Democracy

Vote Markets

Vote buying is illegal in Hoboken

Why do even the most enthusiastic defenders of markets stop short of defending a market in votes? After all, the central argument for markets in general applies to vote markets in particular: an exchange takes place only if both the buyer and seller expect to benefit. We’ll exchange my Mountain Dew for your dollar only if I value your dollar more than my Mountain Dew and you value my Mountain Dew more than my dollar. And we’ll exchange my vote for your dollar only if I value your dollar more than my vote and you value my vote more than your dollar. It’s win win. So why the reluctance to endorse a vote market?

Debra Satz and Michael Sandel argue that the universal rejection of vote markets speaks to the moral limits of markets as such: efficiency isn’t all that matters. But what exactly is wrong with a market in votes, if anything? I attempt to answer this question in a forthcoming article titled “Vote Markets” (Ungated Preprint / Gated published version). I conclude that the case for vote markets is, at a minimum, far more reasonable than commonly assumed.

Here are four arguments in favor of permitting vote sales:

(1)  As noted, vote markets enable mutually beneficial exchange. Even if that’s not all that counts, it surely counts for something. That vote sales leave both buyers and sellers better off by their own lights is a reason to permit vote sales. Of course, vote sales can also impose costs on third parties. If Sally sells her vote to Brent, who proceeds to use it in support of an unjust, harmful, or otherwise bad candidate or policy, then citizens who are not part of the vote sale can be made worse off. But this point brings me to a second reason to allow vote markets.

(2)  Citizens enjoy significant discretion in their use of their vote, including the ability to use their vote in ways that can generate negative externalities. After all, the state doesn’t ban Sally from voting directly for unjust, harmful, or otherwise bad candidates and policies. Since the state generally allows you to use your vote as you see fit, shouldn’t it allow you to sell your vote if you see fit to do so?

(3)  Some economists have argued that vote markets enable electoral outcomes to reflect the intensity of citizens’ political preferences. Suppose 51% of the electorate just barely supports Candidate A over Candidate B. The remaining 49% strongly prefer Candidate B to Candidate A. A vote market would enable supporters of B to buy votes, thus leading to the election of B—which is plausibly the preferable outcome in this election.

(4)  Vote buying and selling is similar to other legally permissible democratic practices like earmarking, whereby candidates (promise to) allocate funds to specific projects or recipients to win a given portion of the electorate’s support. If a candidate can “buy” the support of voters by offering them $1,000 worth of subsidies, why can’t that candidate buy the support of voters by offering them $1,000 directly? (Even opponents of vote sales like Sandel recognize this similarity.) At this point, you’re probably thinking that candidates shouldn’t be allowed to buy the support of voters with pork. Fair enough. But if pork barreling and other forms of political favoritism are eliminated, then potential vote buyers would have no incentive to bring about the negative outcomes associated with vote markets—there would be no profit in buying up votes.

So what are the objections to vote markets? I could only find two in the philosophical literature. The first is what I call the equality argument. Here’s Satz: “A market in votes would have the predictable consequence of giving the rich disproportionate power over others since the poor would be far more likely than the rich to sell their political power” (Why Some Things Should Not Be For Sale, 102).

I don’t think the equality argument makes for a decisive objection to vote markets. Direct vote buying can certainly disrupt political equality, but so can other forms of electoral spending like campaign contributions and political advertising. This is why many democratic theorists endorse regulations that limit these forms of spending. The same can be done for vote sales: the state could simply limit the amount of money you can spend on votes or limit the number of votes you can buy. (You might have doubts about the effectiveness of campaign finance reform and the like—but these are doubts about electoral regulation as such rather than doubts about a special problem posed by vote markets in particular.)

The second objection to vote markets is what I call the republican argument: we should ban vote markets because votes should be used to serve the common good. Allowing citizens to buy and sell votes as though they were commodities is inconsistent with this ideal.

