And Then There's the Derivative Markets…

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Regulators have halted a man's effort to sell his vote on eBay.

This is, of course, entirely proper. But part of me wishes they'd let the auction proceed, just so we could finally find out how much one vote is worth.

(Or, at least, how much this one guy's vote is worth. One thing a robust, legal, transparent market in votes would quickly reveal is that not every vote is equally valuable. Anyone who's paying attention knows this already, but it might not be helpful, from the civic religion's point of view, to make it so obvious.)

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  1. Even if Gates did attempt to blatantly buy his way into the Presidency, it wouldn’t come cheap.

    Assume that nobody votes for him unless they get paid (a pretty reasonable assumption based on the “peon” campaign), and everyone who takes the $100 is honest and actually votes for him as agreed (a stretch, but a necessary one).

    Of the 105 million votes cast, Gates would have to buy about 55 million to be reasonably certain of victory. At $100 per vote, that would cost him $5.5 billion. Even Gates doesn’t have that sort of cash lying around.

    The vote-buying strategy would only be effective for adding a small, but decisive number of votes at the margin in key districts. Basically, in order to win, you’d still have to appeal to voters.

  2. If a politician ran under the slogan “I own you, peon”, then at least we could give him credit for being honest with us, eh?

    Instead, pols run on platforms of empty promises and attacks, all the while, the real platform is…? “I OWN YOU PEONS! I CAN’T WAIT TO STEAL ALL YOUR MONEY AND REGULATE YOU TO DEATH UNTIL YOU NEED PERMISSION FROM ME BEFORE YOU SO MUCH AS TAKE A SHIT! BWAH HA HA!” And thus, we all get enslaved by their new regime ANYway (it’s not like I have an OPTION to keep my hard-earned wealth), it’s just that we had a false expectation of all those empty promises. At least Gates was honest, hm?

    And if the worst thing Gates did was move the capital to Redmond, I’d say, he’s a world better than our current enslavers.

    But I get the point, anyway.

  3. If a politician ran under the slogan “I own you, peon”, then at least we could give him credit for being honest with us, eh?

    Instead, pols run on platforms of empty promises and attacks, all the while, the real platform is…? “I OWN YOU PEONS! I CAN’T WAIT TO STEAL ALL YOUR MONEY AND REGULATE YOU TO DEATH UNTIL YOU NEED PERMISSION FROM ME BEFORE YOU SO MUCH AS TAKE A SHIT! BWAH HA HA!” And thus, we all get enslaved by their new regime ANYway (it’s not like I have an OPTION to keep my hard-earned wealth), it’s just that we had a false expectation of all those empty promises. At least Gates was honest, hm?

    And if the worst thing Gates did was move the capital to Redmond, I’d say, he’s a world better than our current enslavers.

    But I get the point, anyway.

  4. If a politician ran under the slogan “I own you, peon”, then at least we could give him credit for being honest with us, eh?

    Instead, pols run on platforms of empty promises and attacks, all the while, the real platform is…? “I OWN YOU PEONS! I CAN’T WAIT TO STEAL ALL YOUR MONEY AND REGULATE YOU TO DEATH UNTIL YOU NEED PERMISSION FROM ME BEFORE YOU SO MUCH AS TAKE A SHIT! BWAH HA HA!” And thus, we all get enslaved by their new regime ANYway (it’s not like I have an OPTION to keep my hard-earned wealth), it’s just that we had a false expectation of all those empty promises. At least Gates was honest, hm?

    And if the worst thing Gates did was move the capital to Redmond, I’d say, he’s a world better than our current enslavers.

    But I get the point, anyway.

  5. Mr. Nice Guy — well, that’s what they used to do in Regency days, the days of rotten boroughs and the like. Dickens describes an election in =The Pickwick Papers= which is rather funny – I do recommend people read this passage:

    http://www.readprint.com/chapter-3207/Charles-Dickens

    However, I’m a dishonest politicker. I would take anybody’s money and vote as I wished. How the heck would they know? Kinda like that “campaign” going now where people have sex with Republicans to get them to vote for Kerry. Ha, ha — suckers!

  6. As far as vote allocation systems go, my preference would be as follows.

    Instead of everyone getting one vote per person, everyone is granted a number of votes in direct proportion to the cumulative amount of federal taxes paid in the years since the last election. I’ll admit that this would require some serious simplification of the tax code, but the end result would be that the people paying for government would be the ones deciding how their money is spent.

