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Voters’ best interest?

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Elaine Thompson / AP / File

(Read caption) A voter drops off his ballot at a King County Elections drop box in north Seattle, on Election Day 2010. When low-income voters vote in favor of Republican policies, are they voting against self-interest?

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Ronald Dworkin, a well-known legal scholar, describes last month’s election results as depressing and puzzling. In a commentary in the New York Review of Books, he asks, “Why do so many Americans insist on voting against their own best interests?”

The New York University law and philosophy professor is not the only left-liberal to pose this question. It is a common belief that many people irrationally side with capitalist fat cats while opposing Obama administration policies that benefit themselves, such as the new medical entitlement.

“Why do they vote in such numbers for the party favored by the bankers and traders who brought on the economic catastrophe?” wonders Mr. Dworkin.

The argument here is that many voters will reap the benefits of increased government action but do not have to worry about the costs, which will be borne by the well-off. Hence it appears to be rational for a large part of the electorate to favor bigger government, trusting it to take from the relatively rich and give to the relatively poor, like a gigantic many-headed Robin Hood.

Higher-income groups indeed carry a large chunk of the tax burden. So why do individuals in lower-income brackets oppose the growth of government? Well, for one thing, they and their children will still bear part of ballooning cost. Two, they or their children have the possibility of climbing up the income ladder, thereby joining the rich who are being soaked. The left-liberal argument assumes that upward mobility is not really in the cards and people are irrational to think of it—in other words, it rules out the American dream.

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