According to the republican argument, the state should restrict a given use of the vote when there is good reason to doubt that this use will serve the common good. But this claim implies further restrictions on political liberties that most would find unacceptable, like an abridgement of equal suffrage. For example, to cast a vote that is likely to serve the common good, voters must have sufficient knowledge about economics, political philosophy, political science, the records of the candidates, etc. The republican argument seems to imply that the state should ban citizens from voting unless they have demonstrated this knowledge. But I doubt that many democratic theorists would support disenfranchising citizens who do not pass a voting exam.

I don’t claim that these considerations make a conclusive case for vote markets. For instance, if we had good reason to believe vote markets would cause sufficiently bad electoral outcomes, we might be justified in banning them. But as things stand, there isn’t enough evidence to suggest that vote markets would worsen electoral outcomes at all. And even if the case for vote markets isn’t conclusive, it’s at least worth taking seriously.

Christopher Freiman is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the College of William and Mary. Some of his recent publications include “Why Poverty Matters Most: Toward a Humanitarian Theory of Social Justice” (Utilitas, 2012),  and “Cosmopolitanism Within Borders: On Behalf of Charter Cities” (Journal of Applied Philosophy, 2013).

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  • Natan Kussler

    So selling votes to approve (or not approve) laws and/or projects, like some politicians did here in Brazil (and like they do around the world, like Lincoln himself did to approve the abolition of slavery) shouldn’t be a crime too? After all, is their vote, they do what they want with it, and it’s a “beneficial exchange”.

  • Bryan C. Winter

    Interesting idea. This is why I like this site. No hate and recriminations, just rational thought and consideration of different ideas.

    Think like a road. Roads are freely shared, paid for by taxes, and most people would not support selling roads to private companies. We would not do so because road markets wouldn’t work due to the limited number of roads and the monopoly power goverment would be doling out at a pittance.

    I think votes are kind of the same way, though even more fundemental to the structure of a free nation. The peoples collective will is kind of a common good. We don’t care that someone made $50 bucks from a vote. We care what people actually think. Now I think if we made vote markets legal today by fiat, that the market would not have that much of an effect right away, due to cultural taboo’s, lack of vote trading websites, no way to verify the vote contract, ect.

    But as time went on, wouldn’t the market would evolve mechanisms to subtract these factors from the equation? As vote markets became more commonly accepted, it’s effects would be wider reaching. I think over the long term it could be corrosive. The ability to use your vote to take other peoples money away is incredibly powerful. If i could buy votes for 50 bucks a vote, but find a way to pass a law that gives me $100 dollars per voter worth of tax revenue, I’m able to extract value from the system WITHOUT actually adding value. In a private arena this couldn’t happen, because no one will pay you without you actually providing value, but with votes your able to coerce things that are not yours. It would be like buying the police to bully people into giving you their money. Vote buying could create a very strong goverment over the long term in a practical sense.

    Competition should be in a marketplace, boxed in private property law to prevent exploitation and give legal recourse to legitimate greivences.. Buying votes would be buying the rules, which i think over the long term would undermine the effectiveness of markets at producing good results for most people.

  • Barry Macleod-Cullinane

    There is a practical consideration against vote markets: ensuring performance of the contracting parties.

    A vote market would mean that a politician facing a recall election, say called Lesley Knope, wants to buy Ron Swanson’s vote for $10, and duly enters into an agreement to do so, handing over the $10. What legal redress would Knope have if Swanson decided to vote for in favour of recalling her? Indeed, given that the UK and US election systems (apart from a couple of little New Hampshire towns in the primaries have their 40 odd voters publicly declare their vote) have secret ballots, Swanson could “defect” with impunity. Swanson’s protests of “sure, I voted for you, but the other guy just got more” are a perfect defence so long as 1 or more votes are received by Knope; or 2 or more if Knope lives in the constituency and can vote for herself.

    Effectively, vote markets would be a transfer of resources without any means to compel specific performance or seek redress and compensation for failure to perform. Whereas other types of markets would generate regulatory processes, dispute resolution and enforcement mechanisms, vote markets would rely exclusively on trust, with no way to really verify someone’s claim that they’d performed (voted) as promised.

