This essay is about elections. As background for this topic I will provide a brief summary of the conclusions of the first essay in this “Invisible Hand” series which examined the physical object nature of our money and some of the unfortunate consequences of that nature. I will be concise so if you have already read one or more of the other don’t worry, this review won’t take long.
All money in history (and pre-history) has been considered to be or to represent physical objects such as a basket of grain, a cow, a coin, or a paper bill. Today most money is in computer accounts and though it zips around the world from account to account at almost the speed of light, it still is treated as if it were a physical object of some sort. Because we treat money as if it were a physical object, anything which is true of physical objects in general will also be true of money. This obvious point is ignored by economists and others who talk and write about money even though it is the most important truth about money. The importance of the physical object nature of money cannot be overstated. What follows are some of the consequences of that physical object nature.
First, money is like other physical objects in that it can be taken from its owner against that owner’s will; by force, fraud, or stealth and it can also be lost or destroyed. This means that you need to suspect almost everyone of trying to get your money by fair means or foul.
Second, money must be amoral because all inanimate physical objects are amoral. Even animals are amoral, in that they have neither an ethical sense nor morality, especially when they are used as commodity money. You can use your physical object money for anything, good or bad.
Third, the money supply is independent of the supply of goods and services for sale because the supply of one physical object is independent of the supply of other objects.
Fourth, money falsely simulates a zero-sum game in monetary transactions because the money gained by one party must be lost by some other party or parties. Money makes us think that other people can gain money at our expense and that we can only gain money at their expense. It makes us treat others as if they were competitors, rivals, opponents, or even enemies.
Fifth, money is almost impossible for a society or nation to control. In every nation that attempts to limit, regulate, or tax trade a black market comes to exist; and organized crime flourishes in all nations.
Sixth, money transactions are two-party interactions. Two-party interaction is inherently unstable because if one party gets an advantage in power such as having more money, the stronger party can use that power to gain still more advantages. This is particularly true of money. The old saying “them as has, gets” is true. Possession of money does make getting more money quite a lot easier. Naturally, the weaker party in such two-party interaction will eventually want to end the interaction. Thus the relationship is unstable.
Keeping that review in mind, let’s consider elections.
If you grew up in the United States you probably went to public school and learned the virtues of democracy, of voting, and of participation in politics. You also were taught that other countries suffered from totalitarian governments which might have called themselves democratic and might have held what they called elections but which were not democratic at all and their elections were a sham. The good guys were really democratic and held valid elections even though they were different in details from ours but the bad guys only went through the motions and didn’t really have fair elections.
We even got to do practice elections in which we elected such things as homecoming queen or hall monitor. At this point I feel obligated to provide some of my own personal history which will indicate a source of bias on my part. While in high school I lost a student election in chorus class. The office was that of after choir class room straightener. Not much of an office I must admit but the members of the class nominated several other students before finding one who could accept the office and then elected him. The teacher had nominated me and another boy who, it turned out, could not serve. My unpopularity (being a nerd who read books walking between classes and was not at all fashionable in attire) was confirmed in a most public and embarrassing manner. So if I seem to be biased against elections in what follows, perhaps that experience can explain (though not excuse) my sentiments.
Based on this background provided in school, and upon the extoling of the virtues of democratic governments (that’s a small “D” democratic governments) in our major media, I will assume that at least some of my readers support democracy and hold that elections are good things. I will point out a few – well actually more than a few – problems with elections as we know them.
It seems to me that the first thing to consider regarding elections is who gets to vote. The modern presumption is that everyone gets to vote. That was the case back in grade school. Of course those who didn’t come to school that day didn’t get to vote but the presumption was that all the class members would be allowed to vote. The history of elections shows that this is not typical of elections. Elections began in various places around the world thousands of years ago. Almost without exception, women, slaves, children, and prisoners were not allowed to vote. There were usually other requirements besides being a free male of adult years. Owning property was a typical requirement. Having the appropriate religious status was also a common demand before one was allowed to vote. Also, one would almost certainly be required to reside in the area or within the city limits. One had to be a citizen, a recognized group member, “one of us.” If you were just passing through your sentiments or preferences in the election were not to be considered. So if you want an election to be fair and by fair you mean that everyone to be significantly affected by the results of the election is allowed to vote, then you will not be satisfied with most elections. The list of minorities in the U.S. who have been legally denied the vote is a long one. It was not until a generation into the twentieth century that more than half the adult population was allowed to vote. Women, blacks, Native Americans, and Latinos were commonly denied the vote.
Every election has requirements which must be met to make one eligible to vote. In the U.S. one must be a citizen and not a convicted felon serving jail time. At one time, one might have to pay a poll tax or have a grandfather who was a registered voter, or pass a literacy test. One must be a resident of the district in which one is voting. The recent election may have required some voters to have particular kinds of photo ID. If one has recently moved, one may not be eligible to vote in one’s new district. So it’s rather easy to be denied the vote as being not qualified even if you pay taxes.
