On Modern Democracy

What could be Better than a Coin-Toss?

Ever wonder why so many politicians have funny names?

If you haven’t heard of this phenomenon, I’ll give you a few of the more-legendary names: Young Boozer, Krystal Ball, Tiny Kox, Dick Swett, Twinkle Cavanaugh, Dick Armey, Robin Rape, Dick Mountjoy, Kerry Faggotter, Harry Baals, and the list goes on.

Then there is Al Green, who many said was able to win his seat in 2005 on a shoestring budget because many people in the largely black district believed they were voting for the deceased soul singer of the same name. Some have quipped that Washington State representative Adam Smith won his seat by pulling libertarian voters, and others believe that former N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin won his elections, in part, because he shares a name with a NASCAR driver.

All this points to a moment where the voter looks at his ballot and the only thing he knows about the candidates are their names. May the best name win.

Another popular strategy is voting for the guy at the top of the list.  If you are the lucky politician who has the uppermost spot on a list of candidates, you may get as many as 5% more votes. That is to say 5% of voters pick their candidates based on what order they are listed in. (Actually, I hypothesize this is a side effect of a larger strategy that I will term “The Random Guess”. The uppermost spot wins the lion’s share of these votes by unconsciously conveying an air of authority, and the other guesses are evenly distributed and therefore undetectable.)

In an election there may be twelve elections to vote on. Voters generally follow the presidential race but as they move down the list they know less and less about the candidates and often wind up voting for the nominees of their preferred party. However as they reach the bottom, about 33% of these people decide to switch to the other party, presumably to avoid excessive partiality. So we have identified two more voting strategies: the first to blindly vote for your own party, and the second to blindly vote against your party to prove that you’re open minded.

The last and possibly most annoying strategy for choosing a candidate is name recognition. Not that the voter knows anything about the candidate, he’s just seen the name posted on enough signs and posters and mentioned in enough commercials that he remembers it as he’s marking his ballot. This is annoying because it costs the candidates a lot of money. Those all too common campaign signs that simply list the candidate’s name cost between $5-10 dollars. If you’re buying these by the thousand, it can add up. Catchy radio ads can cost thousands per week. All to appeal to this ignorant voting block.

Local Lobbyists

“Congressmen don’t do anything unless you pressure them, and the best way to do that is with money.” – Activist featured on Al Jazeera’s “The Lobby USA”

Unfortunately, the kind of expensive campaigning mentioned above puts many politicians in a position where they have to go out begging for money. While there are sincere donors who may back the candidate on everything he believes in, there are also many who have their own political agenda, and a politician may have to, at least temporarily, adjust his stances to cater to their particular fancies.

Even worse are those businessmen who contribute campaign donations with a metric based on the “return on their investment”, in the same way they would consider the investment of opening a new factory. The inability of the state and federal government to complete projects in a frugal manner is well known, and suspicion of a corrupt relationship between the public and private sector is common. 

Case in point: A very overlooked analysis of competitive bidding for public projects happened in the 1980s at United Technologies in the telecommunications division. U.T. identified several projects they were well-suited to complete for, but found that the specs were irrationally set up to favour certain bidders. When they applied for a project that they matched the specifications for, the specs were changed, seemingly with the sole purpose of excluding them. U.T. concluded that there must be some prearrangement happening and quietly ceased their attempts to enter the market. If they were more persistent (and less ethical) perhaps they would have considered doing some prearrangement themselves.

Foreign Lobbyists

“We are a different government working on foriegn soil and we have to be very cautious. Regarding data gathering, information analysis, working on activist organizations, money trail, this is something that only a country with its resources can do the best.” – Sina Vacnin-Gill**

It seems that the majority of Americans believe that foreign governments are meddling in elections. Unfortunately, they can’t seem to agree on who’s doing it. The Democratic Party would have you believe that Russia has been meddling, libertarians might suggest Chinese intervention, and further right you might find those who would say Israel has control.