    The very fact that it is a secret ballot – and electoral law is designed – means that the verification of performance is pretty much rendered impossible… or carries stiff financial and legal penalties. Electoral laws are intended to prevent undue influence being imposed upon a voter; hence only the voter behind the curtain in the voting booth, not putting personally identifiable marks on the ballot paper, and so on. Further, monetary payment or in kind rewards for voting a particular way (“entreating”) is very much against the law – with stiff financial/legal penalties for engaging in such a corrupt practice.

    However, there have been a few recent online attempts to coordinate vote markets in the UK; not for monetary amounts – as that would be a violation of election law’s prohibition on entreating/bribing voters – but as vote “swaps”, of tactically voting by pairing voters in different marginal constituencies: I live in Constituency North which is marginal between the Orange and Indigo parties, but am a supporter of the Purple party; I find a voter in Constituency South where it is a tight race between the Purples and the Oranges, who prefers Indigo… so we “swap” votes: I vote “Indigo” – possibly tipping the balance in North; he votes “Purple” possibly tipping the election in South.

    I haven’t seen any academic treatment of the data or effectiveness of such vote swaps/trades/pairings – and their impact would seem to be marginal at best. If anything, they are unlikely to have a great deal of impact – and still fail to resolve trust and compliance issues.

  • Jerome Bigge

    The Greeks of Classical Athens discovered that political systems that are based upon people voting for the candidate of their choice will eventually end up with a political system where the individual or group with the most money usually wins elections. Sounds just like us, doesn’t it? Thanks to Citizens United, there are no longer effective limits upon the amount of money that can be donated to political campaigns. We are already seeing the effects of this and it will get worse with time. For all practical purposes the US is already an oligarchy effectively ruled by wealth and big business. And has been for some time as Mark Twain commented: “The Finest Government Money Can Buy.”

    The Greeks on the other invented “democracy” (rule by the people) through a lottery system (much like selection of jurors) generally called “Demarchy” today. They claimed that elective political systems always ended up in oligarchy. This is certainly apparently true with the US, although the parliamentary systems in use in the rest of the developed world do have a (somewhat) better track record than we do when it comes to things like this. Still, the idea of government by the “people”, for the “people”, and of the “people” is probably best met by Demarchy as it represents a true cross section of the citizens, something that can’t be claimed today under our system…

    • Les Kyle Nearhood

      I do not really see the point of your lament. There is no system in history, and certainly not our own, which has not been rule by the wealthy and elite. It has always been that way and will continue no matter what laws are enacted.

      • Natan Kussler

        And here we see a clear example of Argumentum ad antiquitatem. Didn’t think I would see it on a website with so many intelligent people.

        • RJL

          That would only be a problem if it was offered as a deductive argument. As an inductive generalisation producing a probabilistic prediction, what’s the problem?

          • Natan Kussler

            There are two problems

            First, he is wrong. When humanity was primitive, there was an economic system called “primitive communism”.

            Second, it’s still a falacious argument. Probably the nobles in middle ages would use the same argument, just changing the words. “There is no system in history, and certainly not our own, which has not been rule by nobility”. It’s a logical failure, saying that something in the future is in possible because it never happened before.

          • Les Kyle Nearhood

            First, you have no proof that all primitive peoples lived with no wealth accumulation or hierarchy, second, Use wealth, elites, or nobility, interchangeably and it changes nothing. I am correct. The future may not be immutable, but human nature is. IMO.

          • Damien S.

            Who are the wealthy, elites, or nobility who rule the Mbuti pygmies?

            You’re showing Dunning-Kruger levels ignorance of anthropology.

      • Jerome Bigge

        What has always been does not mean it always will.

        Change is still possible if perhaps more difficult now.

        Jerome Bigge
        http://www.muskegonlibertarian.wordpress.com
        Repeal Prescription Laws for real Health Care Reform!

      • Damien S.

        Are you saying there are no differences in the degree of influence of the wealthy and elite? That a government of popular referenda and lottery-based panels has no difference from an oligarchy composed formally of millionaires? That restricting the vote to people only making $50,000 a year, or to people not on welfare, would make no difference to American politics?

