The short answer is because I’m a Democrat. But why am I a Democrat? I can boil it down to a single sentence: utility is the natural log of income. What does that mean? Let me explain.
One of the things you learn in ECON 115 is how to think on the margin. For any good or service — a Granny Smith apple, let’s say — the value of the first one is greater than the value of the second, which is greater than the value of the third and so on. That first apple is great; the second is nice; and by the third, you’re feeling a bit full. Each subsequent apple matters less and less to you. And the same goes for money.
In “Utilitarianism,” the English philosopher John Stuart Mill argues for “the Greatest Happiness Principle,” the idea that we should aim to maximize happiness and minimize pain when making moral decisions. When it comes to big-picture politics, I’ve considered myself a utilitarian since I was first introduced to the concept in middle-school debate. To me, it’s common sense. It is simply not right for some people to be spending $120,000 per year on college admissions consultants while there are people sleeping on the New Haven Green.
If we assume that utility is the natural log of income — which is to say that it diminishes on the margin — we can mathematically prove that up to a certain point, redistribution is a positive sum for aggregate utility. The first $1,000 you transfer from Steve Schwarzman to a poor person increases the latter’s utility by far more than it lowers the former’s. The next transfer hurts Schwarzman a little bit more and benefits the poor person a little less than the first one. Up to a certain point, before perfect material equality, the marginal cost to Schwarzman equals the marginal benefit to the poor person, and any further redistribution would reduce overall utility.
That was a very long-winded way of saying I favor higher taxes on the wealthy and more economic redistribution than we currently have in the United States. Joe Biden’s policies have and would continue to make the economy more egalitarian. Donald Trump’s agenda would lead to higher prices, higher interest rates and higher debt.
Without getting into the weeds of monetary and fiscal policy, suffice it to say that while the labor market remains hot and inflation has come down part way, higher rates are putting strain on the banking system, increasing mortgage costs and making government borrowing more expensive. These are real, tricky problems, and Biden’s plans aren’t perfect. But he has an actual proposal to reduce the deficit by $3 trillion over the next decade — including $400 billion in 2025 — which would ease price pressures and give the Federal Reserve more room to lower rates. That’s at least a solid start.
Trump’s plan, on the other hand, is to cut corporate taxes, blow up the deficit, partially fill the hole by slapping a 10% tariff on all imports and force Jay Powell to raise rates. That’s not going to lower the cost of living — it’s going to make the problem worse.
There is more to life than dollars and cents. Take bodily autonomy. “I did it, and I’m proud to have done it,” is what Trump has said about his role in overturning Roe v. Wade. The official GOP platform calls for a constitutional amendment banning abortion, and top Republicans are calling for federal regulators to pull the abortion pill from the market. Joe Biden has promised to codify the Roe standard into federal law if he’s re-elected with a House and Senate majority.
That’s the mainstream liberal case for Biden: if you think there should be fewer restrictions on abortions, more restrictions on guns and higher taxes on the wealthy and corporations, then you should vote for him. But even if you lean right on those issues, I think you should still vote for Biden because Donald Trump is not a normal Republican. He attempted to overturn the results of a free and fair election. That sort of thing is deadly serious. Either country comes before party, or we have no country at all.
So, to the reader: if you are registered to vote in a swing state, you have a constitutional duty to vote for Joe Biden. Do not cast a blank ballot or vote for a third-party candidate: every vote that doesn’t go to the president is one more vote for Trump.
The elephant in the room is the Israel-Palestine conflict. I know many of my classmates on the left are unsatisfied by Biden’s response. And there are valid criticisms of it. But a Trump re-election would make things worse, not better, for Palestinians. Trump wants to expel pro-Palestine members of Congress like Rashida Tlaib and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez; reverse Biden’s efforts to restrain the Israeli government’s military actions; deport foreign students who attend pro-Palestine protests and once again ban Muslims from entering the United states.
And if you think that voting for a third party would push the Democrats to be more progressive, think again. In a first-past-the-post electoral system, you only need a plurality to win; the goal is to come in first by raw votes. Through that lens, a Democrat voting for Jill Stein or staying home counts as -1, while a Republican crossing party lines counts for +2. And, according to Democratic political consultant David Shor, it’s about twice as costly to get a nonvoter to turn out as it is to persuade a voter to switch sides. Thus a candidate running to Biden’s left incentivizes him to tack right.
Look, for many people, this election is a choice between an awful candidate and an uninspiring one. I get it. This isn’t my ideal match up either. But the choice is not complicated: Joe Biden, whatever his flaws, will uphold our republican form of government. Donald Trump wants to be a dictator “on day one.”
MILAN SINGH is a sophomore in Pierson College. His column, “All politics is national,” runs fortnightly. Contact him at milan.singh.@yale.edu.