  7. meep,
    Kinda like that “campaign” going now where people have sex with Republicans to get them to vote for Kerry. Ha, ha — suckers!
    Does this apply to libertarians too? I’ll lie and say I’m voting for Bush so I can lie again and say I’ll vote for Kerry. Heck, I’ll lie about the state where I’m registered so they don’t think my CA vote is a waste. 🙂

  8. Following up what Russ R had to say about votes being proportional to taxes paid.
    How often have you heard about local organizers talking about making sure all “stake-holders” are heard?
    What’s the dif between a stake-holder and a share holder of a public corporation? Is it shocking in the private business world that there’s one share, one vote, 100 shares, 100 votes?

    Back to “stake-holder.” Should that be rephrased, “stake-taker”?

  9. “No representation without taxation!”
    Tom Paine would have loved it.

  10. Xboy,
    Given where we are now, “No representation without taxation” would be a “gateway drug” to no taxation at all.
    Tom Paine would have peed hisself.

  11. Raises another question… How many times could I sell the same vote? If a hundred different people all pay me to vote the same way, I can fulfill my contract with all of them simultaneously.

    How about instead of an individual auction, I hold a aggregate auction for my vote. Whichever candidate’s supporters offer me the most money collectively can have my vote.

  12. I live in a state (Arizona) that’s supposedly “in play” for the presidential election this year. I think I’d gladly take donations from interested parties to consider voting one way or the other.

    Of course, I’d take the money, but I’d still vote the way I want.

  13. pigwiggle got most of you delirously trotting down the wrong path; he claiming to have paid ten bucks for a vote.

    No semi-literate person–thus excluding politicians–would pay more than loose pocket change for a vote because we have the SECRET BALLOT. Duh.
    Secret ballot means no receipt. No receipt usually means only very minor transactions.

    Politicians are the ones who need to have the SECRET BALLOT.
    No receipt. Minor transactions.

  14. I, too, live in Arizona. I am willing to sell my vote.

  15. Know how to vote for “None of the Above,” even if it isn’t on the ballot?
    Don’t vote.

  16. I recently purchased a vote for $10. An apathetic colleague of mine has promised to punch a straight Libertarian ticket this presidential cycle. I believe he is honest enough to do it.

  17. Does anyone have a good reason why individual voting power shouldn’t be marketable?

  18. I am not certain why people shouldn’t be able to sell their vote. It seems to me to be a more valid reason than many I have heard: among which seems to be that vast swaths of the populace are willing to vote for candidate x based on misinformation and lies either slung by an opponent or by the candidate himself.

    Monetary gain seems like a reasonable reason to vote … in fact, isn’t personal wellfare THE main reason a person should tilt towards one candidate over the other? This seems like a direct way of doing so.

  19. Well, it would certainly put some more life into that old joke about elections being “advance auctions on stolen goods”…

  20. lol. I knew this was going to come up eventually… Of course, to have a functioning vote market you’d have to do away with secret ballots. Or perhaps the right to keep your vote secret is a marketable good each individual could choose to sell as well?

  21. I don’t get it. If politicians can implicitly buy my vote with promises of pork-barrel spending, why can’t I expicitly sell my vote on E-bay?

  22. I think we need to bring back the “Edgar Allen Poe” voters. Election parties should grab bums off the street, booze them up, herd them into the polls, then dump them into the gutter.

  23. Obviously different individuals votes would have different market values. A vote in a swing-state district would be in greater demand than a vote in a guaranteed red or blue state.

    Also, the market price would vary over time as the election approaches, probably in reaction to or anticipation of polling data.

    Finally, why shouldn’t we expect intermediation in the voting market? You as a wealthy vote buyer would be deterred by the administrative costs of negotiating with the number of individuals that would be required to have a significant impact. I could specialize in cost-effectively buying individual votes, then aggregating them and auctioning them as a large block of, say, 10,000 or 100,000 votes… enough to tip the balance in certain district.

  24. Has everyone read the reason Davy Crockett gave for his political success?
    While every other politician was buying votes with just a slug of whiskey, Davy had a rope of chewing tobacco in his other pocket. That way, those who had to spit out their chaw to drink the whiskey, could get a refresher chaw.
    Ahhh… the good old days.

  25. I think that some Medicare recipients votes are worth $600 a vote. That’s the credit they get toward their Rx costs.

    My solution to the problem is to limit who can vote more critically. So if you are on welfare you don’t vote, if you are the CEO of an airline that was bailed out you also don’t vote. Until finally the only people that can vote are the ones that are paying.

    This is my first presidential election in which I refuse to vote. I’m staying away to vote NO. I’ve got a head full of “hadit”.