        • Les Kyle Nearhood

          No, but I am saying that whining about the “wealthy” is pretty useless. Every system which has tried to moderate the influence of wealthy or “in the know” people has had only limited results. And this is predictable because people who are not wealthy have: less time to be influential, less ability, generaly less knowledge, and not even as much motivation as those who have their entire livelihood tied to the slightest changes in government policy.

  • Gus diZerega

    I think your argument fails to understand the difference between acting as a citizen and acting as a private person, along with pretending the issue of rich and poor is not particularly important. But here I focus only on the first point.

    Consider my voting for a state initiative. I can vote yes or no, but I can do so for very different reasons. I can vote no because I believe it will be disadvantageous for me personally, or because I believe while it might benefit me, but will be bad for the polity or immoral. Similarly I can vote yes because I expect to gain personally or because even though I will not gain personally, I think it will be good for the community or is the right thing to do.

    Of course the personal-oriented votes can be either selfish or generous, but if generous, they will focus on benefiting others usually personally known to the voter.

    The community oriented votes will be more abstract in their intended benefits, which is both a gain and a loss depending on many factors. This issue is too complex to explore here save to say that just voting for the public good, whatever you think it is, does not mean you cast the vote you would if you knew more about the issue.

    Getting concrete now, consider public polls on preserving the Alaska National Wildlife Reserve from oil drilling. Most people who opposed drilling had never been there and expected never to go there. They supported a public value: that certain goods, such as wild nature, should trump economic values in many but not all instances. Having votes for sale means people who are uninterested in an issue can make money by selling their votes, which implies that in some way money is a fair medium to measure what public values should be. And of course those with the most money will be most able to buy votes from people who are uninterested or corrupt. As ANWAR demonstrates, public values explicitly subordinate money to other values.

    Market reductionist thinking seems to me incapable of encompassing substantial areas of human life that nearly everyone finds important, and some of those realms require a community decision of they are to be served.

    • Libertymike

      Translation: Communism rocks.

    • Libertymike

      Translation: Communism rocks.

      • Gus diZerega

        Since I put on international conferences regarding Hayek’s ideas for years, and consider him the most important social theorist of our time, I think I can say without fear of intelligent disagreement that your comment is about as ignorant as a comment can be.

        Answering it in any detail would be like answering an argument by someone that the earth is supported on the back of a giant turtle.

        • Libertymike

          That you have “put on international conferences regarding Hayek’s ideas for years and consider him the most important social theorist of our time” does not thereby immunize your post from a pithy response.

          • Gus diZerega

            No- but it does suggest it be intelligent as well a pithy.

          • Libertymike

            One man’s “Intelligent as well as pithy” is redundant to another man.

          • Gus diZerega

            For many of us knowing what you are talking about is not a subjective whim.

          • Libertymike

            The acting as a citizen and acting as a private person dichotomy fails.
            In my view, the construct is premised upon the proposition that when an individual is acting as a citizen, his actions are animated by virtue whereas when the individual is acting as a private person, his motives are foul and motivated by filthy lucre. Undergirding the proposition is the slavish notion that an individual is more noble when he is “fighting for a cause greater than himself” or when he is “giving his life for his country” or some variation of the theme that an individual should subordinate his own interests for those of the state or some institution which conspires with, or uses, the state to get its way.

          • Gus diZerega

            Nothing I wrote supports that interpretation.

          • Libertymike

            If so, then you agree that there is no distinction between an individual acting as a citizen and acting as a private person.

          • good_in_theory

            What a blindingly obvious fallacy.

          • Gus diZerega

            In context your comment can be interpreted as a criticism- not necessarily a good one – of either of us.

          • good_in_theory

            As the reply arrow notes, the response was to Mike.

            ‘You don’t support my interpretation of the distinction between private/citizen, therefore there is no distinction between private/citizen’ is an embarrassing howler of an argument.

          • Gus diZerega

            My misreading, sorry. Apologies.

            And of course I heartily agree.

          • good_in_theory

            What a blindingly obvious fallacy.

