From the Publisher: Why Voting Matters

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Arnold G. York

For the last few years, I’ve been voting absentee, but this year, I went back to voting at the polls. I’d forgotten the charge you get when you actually go into the booth to mark your ballot. It’s difficult for me to understand people who don’t vote, people who think it’s a meaningless exercise. On one hand, we are going to spend over $5 billion in the next election cycle to elect a new president and yet there is a sizable portion of the population who genuinely feel there is no difference between the parties or the candidates, and that it doesn’t really matter who wins because nothing changes. Either the people putting up the $5 billion are fools or there is something seriously lacking in our education system. Alternatively, maybe those people are correct and not much will change for them, no matter who is in office.

Strangely, while the middle of the population has become very cynical and indifferent, both ends of the spectrum have become much more partisan, not just about what they believe in, but how they view the factual reality of our world. Occasionally when I’m at the gym, I’ll force myself to watch Fox News while I’m on the treadmill. Sometimes while watching it I feel like I’ve entered an alternate universe. So why is this all happening? The explanation is, I believe, a lot less partisan then most people believe.

•First, the American middle class is literally stuck in the mud, and they don’t know why or whose fault it is. Their economic situation has not improved in the last 40 years. Worse than that, they look in the future and they see an uncertain retirement and less opportunity for their kids. It’s difficult to see this in Malibu because the reality is that most of us are in the top five percent in education, in assets and in income, and I would also guess that many of us came from fairly modest income families. You might very well ask that if we could do it, why can’t they do it? They can’t do it because America’s priorities have changed. A simple example: When I went to UCLA Law School in the early 1960s, the cost was about $500 per year. Today, the cost of UCLA Law School — which is a public institution — is about $41,000 per year. Unless you have affluent parents, you are going to come out owing $100,000 or more. There is no way to work yourself through law school or through UCLA as an undergraduate, which Karen did at the same time. It’s happened because the state has decreased its contribution to the universities and the shortfall is covered by increased student tuition.

  • The higher paying manufacturing jobs have also disappeared from Los Angeles. In the 1960s and 1970s, I had clients who worked at auto plants in Van Nuys, aircraft production plants in Santa Monica and the San Fernando Valley, steel mills and fabrication plants, nickel plating shops and machine shops. Most all of those jobs have gone overseas, have been automated or were kicked out because they weren’t environmentally sensitive enough. That tossed a lot of people out of dirty, but well-paying jobs
  • Silicon Valley is a boon to California and we are world leaders, but it has a big down side. Lots of middle-range jobs that used to be done by legions of clerks and middle management have disappeared, never to return, to be replaced by service jobs that pay much less. 
  • To bring it down to something local, most of us are very conservative about our own community. We like it just the way it is, and we don’t want it to change, which I suspect is the driving force behind Measure W (Whole Foods). By tonight, we will know how the majority of us feel about the future. I’m guessing that those who are apprehensive about the future will vote “no,” while the optimists like me will vote “yes.”  

There are things the ballot box can change, like our priorities and where we decide to put our public money. But there are things it can’t change, like globalization, the rise of China, automation and robotics. But just because it can’t fix everything doesn’t mean it makes no difference, and it’s a mistake to be cynical about voting because the ballot box is less than perfect.