  26. Another historical voting fact to ponder:
    The secret or Australian ballot was not used in the US until about 1878.
    The secret ballot makes buying votes more or less moot/silly, which is why the places where ballots should REALLY be secret are state capitals and DC, where our pols vote.

  27. So to keep it simple Tim, is this kind of like what you’d envision?

    If you want to receive government welfare of any variety, you must relinquish your voting franchise. You regain your entitlement to vote only after a period of 4 years (1 election cycle) has elapsed since your last welfare handout.

  28. I just thought of something. Even if you can’t exchange your vote directly for money, wouldn’t it be possible to exchange it implicitly for some kind of material gain?

    For example, lets say some republican announced that he was going to have a “people-who-voted-for-Bush party” November 5th at his house. Anyone in his county (and lets say its in some swing state) who voted for Bush is invited and you will have to take a polygraph test before being admitted to prove you voted for him.

    Oh yea and at the party there will be a raffle in which each guest is automatically entered. No person can win more than once and he will try to have enough prizes for everyone. All prizes will be gift wrapped and have the receipt inside. Did I mention they are all purchased from the local wallmart?

    I first came up with this line of reasoning when I applied it to prostitution. But of course there is no justification for prohibiting sex among consenting adults even if it is explicit prostitution.

  29. One difficulty is that vote buying disaggregates the benefit from the actual election result in a way that makes the familiar collective action problem potentially far more pernicious. Imagine Bill Gates runs in ’08 with the slogan: “I own you, peon!” Targeting registered members of the other party in swing states, he offers 100 bucks per vote and pledges to enslave us all in his new regime. People are broadly convinced he’d be awful. But they all reason: “Well, MY taking the $100 and voting Gates probably won’t decide the election. If my individual vote won’t decide whether he wins or loses, better to have the extra hundred bucks either way.” Everyone votes the same way and the capital’s moved to Redmond…

  30. Mo,

    Your slogan must be “vote early and vote often.”

  31. There will never be a mass auction for votes or an effort by a Gates type to buy massive amounts of votes. It’s so much cheaper to own the people in power.

    I’m always reminded of the Anaconda Copper lobbyist in Montana back in the 50s who said ‘Give me a case of scotch, a case of rye, a blonde and a brunette, and I can whip any reform movement.’

    Our elected officials have their hands out all the time. If you’re D Wayne Andreas of Archer-Daniels-Midland, which is easier, selling a Miami Beach condo for 50% of market value to Bob Dole in return for which you get a lackey more loyal than Todor Zhivkov was to Brezhnev, or spending several million dollars trying to buy votes from Kansans directly?

  32. Bart,
    … which is why the secret ballot needs to extend to votes cast by Representatives and Senators on the public’s business.
    Andreas would not waste his money purchasing Bob Dole if Bob Dole could not provide a “receipt.”

  33. What about accountability?

    Any politician in your system would blame an unpopular result back home on the other guys and there would be no way to determine if he were telling the truth. The Andreases of the world know how to protect their investments.

  34. Bart,
    Who needs steenking accountability?
    If the ship of state ran aground, the whole lot of politicians would walk the plank. You wouldn’t have a problem with that, would you?

  35. If the ship of state ran aground, to use your phrase, it would be too late.

    Members of Congress cast hundreds of votes in a given session. We as voters need a means to judge whether or not our representatives are doing what we want them to do. My parents’ congressman has campaigned as a foreign policy conservative for example, yet he voted to keep the US in the UN, while many of his supporters would have taken us out. Just as we dump our doctor if he misdiagnoses our flu, our our CPA if he fouls up our taxes, we should have a means of directly understanding what it is our Congress-critter is doing.

    Your proposal will lead to rampant bossism. An individual or corporation will simply contact a Congressional leader, hand him a wad of cash and wait for the result. How that Congressional leader gets his desired result, whether through persuasion or by hiring Luca Brazzi to pay recalcitrant members a visit, will be irrelevant.

    As a voter, I want to be able to sift through the rhetoric and say to the candidate,’So what did you do for me?’ Just as Birddog Wilson, the old Secretary of Commerce under Eisenhower and former CEO of GM used to say,’What’s good for General Motors is good for the country.’ My view is ‘What’s good for Bart is good for the country.’ Your proposal makes any rational evaluation of whether the Congressman is protecting my interests utterly impossible.

  36. Bart said: “If the ship of state ran aground, to use your phrase, it would be too late.”

    The ship of state has run aground. It is too late.

    See the bigger picture.
    My proposal is a way to help you and others see the bigger picture.

    Your finely-ground analysis of politics is totally a waste of time. You are hopelessly outvoted by nincompoops. Sic semper democratii.

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