          • Gus diZerega

            See comment above, posted before I knew about your response. It answers it- namely that there is a big difference but in an ideal world each benefits the other. To my mind libertarians are very weak in grasping the significance of contexts for choices shaping what kinds of choices are legitimate and what not. Since games are non-coercive in any sense and have winners and losers, they are perhaps a good initial model to grasp this issue.

          • Libertymike

            If so, then you agree that there is no distinction between an individual acting as a citizen and acting as a private person.

          • Gus diZerega

            Try this on for size, Libertymike. When it is appropriate to act as a citizen or as a private person is contextual. Each is good in one context and not so good in another. When you are participating in making rules for a community you act appropriately when you seek to make the rules fair for all. Once the rules are set, you do whatever you want in the sphere that they permit, including making the most of opportunities that come your way.

            A noncontroversial example is a game. Normally a good game has fair rules that treat all players equally. But how players respond to the rules is their own choice, and they can only be criticized when they break them or seek to corrupt them.

          • Libertymike

            Essentially, the fourth sentence of your first paragraph underscores our differences. In my view, those who participate in making rules for a community have already sinned; history tells us that those who seek to make rules for the rest of us rarely, if ever, act appropriately. Sure, like a June night in December, we might find an actual individual who is participating in making rules for a community seeking to make the same fair for all.
            An American judge is a prime example of an individual who, in theory, is charged with making sure that the rules are fair and apply to all and that when the judge makes new rules, the same are fair and apply to all. Of course, the foregoing is non-sense as the judiciary has seen fit to immunize itself from the liability that it would impose upon private sector actors. The judiciary has also seen fit to immunize other individuals who seek to make rules for the rest of us such as CIA, DEA and FBI agents, cops, TSA gropers, presidents, governors, cabinet secretaries et al.
            Those who seek to make rules for the rest of us typically conceive of themselves as special and above the law. It is human nature. It is Bill Clinton and his fugly wife. It is George W. Bush and his mass murdering cohort, Dick Cheyney. It was Ronald “FBI snitch” Reagan and Lyndon Baines Johnson. It was mass murdering Harry Truman and his mass murdering successor, Ike. Before them, it was Woodrow Wilson and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
            As for your game example, you might want to reconsider your choice of the modifier, “noncontroversial”. In support of my point, let me remind you of the following:
            (1) The tuck rule
            (2) Deckinger’s call at first base in Game 6 of the 1985 World Series
            (3) Ben Drieth
            (4) The immaculate reception
            (5) The “foul” against Robert Horry in Game 5 of the 2002 Western Conference playoff series between Sacramento and Los Angeles

          • Gus diZerega

            I guess you ignored my final sentence, being so focused on that other one.

            The issue is too complex for this format, but underscores the ultimate barrenness of pure libertarian theory. Property rights are rules. They do not have immaculate conceptions and they do not happen magically out of custom. Humans have to decide what they mean and those humans have to be considered legitimate in doing so for their decisions to be respected by the losers.

            Further, changing circumstances require modifications on occasion, as with air pollution rules. What was once OK might in time become lethal when all those doing it are added together. This is why many Western towns have banned wood fires as their populations have grown so that the total of smoke threatens health when an inversion happens.

            So property rights require a means for changing their details, and that means has to be considered legitimate for losers to respect the new rules.

            I explored this issue at some depth in my critique of libertarianism in the book of essays, “Uncivil Liberties: Deconstructing Libertarianism.”

            The implications are important…

            IF global warming is anthropogenic and IF it is harmful, neither of which is obviously illogical, THEN libertarianism is useless to prevent it. THEREFORE it must be false and the bulk of scientists who believe in both propositions must be corrupt.

            In my view this is why libertarians are so hostile to science over global warming. They love the spontaneous order of the market and hate the spontaneous order of science when it arrives at uncomfortable conclusions.

          • Libertymike

            The acting as a citizen and acting as a private person dichotomy fails.
            In my view, the construct is premised upon the proposition that when an individual is acting as a citizen, his actions are animated by virtue whereas when the individual is acting as a private person, his motives are foul and motivated by filthy lucre. Undergirding the proposition is the slavish notion that an individual is more noble when he is “fighting for a cause greater than himself” or when he is “giving his life for his country” or some variation of the theme that an individual should subordinate his own interests for those of the state or some institution which conspires with, or uses, the state to get its way.

