Making Up Your Mind: Voting Based On Naked Self Interest

Recently I went out to lunch with Dr. Science.  As has happened in many conversations this year, talk turned to the election.  Dr. Science knows that I am struggling with the decision on who to vote for, and he made an interesting pitch in his ongoing effort to get me to overcome my deep misgivings and vote for Hillary Clinton.

The argument was stated with clinical, Dr. Science-like rationality:  (1) we’ve both worked hard for years to save money for retirement; (2) almost all of our retirement savings is invested in the financial markets; (3) it seems as though everyone involved with the financial markets is forecasting a massive stock market plunge if Trump is elected and a stock market increase if Clinton is elected; and (4) why wouldn’t you want to cast your vote to affirmatively select someone whose election would not crush the value of your retirement savings?

francois_de_la_rochefoucauld_loneliness_2247In effect, Dr. Science was arguing that undecided voters should focus on their own, naked self-interest and vote for whichever candidate they believed would most benefit them personally.  I found his straightforward candor refreshing.  The conversation reminded me of the scene in Field of Dreams where Ray, after having built the baseball park in his corn field, suffered the sarcasm of his neighbors, and risked losing his farm, asks the ghostly ballplayers:  “I’m not saying ‘What’s in it for me’ but . . . what’s in it for me?”

I’ve never voted for a candidate based on how I thought it would affect me, personally —  I’ve always tried to vote for the candidate who I thought would do the best job for the country as a whole.  There’s something that strikes me as unseemly about focusing solely on self-interest in deciding how to vote.  And yet, with the awful choice presented in this election, maybe naked self-interest should be permitted to tip the balance between voting for someone and not voting at all.

My conversation with Dr. Science was one of several conversations I’ve had with people about deciding how to vote — conversations that I’ve never had before because I’ve always made up my mind early and never wavered.  I’ll write about some of the other conversations in the few remaining hours before Election Day arrives.

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