Perhaps they are all correct. The Russian government didn’t start RT News (in English) to reach its own people. The US security adviser has called the scope of Chinese political activity in the upcoming election “relentless”. And when Benjamin Netanyahu came to Congress to give a speech, some say that the politicians were competing to give the most applause (or avoiding giving the least applause) because organizations like AIPAC might watch for such things. The result was a nervous over-enthusiasm that one might expect when Kim Jong-un gives a speech in North Korea.

The Election of Corporatist Representatives

When considering ways of gaining government representation, many folks feel trapped in our current system because they assume the only alternative to modern vote casting is violence. Aside from pointing out the hypocrisy of that sentiment (the American and French revolutions were both very bloody), it’s worth mentioning another system of public representation with a longer history than modern democracy.

The Corporatist System (based on the medieval guild system which lasted 600 years) gives representation to the common man. However, it does not require him to develop a comprehensive knowledge of all political matters. It rather assumes he understands issues and has some expertise in his particular vocation.

With Corporatism, each industry has its own hierarchy of representatives who are elected by people in their own field. These voters don’t merely read a pamphlet and cast a vote, but rather attend meetings in which all participants have a chance to meet and talk directly to potential representatives. The combination of the expertise of the voter along with their becoming well acquainted with candidates keeps them from being easily duped by clever words or slogans. Although the influence given by an individual voter is narrower, it is intensified in a field where he has competence and vital interest.

Summary

Some of the lazy voting techniques described above, such as reading pamphlets and casting votes, resembles ancient Greek democracy. Athenians used to elect the majority of their political leaders by pulling names out of a helmet. Spartans used to see who could shout the loudest to determine the winning candidate. Perhaps this truly random method of selection might be preferred to the system we have now, which is easily susceptible to corruption.

Twentieth Century Communists famously miscalculated human motivation, believing that their workers would continue to toil diligently for the state because of camaraderie with their fellow workers. At the core of Liberal Democracy, there is a similar misjudgment of human psychology. The belief is that voters will diligently research the candidates and issues that they are going to be voting on, acquiring enough expertise to make informed decisions. This assumes an enthusiasm which results from having partial control over one’s own country’s destiny. But in actuality, the amount of influence an individual gains by casting one vote is not a sufficient motivator. Depending on the issues, it’s a trade of hours and days (or more) of research in return for a millionth of one percent of influence. This is not enough motivation for the majority of Americans to even leave their homes and go to the voting booth. 

We, as Americans, generally wind up focusing our attention on the executive branch, but it seems that this office can’t make the sweeping changes that are often promised by candidates. They are confronted with the bureaucracy of a system which is composed of people whom Americans vote for on a whim. In addition, Americans view politics through tribal eyes, placing blame for all America’s failings on the opposing party. This is an irrational way of thinking which is not suitable for leadership.

Why not consider alternatives? In a Corporatist system even average voters would have enough expertise to make decent decisions without having to conduct further research, and they would vote for a representative whom they would instinctively know is more knowledgeable than they are. 

Are you sick of your government being kicked around? Do you wonder why no one tries to stop it? Stop looking for outside help. We are the ones in charge and we’re to blame. Rise up out of your stupor and support a different way forward.

*statistics taken from this article.

**Director General of Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs speaking to a gathering of the pro-Israel lobby in Washington DC

One thought on “On Modern Democracy

  • October 13, 2020 at 9:13 pm
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    This clearly explains many problems with our current electoral system. Some problems that were absent from this article I’m all too familiar with having worked in one of the most corrupt agencies in NYC, the Tammany Hall Patronage Board of Elections (which I’d never want to work at again for many reasons).

    While they’re good workers who do the best they can the system’s higher ups refuse to do their duties in their administrative rolls. In the case of city politics the Republican Party Chairman for Kings County has been in capable of finding candidates to run against the left across the borough giving voters no choice, but to vote for a democrat for every seat (including judges). This was quite bothersome when I was on his Kings County GOP Executive Board watching this.

    Along with district leaders he chooses for the right (primarily based off of who will support him at County Committee and gets signatures) who is employed part and full time at the BOE. So long as our electoral system in local gov’t like where I am in NYC is run like this, and then the big money is added to that, fughetaboutit. I encourage anyone who reads this don’t get in the political matrix.

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