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Benjamin Franklin said, "When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic." We're still waiting for that to happen, but it looks inevitable to me, thanks to the Internet.

As the presidential election season in the United States has proven once again, facts are fuzzy, truth is optional, and poor people will vote against their own best interests. We have fact checkers, but they don't always agree with each other. Voters default to voting the party line. But that could change.

It is one thing for a fact-checker to say candidate X told a lie. That seems to have no impact on voters whatsoever. On some level everyone understands the election process to be about persuasion not truth.

But suppose another level is added to fact-checking. This new level allows each voter to get specific predictions of his or her individual net worth under each candidate's plan. These predictions would be based on odds and use an expected-value formulation. That just means a 25% chance of making \$100 is valued at .25 x 100 = \$25. That's a common way to approach predictions that have uncertainty.

The prediction model would take into account the odds that congress would thwart any particular plan, the odds of war, the odds of technological advances, and even the odds of the candidate dying in office.

Now let's say the model crunches all the numbers and lets an individual voter input his specific income, location, age, family size, mortgage, education etc. to see how he will fare under candidate Y's presidency versus candidate X. Armed with that information, the citizen votes for the candidate that is predicted to do best for him personally. At that point, Ben Franklin's prediction comes true and the Republic crumbles.

I know, I know. A model so complicated would necessarily be unreliable. But remember the accuracy bar is set extraordinarily low. Today most voters have no idea which candidate will serve their personal interests best. A model that improves on random guessing by 10% would be the best information around.

Presumably the model would show that poor people can come out ahead in the short run by voting for candidates willing to tax the bejeezus out of anyone rich enough to own a home.  People being people, I think the poor would vote for their best short term outcome even if the model predicted dire consequences ten years out. Hence, the end of the republic.

Democracy and capitalism are quite compatible as long as voters have poor information. If you put the Internet in the mix and allow it to evolve, sooner or later voters will have better information and the republic will collapse.

If it bothers you to see politicians lie, take a moment to consider the alternative. When voters have accurate information, it is game over for the republic. That's not me talking; it's the guy who helped invent the republic.

Votes:  +50

### Comments

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Oct 21, 2012
Ben Franklin never said anything of the sort.

"The trouble with quotes on the Internet is that you never know if they are genuine." â€” Abraham Lincoln

+4
Oct 15, 2012
I'm from the Netherlands, and here we have a multi party political system, which means that after the elections only a coalition of 2, 3 or more parties can form a majority.

Anyway, before that happens, each political parties' program is calculated by an independent analysis institute for impact on several areas of society, including how that boils down to various living situations and societal classes.

So we have the better and reliable information that you are suggesting. And it doesn't make any difference. People still vote against their interests. People still focus on TV debates (if at all) rather than actual data.

It's not a data problem. It's a people problem. Whether it is because people are lazy, stupid, too busy or uninterested I don't know, but practice shows even reliable data does not work for rational voting behavior.

+1
Oct 13, 2012
ps i didnt mean to downplay the impact of having resources. being rich is a huge advantage.

im just a fan of the human spirit. In the Conan movie with James Earl Jones (snake guy), the Snake villain touts 'flesh' as stronger than 'steel', then asks a follower to commit suicide, which she does without question.

+1
Oct 12, 2012
@nasch:
transgenerational impact on outcome is a touchy subject. (especially when race dynamics enter)

parents income/education for example.

My concern is not about family impact on opportunity, but govt impact. Thats what we, as a society, need to ensure is fair to all.

IMO, families should absolutely have the right to impact their children, even if that means their kids will be advantaged over other kids.

Although I dont think parents intelligence or knowledge or \$ really are the legacy they pass on. IMO, its the attitudes and processes that granted the parents their success in their own life.

Attitudes of success or finishing what you start or 'of course im going to college and will get degree', are far more important than ability. As well as HOW you respond to setbacks and outright failure.

I would rather a kid is raised by poor family with healthy optimistic attitudes about life than by his old neighbor who won the lottery.

+1
Oct 12, 2012
PS I agree with you about opportunity equality and it's low in the US. Much of your outcome is determined by your parents' income, educational level, etc.

Oct 12, 2012
language, what about the fact that the poor vote at very low rates? I don't remember hearing either candidate ever mention the word "poor" only "middle class". That's a very squishy term, but to me it doesn't make me think of people on welfare or food stamps. Anyway, I'm just wondering how much the really poor actually vote themselves anything given that they mostly don't vote.

