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Post details: Achilles Heel of Democracy

Achilles Heel of Democracy

The following excerpt is usually attributed to Alexander Tytler although there is reasonable doubt that he actually said it. But the quote is so suitable for the introduction of the problem I am going to write about that there is little point in trying to reformulate it:

"A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship"

I think many thinkers have been aware of the conundrum of effective governance over the past few centuries and many of them attempted to devise ingenious mechanisms to resolve it - mostly by restricting suffrage one way or another. Some advocated that the voting rights should be limited to people of considerable wealth, some suggested a voting fee, some preferred to use education or familiarity with the current affairs as the decisive criterion, but at the end of the day every approach seemed to have created some form of discrimination or injustice. Electoral braces are the trickiest piece of political dentistry.

Last week I was reading one of the Czech online newspapers and some sensible soul there suggested a solution which I consider both just and practical, i.e. worthy of implementation.

When you come to the polls you will be given the following choice. Either you get a $20 bill or you get the ballot, but not both. This way only voters who care enough about public affairs to forgo this monetary reward will be given the opportunity to influence them. Note that this does not prevent even the poorest citizens from participating in the election. There is nothing to lose, and there is no restriction on wealth. If you are passionate enough to have your voice heard then twenty bucks shouldn't drag you away from the booth. I would even argue that making such personal sacrifice will in fact make you a better citizen, since you will want to be sure that the person you vote for is worth it.

On the other hand, the voters who don't give a hoot about the issues and toss their vote to whichever name they see displayed at their local intersection might be tempted to take the bait and walk away with the money. And that's the whole point: to dissuade the electoral segment that Tytler's quote warns about from turning the elections into a mindless overspending contest.

And the cost? In the last election, the turnout was about 120 million. If half of them choose the money, it would cost $2.4 billion. That is a pretty reasonable amount, considering that Ben Bernanke prints $85 billion every single month. Especially if it led to more responsible government.

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