that appear atop the list– Atlanta, Dallas/Fort Worth, Phoenix, both Houston airports, and Denver– are among the most heavily utilized airports in the country. Keeping in mind that, in general, the passengers from whom TSA is confiscating guns at a given airport are on flights originating from that airport, the painfully obvious question of actual value to this conversation is, at which airports did TSA confiscate a disproportionate number of guns relative to the number of passengers at that particular airport? With more than a little help from some friends, including readers Mitch and Rusty, the answer to that question follows. Read more…
Stock spiked up out of the gate this morning, reacting to overnight news of a legal détente between two liquidity trading firms. The sharp upswing stalled and eventually vanished as the market digested new uncertainty in the mammalian employment and licensure sectors. Traders soon erased the losses of the morning, and nearly the week, however, mounting a breathless climb in fitting tribute to a fallen brand, ending the day up over two-hundred points.
Morning trading reflected the market’s equivocation over reports of a global currency crash. By midday, stocks had fallen and remained down through the closing bell in response to increased racial tensions on the West Coast.
Stocks fell precipitously today as a result of sweeping fears that the planet is growing larger. Already four-hundred points off yesterday‘s low, the market
ticked up slightly in midmorning trading as it attempted to interpret mixed news from the Italian commodities market. However, the announcement of a widespread pork shortage crushed any hope for a sustainable gain, and the market continued to tumble closed.
At the opening bell, stocks spiked up on overnight news of the award of a large public-works contract to a state agency in the rust belt, but the rally stalled and, by early afternoon, reversed course after it was revealed that the cover of targeted French magazine Charlie Hebdo’s first post-attack issue would feature a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad.
Election day was last month, and along with it came the increasingly open conversation about voter nonparticipation. We once simply lamented low voter turnout rates in post-election headlines, for example, or sported bumper stickers proclaiming support for a losing candidate. Today, however, the discourse has become somewhat more robust. Interestingly, the emphasis seems to have shifted from concern over low turnout to a justification of nonparticipation. While those who perceive themselves as disenfranchised or marginalized have endorsed a nonparticipatory stance for some time, support for the non-voting view, more and more, is coming from academic elites. In short, despite their ostensibly increased and careful attention to political matters, at least some academics do not like to vote at any greater rate than the general public. Being academics, they naturally feel the urge to express their non-expressive approach in writing. Their rationales for not voting do not always rise to a greater level of sophistication or explication than those of their lay counterparts, however.
First, I agree that there is nothing inherently wrong with abstention in a democratic system. While I prefer civic action to inaction, taking a stand rather than reserving judgment until some (likely imaginary) future date, I have always supported abstaining from ignorant voting. I think voters have a duty to become reasonably informed regarding the candidates and issues before them, and where voters have not done so, abstention is appropriate.
For some reason, though, attention recently turned to a critique of the colloquial phrase, “if you don’t vote, you have no right to complain.” Professor Jason Brennan, here highlighted and endorsed by Professor Ilya Somin, contends that the no-voting, no-complaining position, in Somin’s words, “fails to consider the extremely low likelihood that your vote will actually have an effect on government policy.” Brennan continues:
The most obvious explanation is that if you don’t vote, you didn’t do something that could influence government in the way you want it to go. You didn’t put in even minimal effort into making a change. . . .
But voting isn’t like that! The problem is that individual votes don’t make any difference. On the most optimistic assessment of the efficacy of individual votes, votes in, say, the US presidential election can have as high as a 1 in 10 million chance of breaking a tie, but only if you vote in a swing state and vote for one of the two major candidates. Otherwise, the chances of breaking a tie or having any impact are vanishingly small.
Brennan’s position strikes me as a mathematical fallacy. As I see it, Brennan could be writing for two audiences, and his argument does not work for either one. If Brennan simply is writing for himself in order to justify his personal decision not to vote, his explanation– that he does not vote because his individual vote is extremely unlikely to “break a tie or hav[e] any impact”– relies on unknowable facts. Even granting the substantive premise that a vote only matters if it breaks a tie or has “any impact,” general election votes almost certainly are not counted in such a sequential manner such that any one vote could be said to have been the tie-breaking vote. By setting up criteria that, as a practical matter, never could be satisfied, Brennan guarantees his apparently desired outcome but does little else. (An examination of whether and when a vote ever matters is a subject for another post.)
More likely, Brennan is addressing his remarks to a broader audience comprised of the entire electorate. In that case, however, his argument makes even less sense. In essence, his position amounts to an assertion that, because any one person’s vote is unlikely to break a tie or “hav[e] any impact,” no one should vote. Obviously, if no one voted, elections would be meaningless voids of civic disengagement.
One has to assume that, if Brennan was setting out to attack a foundational pillar of democracy generally (i.e., elections), he would do so directly. I am not familiar with Brennan’s work outside of the context of this immediate discussion. It is possible that he believes that the United States should exchange its democratic system for another one that does not rely upon citizens expressing their public will through elections. If Brennan supports a government system that incorporates elections to some meaningful degree, however, his argument against voting makes little sense, whether applied to himself individually or the electorate at large.
One yearTwoThreeFourFive years ago today, I started this site with the following statement: “An attorney should always put a statement of the questions presented at the very beginning of any brief unless the rules forbid it.” In that opening post, I tried to map an approach that would guide content then unwritten.
My goal has been to try to ask real questions, not leading or rhetorical ones, in an attempt to reveal something about what underlies our assumptions, ideas, and viewpoints. I’ve tried to at least imply a question in every post, and where I did not, my approach was to put forth a position that invited responsive comments, of which the site received many. With
nearly 3,500over 9,700nearly 141719,000 views in the first yeartwothreefourfive years, I still think we’re off to a good start.
Thank you for your readership and feedback.