Logrolling, Earmarking, and Vote Buying


In an important and provocative paper Christopher Freiman recently has defended the view that vote-buying should be legal in democratic societies. Freiman offers four arguments in support of this claim: that vote buying would be ex ante beneficial to both the buyers and sellers of votes; that voters enjoy wide discretion in how they use their votes, and so this should extend to selling them; that vote markets would lead to electoral outcomes that better reflect voters’ preferences; and that vote-buying is relevantly similar to other democratic practices that are currently legal, such as logrolling and earmarking. In this paper I will address the last of Freiman’s arguments. I will argue that there are significant disanalogies between vote buying and both logrolling and earmarking, and that these differences justify the legal prohibition of the former practice while legally permitting the latter two.

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  1. 1.

    Defenders of markets in votes include James M. Buchanan and Gordon Tullock, who defend a market in votes under unanimity rule in The Calculus of Consent: Logical foundations of constitutional democracy (1965), Tomas J. Philipson and James M. Snyder, Jr., who defend an organized and centralized vote market on the grounds of economic efficiency (1996), Michael S. Kochin and Levis A. Kochin, who defend vote markets under conditions where the costs to the poor of forming coalitions to block their domination by the wealthy are low (1998), and Jason Brennan, who defends vote markets on the condition that votes are cast for morally acceptable candidates (2011), Chapter 6. Unrestricted vote markets have been endorsed by Walter Block (2007).

  2. 2.

    Christopher Freiman (2014). Following Brennan, Freiman understands vote buying as a form of paid performance, rather than as the commodification of votes as transferable goods. None of the arguments in this paper draw on this distinction.

  3. 3.

    Freiman, “Vote Markets,” 760–766.

  4. 4.

    Note that I thus do not take my arguments in this paper to show that Freiman is mistaken to conclude that vote-buying should be legalized; only that one of his arguments for this conclusion is mistaken.

  5. 5.

    See, for example, Kaspar Lippert-Rasmussen (2011).

  6. 6.

    Freiman, “Vote Markets,” 765

  7. 7.

    A similar argument was offered by Steven Rieber, albeit without the endorsement of either the antecedent or conditional clause (2001).

  8. 8.

    Freiman, “Vote Markets,” 765.

  9. 9.

    Ibid., 765.

  10. 10.

    Ibid., 765.

  11. 11.

    Ibid., 765.

  12. 12.

    Ibid., 766. Michael J. Sandel (2000).

  13. 13.

    Or, at least, is more binding than a campaign promise.

  14. 14.

    Freiman mischaracterizes Sandel here as distinguishing earmarking from vote buying on the grounds that “the direct payment targets specific groups rather than the public at large,” which not only omits the secret element of vote buying as Sandel outlines this, but presents the view that he is considering as prima facie a distinction without a difference. Freiman, “Vote Markets,” 766.

  15. 15.

    Sandel, What Money Cannot Buy, 117

  16. 16.

    Ibid., 117; Freiman, “Vote Markets,” 766.

  17. 17.

    Ibid., 766; Sandel, What Money Cannot Buy, 117.

  18. 18.

    Freiman leaves open the possibility that earmarking might be morally wrong, and hence vote buying might be morally wrong also. His focus is on the question of whether vote buying should be legal.

  19. 19.

    This assumes that votes are not storable. If they are this complicates this argument, but the essential point will still hold, for all legislators would have been able to accumulate the same number of votes as she who possesses the most in any given legislative round as a result of careful husbandry as all votes held would have been provided to other “poorer” legislators in the past.

  20. 20.

    Michael Walzer (1983).

  21. 21.

    Assuming that they were legitimately elected!

  22. 22.

    Debra Satz (2010).

  23. 23.

    Freiman, “Vote Markets,” 766–768.

  24. 24.

    It will be argued below that Freiman’s responses to the Equality Argument fail.

  25. 25.

    Lippert-Rasmussen, “Vote Buying and Election promises,” 130.

  26. 26.

    Ibid., 131.

  27. 27.

    Freiman argues that legalizing vote markets will lead to electoral outcomes that better reflect the preferences of the electorate. “Vote Markets,” 764. However, prior to the publication of Freiman’s paper the type of argument that he offered to support this view had already been refuted by Saul Levmore (2000).

  28. 28.

    Freiman, “Vote Markets,” 766

  29. 29.

    Ibid., 766–769.

  30. 30.

    Ibid., 768–769.

  31. 31.

    One might also attempt to defend Freiman’s position by suggesting that the payment for votes in a vote market be conditional on the electoral success of the Party, candidate, or policy favored by the vote buyer. Yet such a response would not work as a defense of a market in votes that would be realized in practice. Under such a system Parties would have no reason to offer payment for votes, since any payment that they offered could be readily matched by competing Parties.

  32. 32.

    Freiman, “Vote Markets,” 769.

  33. 33.

    Further objections to Freiman’s responses to the Equality Argument have been offered by Alfred Archer and Alan T. Wilson (2014)


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Correspondence to James Stacy Taylor.

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Taylor, J.S. Logrolling, Earmarking, and Vote Buying. Philosophia 44, 905–913 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11406-016-9718-7

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  • Logrolling
  • Vote-buying
  • Votes
  • Markets
  • Democracy