In the U.S. the proportion of adults who vote in an election is normally well below 50%. It’s even below 50% of the adults who are registered to vote. So when the winner of an election is announced in a landslide, there’s a good chance that far less than half the adults in the district actually support the winner.
The next thing about elections is what is on the ballot. Now the way a ballot is printed, the text written on the ballot, the materials used to mark the ballot, all these things can affect which option gets selected. Remember those hanging chads from the 2000 Presidential election? Well people have gone to great lengths to try to influence the outcome of elections by how the ballot looks and what the directions on that ballot say. Party line voting, confusing directions, English only text, the range of techniques is a long one. Even having a long, complicated ballot and putting things you don’t want people to notice near the end can reduce voter participation and confusing ballot initiatives can get votes for things the voters really don’t want. So it’s quite possible to get result “A” when the voters, in fact, would have preferred result “B”.
What’s on the ballot also includes which candidates are listed. It can be very difficult for a third-party candidate in the U.S. to even get their name on the ballot. Even if the voting procedures allow write-in candidates, since that is more work for the voter, there will be fewer votes for a write-in candidate just on that basis alone. The dominant political parties will have crafted rules and requirements to prevent third-party success knowing that if the third party holds the balance of power, it will dominate government even though it is the smallest of the three parties. But that’s another way that elections somehow subvert “the will of the people.”
And speaking of three parties, what about an election with three or more candidates for some office? How’s that going to work? Do you give the office to the one of the three who gets more votes than the other two? What if that one gets only 35% of the votes and the other two get 33% and 32% respectively? It could be that over 60% of the electorate really don’t want that 35% guy and would far prefer either of the other two instead of the guy who finished first. This is just one of the many problems faced by elections with several choices.
It turns out that the mathematicians and logic experts have been considering the issues and have discovered that you can’t determine “the will of the people” on rational grounds. That is, if you say that defining the will of the people must meet the following five axioms then it can’t be done because the axioms are logically incompatible. I take the expression of these axioms from page 336 and following of the book “The Beginning of Infinity” by David Deutsch.
- The rule should define a group’s preferences only in terms of the preferences of the group’s members
- The rule must not simply designate the views of one particular person to be the preferences of the group regardless of what the others want.
- If the members of the group are unanimous about something – in the sense that they all have identical preferences about it – then the rule must deem the group to have those preferences, too.
- If, under a given definition of the preferences of the group the rule deems that the group has a particular preference then it must still deem that to be the group’s preference if some members who previously disagreed with the group change their minds and now agree with the group.
- If the group has some preference and some members change their minds about something else, then the rule must continue to assign the group that original preference.
In other words, despite the fact that each of these axioms seems quite reasonable, collectively they are in conflict. They cannot all be true at once. They are logically inconsistent. Worse, a system that lacked even one of these axioms would appear to be either unfair or irrational or both. So elections cannot truly determine the will of the people, no matter what they are about whether it is issues or who shall hold office.
I realize that the vast majority of the world‘s adult population cares nothing about mathematical proof that some social institution cannot do what it purports to accomplish, but for a tiny minority of us, that’s really significant. Knowing that an election cannot reveal the will of the people removes any dependence on my part upon elections to make decisions for me. Not that I ever let what other people thought determine what I thought anyway.
To me, this means that elections are only political: and nothing more than political. An election is in many ways like a baseball umpire. He may be wrong but he does make a decision so the game can go on. Elections are like that. An election may have totally misrepresented the will of the people and what the people wanted but a decision has been made and the government can continue without blood in the streets.
So let’s look at the political side of elections, seamy and disgusting though such things be. We have already looked at ways in which who gets to vote has been decided in years past, ways which denied substantial portions of the population the opportunity to vote. We can be sure that such methods will be used whenever any political party has the power and the opportunity to do so. After all, politics is about winning – no matter what has to be done to bring that about. But those are not the only means by which an election can be swayed.
Today the standard election campaign that we notice advertises on TV and the internet. Those ads tell us that an election time is near. Those ads cost money. Candidates who spend more, and more wisely, on ads tend to win. It is normal for the candidate who spends the most to win. Some candidates are wealthy individuals who can afford to spend lots of money on their campaigns. But most candidates seek donations or contributions from others to pay for campaign expenses. Naturally, those who donate money expect something in return. Try not to think of such contributions as bribes given in hopes of favorable treatment if the candidate is elected. Try hard now. Couldn’t do it, could you? Even though such contributions are not illegal… they could hardly be illegal. What candidate would vote to make it illegal for people to give him money? No, I didn’t think you could come up with a candidate who would do that either. Though such contributions are legal, they are bribes, particularly if such contributions are large.