+5
Oct 12, 2012
@therion
you make a good point about outcome being a reality, whereas opportunity is an abstraction. maybe this would make a good example for ppl with imagination being able to see higher paths and understandings.

i think it comes down to reality having the element of time. things can change.

if we want our actions to impact our reality, then potential will be more important to us than current conditions. if we have something that can change (for the better), and we are the ones who can change it, we will find enjoyment in doing so.

after that, the only question left is whether you want personal accountability for your actions. if you do, you prefer a meritocracy with potential, instead of a nanny state with permanent equivalence.

permanent equivalence is only possible by crippling the extraordinary's opportunities and/or rewards. plus destroying the meaning behind ppls effort.

gotta crack some eggs to make an omelete tho, right?

luckily its not so black and white, its not all of one and none of the other. but ppl of ability and intelligence seem to prefer meritocracy by a lot. its funner for them. i would argue its funner for the disabled as well. we all like our actions to have meaning, even if our actions are inferior to others.

outcome equality strips the meaning off of ppls actions, for the modest virtue of sharing.

i would venture to say that meaning is the highest value of the human consciousness. what does a sterile atheist want to leave behind? a building, a book, something to last, his legacy. did any choice he ever made MEAN anything? uh oh, here comes a black hole, annihilating info with its hawking radiation. rofl.

+6
Oct 12, 2012
@nasch:
I did not mean to imply that the poor's lack of paying taxes amounted to voting themselves \$. I omitted the fact they support policy which gives them freebies like welfare, food stamps, and other social services. I mistakenly thought this was a given variable we all would know.

In light of the poor's support for govt aid, I thought the only point left to connect the dots (for them voting themself money) was to show they didnt contribute what they suck out. (thus the 47% comment)

of course the poor voting themselves \$ is not 47% of the population. but it is a % higher than 1. Franklins maxim is reaching a critical mass, where the greedvoters are a considerable block politicians must deal with (and if you are a dem politician, must energize).

personally i would be ashamed to follow a party who courted this vote. the policies of said party dont stand on their own merit, and must be buttressed by a coalition of malcontents who selfishly squander their rights in the democratic process for a bowl of porrige. they dont care about foreign policy, the national debt, global trade restrictions; they want gas in their car.

i think we've all seen the video of the black woman who believes in barrack santa claus who knows if she is naughty or if she voted for him. all she has to do, in her mind, is support him, and he will put gas in her car and pay her rent.

the "vote in exchange for material rewards" bargain has been struck. its a standing social contract between the poor and the democrat party.

+1
Oct 11, 2012
I don't think it would crumble. You still have to beat corruption, stupidity and apathy. How many times have we not witnessed smart people making poor decisions even when they have enough and accurate infomation to make a better choice? Not only in politics, but everyday life. In my opinion, most of the time is not about lack of information, but lack of willingness against stubborness to be blind.

-8
Oct 11, 2012
@Language, I agree with your comments about degree requirement and business ownership, but I think your idea about potential equality being better than real equality is just detached from reality as Franklin.

How could potential *ever* be better than real?

Sure, there has to be some incentive, or laziness would be rewarded. Voters would recognize that. They wouldn't vote for perfect equality; they would only try to make the pay distribution more even than it is now (which is increasingly like a banana republic).

+4
Oct 11, 2012
@language (and anyone who thinks middle income Americans pay anywhere near 20% in federal income taxes):

The average taxpayer pays 11% in federal income taxes. The 25% rate is MARGINAL and is only paid on TAXABLE income (not all wages) ABOVE \$35,350 for singles, \$70,700 for married. Income below that is taxed at zero, ten, and 15%.

Your single adult "near the poverty line" would still be paying less than 20% in federal income taxes if (s)he were making \$100,000 and only took the standard deduction. Otherwise you make many excellent points. But most Americans seem to think they pay 25% of their income to the IRS. Simply not so.

-2
Oct 11, 2012
@language:
" Romney said we have 47% paying no fed income tax. Those on the bottom are ALREADY voting themselves \$, and have been for a long long time. "

It's been mentioned before, but not paying income tax isn't voting yourself money. Some do get more in aid than they pay in taxes, but 1) that's less than 47% 2) most of that 47% have jobs and pay payroll tax.

Oct 11, 2012
Theron, the Dunning-Kruger effect has absolutely nothing to do with the topic on hand. Nor does it have anything to do with equality. There's a topic on hand. This is not it.

So let me put the topic in terms for the people living in Rio Linda:
Everyone taking a five finger discount from the public funds is bad.

