10 November 2007

Time for a Virtual Democracy

Tim Harford, the Undercover Economist, has an interesting posting about the difference in efficiencies between markets and elections. It is upon the responsiveness of institutions to these two dynamics - markets and election - that our quality of life rests. In the comments, section, the point is made

Your vote buys one of two gigantic packages - a president or a congressman (at the national level, at least). But your dollar can be split into many parts and be used to buy many different products.

If we could choose to vote for every policy, power and person in government, and not be directly affected when we abstain from voting, then a vote might be more like a dollar.

It seems clear to me, at least, that the vote is a FAR blunter tool than the dollar.

And as I read this, I wonder, why? Why is it that we have to vote for one person or party or another? Why not vote on things issue by issue? We certainly have the technology. We can vote on whether Barry Bonds home rum record should have an asterisk or whether Britney Spears should get custody of her children. Ours is a wired world and there seems little reason why the public couldn't vote in an on-going basis for a variety of policy issues.

Imagine that every 2 to 4 years, you voted for one business conglomerate that was going to provide you with all your products and services in the coming 2 to 4 years. Your phone service, ice cream, automobiles, and housing would all be provided by whoever you "voted" for. We'd think that this was absurd. And yet, that is what we do at voting booth. Is it any wonder that so few Americans vote and so many are dis-satisfied with those who are elected? Isn't it time that we reflected in our democracy that we have made some advances in polling and communicating in the last 225 years?


Vladimir Dzhuvinov said...

A system of differentiated voting is going to emerge, eventually :)

ThomasLB said...

There would have to be some sort of dampening mechanism built into it. Otherwise, on certain wedge issues the country could make major flip-flops every election cycle.

This could work, but it isn't going to happen. Moneyed interests aren't going to give up their power without a fight, and Americans don't care enough to fight for it.

Vladimir Dzhuvinov said...

@ThomasLS: I think it's actually the opposite: binary systems are more prone to flip-flop effects than multivalent systems.

Ron Davison said...

I like your optimism and do think that "multivalent systems" (is that what it is?) are, indeed, less prone to extremes.

vested interests always resist change but such resistance seems to merely delay the inevitable. The only question is whether it is (inevitable, that is).