    • Libertymike

      Translation: Communism rocks.

  • Matthew Yglesias had a good piece on this: http://goo.gl/H6JUlV.

    “Superficially, the reason we don’t let people sell votes is that we don’t think rich people should wield disproportionate political influence. Except obviously rich people do wield disproportionate political influence and the prevailing jurisprudence in the United States is that they have a constitutional right to their disproportionate influence. It’s just that right now we force rich people who want to wield disproportionate influence to sort of launder their money through a complicated array of political consultants, fundraising professionals, and media firms.

    “If you cut out the middle man and just let the Koch brothers offer to buy votes on an open market then at least some money would flow to poor people. Right now we know that legislators completely ignore the views of low-income people when deciding how to vote on issues and mostly just do what rich people want. Letting people buy and sell votes would thus redistribute some income without necessarily changing policy dynamics very much.”

  • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

    The “problem” with vote-selling is an artifact of the democratic process itself. Now, people have a right to vote on things that when enacted violate the rights of their fellow citizens, and thus are not properly subject to the democratic process. The current system enables voters to enact crop subsidies, massive entitlement programs, unfair tax regimes, etc. So, from the libertarian perspective, the issue is like asking if prison labor (by the unjustly convicted) should be auctioned off to the highest bidder. The only question is whether that scheme would leave the prisoners better off or not. I don’t know whether the vote-selling program would leave innocent people better or worse-off, so I’m agnostic.

  • Chris Freiman

    Thanks for the comments. A couple of thoughts:

    1. Regarding contract enforcement, here’s how the system could work. The state creates an online marketplace whereby John Smith agrees to sell his vote to Jane Doe for $10. A note is made next to Smith’s name on the voter registry indicating that he is now ineligible to cast a vote; another note is made next to Doe’s name indicating that she is now eligible to cast 2 votes.

    2. I share the concern about the rich wielding disproportionate influence over the political process but I think the worry can be addressed with some fairly straightforward regulation. For instance, the state might simply cap the number of votes each person could buy at 5 (or whatever). In this way, we could preserve the benefits of vote markets noted in points 1 and 3 in the original post while limiting wealth-based inequalities in political power.

    • Barry Macleod-Cullinane

      On 2, you run up against the problem of the organised campaign: a rich would-be politician, lobby group or whatever, sets up a campaign team to run for office – just as they do now. Only, each member who is hired is made the voter for the maximum of 5 (or whatever number) of votes allowed through such market trades.

      Tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of votes might be cast but control of local councils, cities, counties, or states can often rest on quite small margins of victory in a small number of constituencies, wards, districts or precincts. To prevent the disproportionate impact of monied elites “buying” elections – well, more than at present – you’d have to introduce lots more controls and regulations that you’d effectively stymie the operation of any “vote market”.

      Currently, US presidential campaigns can spend in the order of $50 per vote – that’s an average, it’s higher in key battlegrounds. If they can “buy” votes directly through a vote market, you’d probably exacerbate the very impact that money has in politics – for potentially much lower outlays, interest groups would be able to buy outcomes favourable to them, eg legislative protection from competition at home (regulation) and from abroad (protectionism) to the detriment of the public good.

      Given that industry lobby groups typically represent concentrated benefits as opposed to the disperse costs of the new regulation, tariff or other law or tax, etc, Public Choice would suggest that this would curtail competition, restrict choice and drive up costs for consumers and new (would-be) producers.

      And, if you were running quasi-proxy voting, as above, you’d still run-up against verification (and this enforcement) issues: are the people you hired to collect and vote those marketised votes actually voting the way you intended?

      I do think Gus’ observation is well-founded: there is a crucial difference between exercising one’s democratic rights as a citizen and being a individual engaged in one’s private affairs.

