You’re Welcome, Part Two: Elections

I try to take comfort Winston Churchill’s claim that “democracy is the worst form of government… except all the others that have been tried,” but sometimes it’s difficult.

Every election year, I start seeing signs, “Vote for Prop C”, “No on Prop 68”, whatever. No argument, certainly no explanation of what the proposition actually is. At best, you would get some wholly generic slogan – “It’s important”, “For your children”, “What San Francisco needs” – that could apply to anything from vaccination to nuclear war.

It used to bother me. What mindless sloganeering, and it’s probably effective or they wouldn’t keep doing it. Therefore, questions, presumably important questions are being decided by how many content-free signs being waved on traffic islands the voters happened to see.

Then it occurred to me: how is that worse that what would happen anyway? For one thing, most voters have no idea whether Prop C is a good idea or not. They not only don’t know that the proposition is, they don’t have the skills or the information to evaluate it. On TV, I saw Jay Leno going around telling people former president Roosevelt had just passed away that morning–nobody seemed to remember FDR died in 1945. Yet, vital issues of day are decided by these simpletons, or by people these simpletons select.

Even if they weren’t, sanity, as Orwell pointed out, is not statistical. Even if everyone were educated on the issues, thoughtful, intelligence, public-spirited, whatever, the fact that 51% of the electorate favored some particular position means at most that the position is not insane, not that it is actually a good idea.

So the sign-counting is not a terrible way to make a decision. Someone is paying for those signs, after all, and paying the unfortunates who draw minimum wage to post them, or worse, stand in the road waving them. That someone must benefit from (or fear) that proposition; the proposition must be good enough (or bad enough) that at least one person is willing to spend his own money for it to pass or fail.

Of course, that is a very crude measure: only a very ill wind blows no one any good. A proposition that would impose a $1 tax on every Californian, with the proceeds going to, say, me would have at least one very (very) enthusiastic supporter, and its opponents might not be individually motivated to oppose it. Plus, all those information-less signs are wasteful.

Still, the underlying thought-process is good: some people would spend money to support a law, others would spend money to oppose it.

Here’s the solution: In every two-way election, everyone is qualified to vote, but instead of one-man, one-vote, it’s one-dollar, one-vote. Anyone who wants to can just throw in as much money as he wants, on whichever side he wants.

And the real genius part, the thing that lets you know you are hearing a truly magnificent idea? The losers get DOUBLE their money back.

Let’s say that Proposition C succeeds, $100 million to $90 million. The losers get their original $90 mil back, plus $90 mil of the winners’ money. The remaining $10 million goes to the state.

The way to think about it is, the question is “How much is this proposal worth to you?” If you say “10 dollars”, then either your side wins and you pay $10 (which you claimed was its value to you), or your side loses and you get $10. Either way, how can you complain?

And don’t bother trying to game the system. There’s a very unpopular proposal and you put in $10 against it, hoping to get some of that free money. Guess what, about a million other guys with the same idea and the proposal passes and you end up paying $10 to make something happen you don’t even care about. I’m guessing one or two elections and all the wise guys will either be smart or broke or both and the problem will go away.

Each “voter” gets exactly what he claims he needs, and every election generates cash for the government.

You’re welcome.


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