You may remember that some of the consequences of the physical object nature of money are that it can be used to gain still more money, it is uncontrollable, and it is amoral. That specific combination of consequences ensures that money will be used to win elections in all sorts of ways, both moral and immoral. Such actions simply cannot be prevented if a POM is used.
We can expect those political ads to be filled with lies as the various fact checkers make amply evident. Why tell the truth when people do not vote on the basis of the truth but on emotion, and the most common emotion felt in the voting booth is fear. If you can make the voter fear your opponent, you will likely get the voter’s vote. So the election campaigns make ads that lie and distort. Elections provide huge amounts of misinformation. This is especially true when corporations have a vested or profit motive in the outcome of an election. Normally, the corporation wants its fraudulent actions or externalization of costs made legal or it wants permission to take something from the public domain for its own private interests. In these cases the corporations may embark on a campaign of misinformation, lying to the public about matters of the health and safety of the public. These days (2012) the climate change issue and fracking are often in the news. It is obvious that these corporate interests are paying to mislead the public (the voters) into believing that the actions of those industries are harmless… when in fact they are costing the public billions in money as well as considerable pain, suffering, and death in their own lives. So elections create more than just loads of annoying commercials, they also make the public less knowledgeable about issues that really matter. Elections make for a dumbed-down public: Hardly what the Founding Fathers had in mind.
In the old days, back a couple thousand years ago, or even more recently in the dark ages; it was possible for a community, whether a city or a clan, to actually vote as a body on all laws or other decisions that needed to be made for joint action, like going to war. The issues were rather well understood in most cases, though the consequences of the various proposed actions were just about as likely to be misunderstood as today. In those times the average man could know just about everything that was known by men in his culture. (Women typically did not get to vote.) So it was reasonable that the community could make about as good decisions as any particular individual might make. But then technology improved and life got complicated. By the start of the 20th century an industrialized nation had many issues to face which required rather sophisticated knowledge to sensibly address. The average person simply could not know enough to make intelligent decisions on the wide range of issues without taking expert advice. In other words, the average person voting on all the laws under consideration would be quite unlikely to cast a rational vote on most issues. Thus, representative democracy was the only reasonable alternative if some kind of democracy was to be practical at all.
So the citizens would elect representatives who would make the actual decisions on what laws to pass and what the government should do. Of course that just moved the ignorance of the voter to a different subject matter, that is, the character and fitness for office of the various candidates for that office. Politicians present themselves as just the right person for the job. Of course, they are typically lying when they do so. On a conscious, rational level; the average citizen knows that politicians lie – but when that citizen votes, he seems to think that he is voting for the exception to that rule, the only candidate in the race that doesn’t lie. Of course, politicians that do not lie don’t get elected. We, the voters, very carefully exclude honest persons from office at every level. We get just what we want – people who will say comforting things that aren’t true and point the finger of blame at someone weaker than ourselves. It’s only human nature. The result of voter behavior and ignorance is that we get office holders who, in the main, are not competent to make the decisions they are responsible for making in support of the citizens.
At this point I feel obligated to point out, once again, that dictatorships of any kind are worse than democracy and those are pretty much our only choices these days. Now back to pointing out how inadequate elections are.
The political bosses of the 19th and 20th centuries used a variety of means to ensure that their candidates won elections. These means ranged from the standard lies to voters, through various means of persuading people who didn’t care who won to vote their way, to just ignoring the ballots cast and reporting whatever numbers they liked. In other words, in some places, elections were totally irrelevant to who would occupy office and vote money and power into the hands of their backers. Of course rigging elections did not come cheap. Voters required at least a beer and perhaps some fried chicken and a rousing song as the price of their votes. One also had to suppress the votes of the rival political gangs and they could use the standard lies, tricks and, as the KKK showed, terror and intimidation. These steps also cost money. Henchmen don’t come cheap. Perhaps the easiest way to keep down the votes for other candidates is to simply make it illegal for their supporters to vote. Those who keep the voter rolls can simply strike off the names of folks from the other parties. One can make it very difficult to get to the polls and make the process of voting at those polls take a long time in districts that are likely to vote for one’s opponents. So staying in office is likely to be much easier than getting into office in the first place. This is especially true if one gets to specify which neighborhoods are in which district. This technique is so popular that it has a name, “gerrymandering.” This has been applied with greater and greater sophistication in recent decades in the U.S. because the data concerning the populations in the various areas is more detailed and the computer software to make the adjustments in maps is improved. In my state, the Republican candidates for Congress got far fewer votes than did the Democratic candidates yet the Republicans won about two thirds of the seats. This is the power of the gerrymander in ignoring the will of the people.