  • adrianratnapala

    Why do even the most enthusiastic defenders of markets stop short of
    defending a market in votes? After all, the central argument for markets
    in general applies to vote markets in particular: **an exchange takes
    place only if both the buyer and seller expect to benefit.**

    Well you have it right there. Voting for politicians is entirely about placing that guy in a position of power over *others*. It’s not enough for this to be beneficial for the politician and his vote providers only. In fact even if there is no vote buying it’s dangerous enough that voters have such power over each other and the more dispassionate (“disinterested” in old fashioned language) they are in wielding that power, the better.

  • David_Ellerman

    I find it amazing that there could be this essay on BHL with no inkling of the whole of history of inalienable rights in anti-slavery thought and democratic theory. And as if considering the certified-safe Harvard philosophers such as Rawls and Sandel (not to mention Nozick) was genuinely taking on the opposition! Rawls had only the old pseudo-inalienability theory (that descends from Locke) where one should not alienate all one’s basic rights but if one wanted to alienate some of the basic rights, then that was OK. And Sandel thinks the whole inalienability discourse is about selling endangered species, poached ivory, blood diamonds, and the like. And Nozick has no notion of inalienability whatever, although he is said to have later regretted it, but was still not able to come up with any theory. At least, the whole discourse about selling votes and charter/startup cities puts an end to common assumption that classical liberalism (“libertarianism” in the US) and democracy are cut from the same cloth.

    • ZPT205

      I don’t see how you can make the case that voting is an inalienable right that one should not be allowed to voluntarily give up. All voting is is the ability to wield political power over others– there’s no guarantee that power will be used justly.

      Historically, the disenfranchisement of certain groups was a necessary condition for a certain level of oppression, and that gives us a strong instrumental reason to give voting rights near-sacred status– political equality and the desire to have a check on government necessitate that (nearly) every adult be able to vote. However, that’s not an argument against letting people sell their votes.

      • David_Ellerman

        If you want to “see how you can make the case…” then you have to read up on the theory of inalienable rights as it descends from the Reformation and Enlightenment in anti-slavery and democratic thought.

        • ZPT205

          I have read plenty of classical liberal theory. “You just need to read some of a [huge diverse vein of literature]” isn’t a substitute for a clearly reasoned proposition or argument.

          • David_Ellerman

            Indeed, it is a huge diverse vein of literature, so you might add my last name to your Google search on inalienable rights–and/or go to my website http://www.ellerman.org and then do a local search.

  • ZPT205

    I suspect vote markets would just exacerbate corporatism. Special interests could blatantly buy votes, and the results wouldn’t be efficient because of a classic externality problem. Laws that favor special interests concentrate the benefits on a relatively small number of people/firms, while diluting the benefits. Since there are transaction costs in negotiating and enforcing agreements, it will often be profitable for special interests to buy votes, but not profitable for taxpayers to coordinate an effort to buy those votes back.

  • Chris Freiman

    I should note that I agree with the claim that it’s a good thing for
    voters to be impartial when considering what to do with their vote. But
    to use this point to make the case for a vote market ban, it needs to be
    shown that self-interested, biased, etc. uses of the vote should be
    _banned_. This would imply, for example, that corn farmers should be
    banned from voting for the politicians that promise them subsidies. At a minimum, restricting suffrage in this way is a bullet that many people wouldn’t want to bite. But suppose we do bite this bullet—then what’s the harm in permitting vote sales? If the state implemented a system whereby only votes for good candidates and policies (however we specify these) are allowed, then there is no worry about vote sales causing an unjust or harmful use of political power because the purchased votes couldn’t be used for unjust or harmful purposes.

  • Tony Dreher

    Given that people wouldn’t have to sell their vote to the first or highest bidder that came along, I think it’s erroneous to think that the vote markets would automatically favor the wealthy elite. It would likely be much less expensive for a person or organization to buy someone’s vote in favor of something that already aligned with their preferences than in favor of something that went against those preferences. The upside to this is that it would probably be impossibly expensive to buy enough votes to enact something wildly unpopular like segregation laws. While I’m a little less confident about it, I think a similar outcome would occur with things like crop subsidies. Though groups favoring crop subsidies would face lower organizing costs to coordinate buying votes for their preferred subsidies, any group opposed to crop subsidies that could successfully organize to buy opposing votes would likely do so at a lower cost, assuming of course that opposition to crop subsidies was the base preference of most people.

