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Bruno Leoni argues that expressing one’s economic choice as a consumer in a free market is quite different from making a political choice by means of voting (1961)

The Italian legal philospher Bruno Leoni in a lecture entitled "Voting versus the Market" noticed a key difference bewteen the choices made by individuals in the free market and choices made by those same individuals in voting for candidates for political office:

We have seen in the preceding lecture that notwithstanding many similarities that may exist between voters on the one hand and market operators on the other, the actions of the two are far from actually being similar. No procedural rule seems able to allow voters to act in the same flexible, independent, consistent, and efficient way as operators employing individual choice in the market. While it is true that both voting and operating in the market are individual actions, we are compelled, however, to conclude that voting is a kind of individual action that almost inevitably undergoes a kind of distortion in its use.

We have seen in the preceding lecture that notwithstanding many similarities that may exist between voters on the one hand and market operators on the other, the actions of the two are far from actually being similar. No procedural rule seems able to allow voters to act in the same flexible, independent, consistent, and efficient way as operators employing individual choice in the market. While it is true that both voting and operating in the market are individual actions, we are compelled, however, to conclude that voting is a kind of individual action that almost inevitably undergoes a kind of distortion in its use...

Political competition appears to be much more restricted by its very nature than economic competition, particularly if the rules of the political game tend to create and maintain disequilibria rather than work in the opposite direction.

We must conclude that there is little sense in praising the simple majority rule as the best possible rule for the political game. There is much more sense in adopting several kinds of rules according to the ends we want to reach, e.g., adopting qualified majority rules when the issues at stake are rather important for each member of the community, or adopting the unanimity rule when the issue is absolutely vital for each of them. I believe almost all of these points have been brilliantly stressed in the recent analyses based on the economic approach.

But we must bear in mind that none of the rules adopted or adoptable in political decisions can produce a situation which is really similar to that of the market under conditions of competition. No vote trading could be sufficient to put each individual in the same situation as the operators who freely buy and sell goods and services in a competitive market.

When we consider law as legislation it can be clearly shown that the law and the market can in no way be considered similar from the point of view of the individual and his decisions.

In fact, the market process and the legislative process are inescapably at variance. While the market allows individuals to make free choices provided only that they are prepared to pay for them, legislation does not allow this.

About this Quotation:

Bruno Leoni critices the common comparison which is made between “voting” in the market place for brand “X” over brand “Y” and voting in the political arena for candidate “Tweedle Dee” over candidate “Tweedle Dum”. In the market place, choice is considerable, flexible, efficient, and one can usually get one’s money back if one is not satisfied. Political voting on the other hand, is a distorted form of “consumer choice”. It is also quite hard to “get one’s money back” if a candidate does not live up to his election promises.

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