+8
Oct 11, 2012
[Nine thumbs down, but nobody has given me an answer. Why would equality mean the end of the Republic, when all the data on Gini coefficient and history of wealth inequality suggests the opposite?]

opportunity equality is a higher virtue than outcome equality.

when you place a lower order virtue above its superiors you CAUSE massive social unrest.

economic disparity is its own vice, but it must be very inequitable before it trumps small doses of its superiors.

i would argue we have relatively low opportunity equality as well. we spent the last 40 years focusing on racial or demographic equality of opportunity, but that was never the real difficulty. the hurdles to owning business are too great. the hurdles to getting jobs are too great.

starting a business is gated behind massive red tape, on top of the restrictive capital requirements.

pretty much all middle class jobs are gated behind a 4 year degree. a degree that is a social construct obstacle, not a measure of intelligence. its a financial barrier and time investment. some degrees actually mean something, granted. but there are thousands upon thousands of jobs out there that require a 4 year degree in ANYTHING.

the 4 year degree requirement for middle class jobs is an opportunity gate FAR GREATER than any racial or protected class discrimination gates.

yes wealth disparity is a problem, but the main issue confronting the poor is opportunity. the 4 year degree gate, imo, is to force the poor to do jobs noone wants, even tho the poor have the capacity to do higher jobs. its effectively a caste system restriction. a degree in history doesnt make someone a better employee in anything except teaching history. yet having that little piece of paper opens up many opportunities outside that field.

+1
Oct 11, 2012
Scott, I think you underestimate our current situations proximity to Ben Franklins maxim.

There is a kernel of truth in most things. Romney said we have 47% paying no fed income tax. Those on the bottom are ALREADY voting themselves \$, and have been for a long long time.

Obama paints romney as a rich guy who is gaming the system. Again, kernel of truth. The rich arent large in numbers, so they "vote themselves money" by getting others to elect the politicians they can control.

USA needs a more clear mission statement. the constitutions threefold mission isnt clear enough. we spend almost 1/3 of our budget on the poor, and we tax the rich at almost 10% at times, while young single adults near poverty level pay over 20%. both of these things cause inequity, and the 2 party system is the author of them.

we already have ppl voting themselves \$. the poor directly do it, and the rich indirectly do it. of course as a rich guy franklin probably didnt mind the rich indirectly doing it, as he saw them as a benevolent force, but it doesnt matter. when groups (any group including rich) start voting straight selfishness-a known vice- (not self-interest) democracy wont work. we have both rich and poor trying to make laws unfair for the other and trying to hijack govt policy for their ends.

the republic has a critical mass of ignorance and indifference to issues (intellectual) and a critical mass of selfishness (emotional). together this makes ppl ripe for propaganda manipulation. thats why we got so much class warfare and "discussion hijacking" by minor issues.

its why body language and appearance dictate winner. obama looks down when romney attacks him, shaking his head, therefore ppl think romney wins. romney meets obamas gaze when obama attacks him, therefore ppl think obama has no dirt on him.

it no longer matters what content is because ppl cant (or wont) hold candidates accountable for lies (romneys plans) or for mistakes (obamas track record) on their own. they wont hold them accountable unless media runs a story prompting them to.

-6
Oct 11, 2012
Kingdinosaur, look up the Dunning-Kruger effect. You're no better than the *worst* of the ignorant masses. Your arguments are laughable and could be plucked straight off Fox.

Let's take your notion that people would only vote if government made them a billionaire. Can't you see the elementary flaw with this idea? *There isn't nearly enough tax dollars to make the average voter a billionaire*. It's not even vaguely on the cards, and could not happen, ever.

It's possible there might be votes for redistribution, to make the average income more approximately even. But there are perfectly sound reasons why they would not vote on perfect equality -- *as they had the chance before repeatedly* (look up Huey Long and the Share Our Wealth program, if you have the capability).

And if they did vote for some redistribution, the data suggests that a more equal society would be better than the one we have. Economic growth was strongest when income inequality was lower. Research on Gini coefficient shows that inequality correlates with the worst social illnesses.

But you don't care about the facts, I assume. You have an ideology -- backed up with brain-dead fallacious arguments and crankishly excessive appraisal of your caliber relative to the masses.

+5
Oct 11, 2012
[Nine thumbs down, but nobody has given me an answer. Why would equality mean the end of the Republic, when all the data on Gini coefficient and history of wealth inequality suggests the opposite?]

Don't be naive. There's no such thing as equality and there never has been. We've only shifted the ways in which society and our laws are unequal.

WATYF

+6
Oct 11, 2012
[higher income citizens vote for Repbulicans because they are promised money through lower taxes]

Lowering taxes is not giving people money. It's simply not taking from them what they already earned.

WATYF

Oct 11, 2012
I fail to see evidence that most Americans make any decisions rationally.

+8
Oct 11, 2012
@Therion

[A perfectly reasonable question. If you can't back your opinions up with an argument, then you're an intellectual gnat on the same platform as the Tea Party. And all the thumbs down in the world won't change it.]

Call us whatever you want. It won't change the fact that you're not persuading anybody. If anything your tactics drive folks away from your point of view.

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