  • famadeo

    What about the *actual* problem? Loss of representation. If elected officials are bought, they do no represent the will of the vast electorate and are, thus, accountable to no one.

    • Gus diZerega

      No problem! When money becomes the equivalent of free speech convincing people what their vote should be bribery will be legal. That is the logic of the original post.

  • kevin quinn

    Very Funny! A Modest Proposal, indeed. Who knew Libertarians could be so funny?

    Diogenes,still searching for a non cloth-headed Libertarian

  • Damien S.

    You can’t sell your vote because we have secret ballots. We have secret ballots because people were being bullied into voting a certain way.

    “But as things stand, there isn’t enough evidence to suggest that vote markets would worsen electoral outcomes at all.”

    How much history of voting and secret ballots have you read?

  • stevenjohnson2

    Whether or not vote buying damages the political process more than other kinds of social inequality depends upon the political system. Vote buying takes place right now, after all. But openly fostering vote buying (which is what the OP suggests) would distort the political process in the plurality system we have now. Basically, elites compete for a swing margin to achieve a plurality in a defined geographical district. Politicians rarely obtain majority support because they serve elites and there is no reason for the majority of the population to support them.

    Now, suppose that we went to this kind of blatant vote buying. Art Pope, for example, might find it profitable to offer $100 per vote. The effectively disenfranchised might find it acceptable. After all, it’s not like they’re going to be able to find a candidate who would carry out the real changes they need. So far, so good, so far as people who want to preserve class society are concerned. But suppose George Soros finds Art Pope’s senatorial votes an obstacle to his plans for the planet? George bids $200 per vote.

    This kind of bidding war has three effect. First, the entry costs into competition freeze out all but the wealthiest of elites. Most libertarians I think regard this effect as commendable. But wait!

    Second, the total costs rise exorbitantly, because the vote buying system will trend towards buying a majority of the electorate, not just winning a plurality. The current system where political elites are bought with consultancy fees and intellectual elites are bought with foundation grants and media elites are bought with ads is expensive enough. A legal “reform” that raises marketing costs is a reform?

    Third, and worst, the money has to be made back. The higher the cost of political power, the more urgent the necessity to make it pay. Julius Caesar bought votes, and wrecked the Republic to pay his electioneering debts.

  • Chris Freiman

    The proposal I discussed in an earlier comment (and mention in the paper) seems compatible with a secret ballot. Suppose Delaware sets up an online marketplace where Alice buys Bob’s vote. A note is then made in the voter registry to indicate that Bob no longer has a vote and that Alice has two. Nothing about the content of any votes is made public.

    • stevenjohnson2

      Except that the Alice/Bob nonsense is misleading. If employees of a PAC funded by the Koch brothers or Sheldon Adelson buy votes, we know. If Art Pope buys 500 000 votes in NC, we know.

  • kevin quinn

    Chris: is it a reductio for you or not that selling one’s right to govern oneself raises the same issues as selling oneself into slavery?

  • Gus diZerega

    I noticed no one replied to my original post on the difference between citizens and private individuals. Perhaps it is too complex so let me give a ‘free market’ example. Spain’s Mondragon cooperatives are enormously successful and have been for 50 years. Worker members do exceptionally well and when times are bad their unemployment is almost zero (usually zero) while their CEOs make no more than 6 times the lowest paid workers.

    They are not traditional co-ops. Instead workers become members and when they retire they receive the accumulated profits over wages and benefits, and at the same time cease being members and can no longer vote. Voting requires working. The model is far more like a community run as a business with the profits distributed among citizens than it is like a traditional economic operation. In a real sense no one owns such an enterprise.

    Again, it is more successful and more humane than the traditional alternatives. It also works in the US where bakers at the Alvarado Street Bakery in Petaluma, organized on similar lines, made about $80K last year because US tax law leads to distributing profits after wages rather than accumulating them till the worker leaves.

    Again, the model is one of citizenship not ownership. David Ellerman, who is contributing to this thread, has written at length on this issue.

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