Why do people care enough about who gets elected to bother making a travesty of political elections? The obvious answer is that the state can tax and the state spends lots of money. Being able to control who pays taxes and how much is a great source of power. People will pay money to avoid having to pay even more money in the form of taxes. Being able to control who gets the money the state spends is also a great source of income. People will pay money to get more money back. The expense of a lobbyist is said to return 20 or 100 times as much in profits as was spent on the lobbyist. The result is that people are desperate to get jobs in Congress so that they can make contacts there with powerful people and then quit Congress and become a successful lobbyist. In other words, the whole system is operated by means of money and to gain money by a host of people. Therefore elections are very much a phenomenon created by money. Money permeates the process of elections.
Given what we know about the nature of our money we can conclude that elections are a complete failure in keeping government honest or in protecting our rights and property. We can also see how the nature of our money prevents any repairing of our elections by changing the process or “getting money out of our elections.” We cannot get money out of our elections and any changes of process will be made by people trying to give themselves the advantage in the next election.
The whole thing is depressing. One is tempted to simply give up on elections and not bother to participate at all. Of course, that’s just what the folks who run the elections (no, not the poll workers, the big money interests who provide that money which makes elections travesties), it’s what those who run the elections want you to do. They like it when only a few people vote. They don’t want the average person to have any say in elections. They don’t want the incumbents replaced by a new set of rascals.
But what’s the alternative to elections? Is it tyranny, oppression, and dictatorship? Note that oppressive tyrant dictators also sometimes conduct elections and they are even worse than those who operate politics in the so called “free world”. So the problem isn’t the elections, it’s the nature of the money we use. Physical object money or POM is at the root of the problem. It provides both the motive to corrupt elections and it provides the means to bring about the corruption of elections. POM is also responsible for the state and its power to oppress. Without POM there would be no states as we know them today and throughout history. So there would be no need for elections to select government office holders since the offices would not exist.
The alternative to elections is not tyranny, the alternative is a non-POM. If we improve the nature of our money, we eliminate the problems which POM creates. So let’s see how a nation which used a non-POM would conduct an election.
The office of President of the United States would still be needed for a time to deal with nations which still used POM. I see no need to ignore the Constitutional means of selecting a President. Thus we can expect a number of volunteers for the office to make their willingness to serve known to the community, in this case the over 300 million citizens of the U.S. Since these candidates could not give their money to others to buy the support of those others, some other means of gaining support would need to be used. A non-POM government spends no money at all, and controls no money at all, so there would be no corporate interest in the office of President. In fact, corporations as we know them would exist in name only in that there would be no stockholders and no finance. No one would pay taxes since the government is not involved with money in a non-POM economy. Thus the only motive people would have to support one or the other of the candidates would be that they thought that candidate would do the best job in representing the U.S. in relations with other nations. So the more successful candidates would tend to be those with considerable knowledge of international affairs and in particular, international trade. It turns out that most of foreign relations have to do with trade for some reason.
The members of the media get paid for net benefit provided to others, just like everyone else does. Thus, those who provide relevant information about the candidates to the voting public earn money. Those who provide misinformation, lies, or biased descriptions would lose money. As you can imagine, the typical political ads would be missing altogether. Testimony to the character, work habits and other relevant experience of the various candidates would be organized and presented for the consideration of anyone interested.
The organization of the actual voting process would be straightforward. Since non-POM involves each person being identified to the accounts system which holds the personal money of every citizen, the information necessary to identify which district they reside in and who they are is all present in that database. So on Election Day, each voter who desired to do so could select the candidate of their choice and vote from wherever they were: from home, from their workplace or even while shopping or on vacation. Each state would have its own electors, of course, following the Constitution. The voters would have been voting for those electors. But in this case, the Electoral College members would actually get together (electronically, perhaps) and vote for the candidates of their choice since they would all be unpledged. They would conduct research into the background and character of each candidate and, perhaps, some others whom they might think would be even better qualified. Picture something like the College of Cardinals which selects the next Pope when a Pope dies or resigns office. Naturally, the Electoral College would have more information and spend considerably more time and effort on understanding each candidate. They would even earn money if the President that gets elected does a good job… and lose possible future earnings if the person they select does a poor job. Therefore they are powerfully motivated to get the best. This makes it very likely that whomever they select will be at least competent and of good character.
The inherent problems of elections would still be present even though the will of the people is not what is being sought in the election of the Electoral College or in the choice of the next President that is made by that College. But they don’t have to get the best – only eliminate most of the worst. That is something an Electoral College should be able to do.
Of course, if the day ever comes when all economies are non-POM; there will be no further need for elections, since government will no longer be needed… and that’s the best result of all. In my arrogant opinion, of course.