Pay Voting

New plan: let’s let people pay to vote. Everybody gets one vote free, just like today. You can also pay, say, $1000 for another vote, then $2000 for the next one, $3000 for the one after that, etc. Also, you can sell your vote, so a cheaper way to get more votes is to pay a bunch of people $500.

Advantage: it’s no longer necessary to give candidates money so that they can advertise for votes. Currently politicians spend at least half their time asking for money. This would let them spend all their time on their actual job.

Advantage: money paid for votes goes straight to the treasury, rather than to television stations.

Advantage: Many fewer horrible political ads.

Disadvantage: politicians do what rich people want them to do. But wait, that is already the case. So this isn’t a disadvantage at all.

The U.S. is already a plutocracy. Making it explicit is more efficient all around.


  1. fche said,

    August 26, 2011 @ 7:00 am

    “politicians do what rich people want them to do”

    I hear that a lot, but why do you think it is true? Is it just an aspect of regulatory capture, or something like the government being too much a part of the economy? Wouldn’t a better solution be to loosen those links, rather than encourage a vicious circle?

  2. Simetrical said,

    August 26, 2011 @ 3:19 pm

    The overwhelming majority of the wealthiest Americans vote Republican. If America were a plutocracy, therefore, the Republican party would always have power. In fact, it has power about half the time, and the Democratic party has power about half the time. This accords with the breakdown of the American public, which is about half Democratic and half Republican.

    Thus we see that America is indeed a democracy, not a plutocracy. Wealth is useful, but only insofar as it can change people’s opinions (and therefore their votes). This gives wealthy people an advantage in some sense, but it seems fair enough, since the poorer people they convince willingly go along with it.

    I don’t think this scheme would be a real improvement. Examples of alternative forms of government that are really worth trying (IMO) are demarchy, where the decision-makers are elected by lottery rather than vote, like a jury; and futarchy, where goals are set democratically and then the means to attain them are determined objectively by prediction markets.

  3. Ian Lance Taylor said,

    August 28, 2011 @ 3:41 pm

    I’m not sure the wealthiest people overwhelmingly vote Republican. In the 2008 election cycle, more Wall St. contributions went to Democrats. In 2010 they shifted more to Republicans, but it was a shift.

    I suppose that I would prefer to break the links between money and politics, but the Supreme Court seems set against it, so it would appear to require a constitutional amendment.

  4. fche said,

    August 28, 2011 @ 4:51 pm

    “I suppose that I would prefer to break the links between money and politics, but the Supreme Court seems set against it,”

    I see what you mean, but that case was only about *speech*. The more worrisome interplay of money and politics is that relating to the financial self-interest of the electorate, i.e., transfer of wealth.

  5. Simetrical said,

    August 29, 2011 @ 10:16 am

    If we take the 2000 presidential election, there’s a notable correlation between wealth and voting:

    Those making under $15,000 voted 57% Gore, 37% Bush. Those making $100,000 or more voted 43% Gore, 54% Bush.

    2004 is similar:

    Under $15,000 is 36% Bush, 63% Kerry. Over $200,000 is 63% Bush, 35% Kerry. (Sorry for changing the cutoff from $100,000 to $200,000, these are just the first figures I found.)

    For 2008:

    Under $15,000 is 73% Obama, 25% McCain. $200,000 or more is 52% Obama, 46% McCain.

    So we see that at any rate, richer people vote Republican more often than poorer people do. Likelihood to increase Republican increases more or less monotonically with wealth according to these figures, although not quite. Of course, there are other data sources than presidential exit polls that you can use, but these seem as good as any for a quick impression.

    I do have to retract “overwhelmingly”, though. I said that because I remembered the figures from the 2004 exit polls, where the richest bracket voted 63% Republican, but I failed to account for the fact that Bush did significantly better than Kerry overall in that particular race. The Gore/Bush race illustrates that the split isn’t overwhelming, but it is substantial.

    So Republicans would have a more disproportionate say than they do if it were really wealth that controlled elections directly. Instead, it’s votes that control elections, and money only serves to buy votes. Which was your point, I guess, but let’s just be clear about the mechanism here.

    The link between money and politics is just the link between money and speech. Money lets you promulgate your opinions more widely, political or otherwise. It’s not possible to break this link without appointing some party to judge which types of speech are worthy enough to be promulgated without restriction. This is exactly the sort of setup that the First Amendment is meant to prevent.

    To really see useful reform, we want to break the link between speech and politics. That is, popular opinion should not directly determine public policy, and decisions should instead be made by informed parties with the correct incentives to be beneficient. Demarchy and futarchy are both possible ways to get closer to this goal. But it’s fundamentally incompatible with any standard notion of democracy.

  6. Manu said,

    September 1, 2011 @ 3:36 am

    There is this inherently human problem called confirmation bias. As in “I believe rich people prefer Republican”, whereas the statistics provided show that whatever the rich preferred actually won the elections, despite being an overwhelming minority (and shrinking). And a difference of less than 10% means that a lot of rich people prefer Democrat.

    Confirmation bias also makes easier to disregard the (actually overwhelming) campaign contributions that rich people give to Democratic candidates. And the fact that Democratic candidates are overwhelmingly rich themselves (and become richer the longer they get elected).

    There is an obvious link between money and speech indeed, evidenced by how misinformed the American population is in general, and how biased towards wealthy viewpoints they are. But propaganda still has an indirect effect on policy or elections, as evidenced by the fact that politicians always have to promise things that they are actually not planning to do.

    The stronger direct link is between money and policy. Politicians’ campaigns are aimed to get votes, but in order to campaign at all they need the money. Politicians that don’t have money to campaign don’t get elected ever, no matter how closely their viewpoint matches those of the electorate. To believe that politicians work for their voters (or the country as a whole) rather than for those that are essential to get them elected (the rich that support them financially) is beyond disingenuous. It is disproved by the long list of Obama’s broken campaign promises plus continuing (and extending) Bush policies in many areas. The distance between his policies and the public opinion of his voters doesn’t matter, since with enough money supporting him, he will get elected again in 2012.

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