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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
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Oct 10, 2012
This phenomenon of voting to optimize your own financial outcome leads me to the counterintuitive position wherein I disagree with people when they say that "money" has too much influence on our politics.

In this context, I think "money" is really intended to mean that "rich people" have too much influence in politics. However, rich people in this country (and I am not one of them) are severely outnumbered by non-rich people. Frankly, I believe the outsized influence that their money buys them is the only thing that counterbalances the numerical disadvantage that would otherwise lead the electorate to vote all their wealth away from them.

+8
Oct 10, 2012
Scott, it's adorable that you don't see how Franklin's quote has already come to pass. :Op

Corporations can vote themselves money in the form of gov't approved monopolies and favorable market manipulations.

Farmers (and numerous other groups) can vote themselves money in the form of subsidies.

Companies can vote themselves money in the form of handouts to certain industries that the gov't is trying to encourage or prop-up.

Union workers can vote themselves money in the form of... well... perpetuating the unions.

The average Joe can vote himself money in the form of Medicare or Welfare or Food Stamp programs or Student aid programs etc, etc, etc.

Pretty much every level of society has a reason to vote for a candidate purely based on what they're going to get out of it. The republic is already doomed.

P.S. Your plan for "calculating" average benefit per voter is ridiculous. The gov't can't even get unemployment numbers correct the month AFTER they happen. Odds or no odds, there's simply no way that they would be able to figure out how a given policy will or won't impact a market in the distant (or even near) future. That's why central planning fails. Because it's can't possibly account for all of the variables. This is why "projected costs" for gov't programs are pretty much always way below what the actual costs end up being (and why those gov't programs rarely accomplish what they claim they will accomplish from the outset).

WATYF

Oct 10, 2012
I think the Benjamin Franklin comment is mis-interpreted and has nothing to do with information. You must take into account the way society was at the time of his writing. People had to work for their support and carry their own weight(I'm talking about the vast majority). The one's that didn't were poor and did not have much. You could probably say they had it tougher than the working person.
Then Benjamin Franklin's quote "When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic." is actually"When people find that they don't have to posses a good work ethic or work for what they want or need, that will herald the end of the republic"
The problem is not information or the internet. The problem is human nature. We need to remember that the story of Robinhood is just that, a story and Governments should not and cannot effectivly be that Robinhood. When they do the end result can only be ticking off the ones that have and promoting all the baser traits(greed,envy,sloth,etc) in the have not's.

Oct 10, 2012
Why would the internet produce a model that encouraged people to seek purely selfish short-term gains only?

I find it much more likely that 17 different prediction models with different criteria will be produced once the first few models prove to be popular. Which puts us back at square one.

Suppose we did end up with a single model that spelled doom for the republic. We'd have coexistance for some time while the model tries to gain traction. But this will give the republic time to adapt or fight back.

Oct 10, 2012
["When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic."]

This is already happening, it is a silly argument, everyone votes in their own best interests. The rich vote and support those who will help them get richer (and who cares about the low life scum who work 80 hours per week at minimum wage - they do not need ANY help, afterall they make \$30,000 per year).

The poor and uneducated vote for who the ads convince them to vote for. The ads are wrapped in dead baby images or war images or fuzzy puppy images or Church or whatever, none of them truly help someone decide what is in their true best interest.

Assuming we all vote for who improves our lot in life the best, we would have a centrist government that helps the most people. Perhaps we would need a new rule saying we cannot borrow money for the government unless a vote is held, and hopefully we would stay sane enough to not vote for inflation or borrowing.

+11
Oct 10, 2012
The people found that they could vote themselves money a long time ago. For 36 of the last 40 years the US government has spent more money than it has collected.

Oct 10, 2012
[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.]

Name one administration in the past 30 years that this sort of thing has not happened in. Aside from a breakdown in compromise we seem to be doing okay regardless.

Oct 10, 2012
You should try writing the app. I'm pretty sure you'd find it difficult to predict what either candidate would do for anyone. Or more precisely, every probabilityu would multiply out to about 0.01... The biggest source of uncertainty is the careful vaguness of every candidate's plans.

Oct 10, 2012
Scott, I think you make a good point. It's just begging for a tragedy of the commons to happen. While I don't think everyone would be that irresponsible, I think in this day and age, if the average person found out they could get X more money by voting by a particular candidate, I think they would. The only way to counter this is to show the average person how much they could lose if the US's debt goes out of control and we turn into the next Greece.

Maybe the best thing we can do now is to teach people the best thing we can do for our country (invoking kennedy in the process) is to be as self-sufficient as possible.

BTW, the US isn't a democracy on purpose and this is one of those reasons. The idea is that an elected official with all the resources would be less susceptible than the masses. Unfortunately, the people who get elected in both parties are voting themselves more money via voting favorably on issues important to big campaign donors. DC seems to be proving Franklin right every time they have a vote.

-2
Oct 10, 2012
No need to worry, we're quite safe from this. There's no way the rich people will ever allow the poor people to vote themselves enough money to topple the republic.

The politicians might try lying about it as a campaign tactic but it won't happen.

Besides, how much money would they have to vote? The banking/auto bailouts and "wars" in Iraq/Afghanistan hasn't been enough to do it and that's an amount of money that normal people can't even conceive (if they could, there would have been blood running in the streets).

+2
Oct 10, 2012
"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 don't think the republic would crumble. It depends on the time horizont of the prediction. If the model takes into account your remaining life expectancy and gives a sort of preliminary view what your kids will face, the whole thing could become quite interesting. "You would be well off now, but live off cat food during the last 30 years of your life while your kids die of UV induced skin cancer" is a valuable information.

Is this the idea you were trying to sell? I like it and would contribute through a crowd funding pool.

-7
Oct 10, 2012
Sorry...bad reading comprehension. You already anticipated that citizens would vote in favour of free property. I'll read more carefuilly next time.

But why do you say "end of the Republic"? Why would taking money off the rich mean the end of the Republic? Just join the dots for me, because the argument looks dumb.

-2
Oct 10, 2012
Well, the Democrats and Republicans would simply disagree about who is going to make money for the average voter. And there would likely be no consensus among the thinktanks.

But you raise an important point. Say a political party comes along that promises to make land a public resource. Everybody is given a place to live for free of charge. Real estate businesses are shut down, but owners of a single home get to keep what they already have. Owners of multiple houses have to make a choice on which one to keep. Anybody who says this scheme couldn't work in principle is simply deceiving himself.

Now this political party would clearly provide the average voter more money in their pocket than either of the mainstream parties. Land would be free of charge, and a huge chunk of the average family's expenses would no longer be a burden.

When you put it in your terms (voting for money), how could anyone *possibly* fail to vote for a political party that made land a public-owned resource?

+5
Oct 10, 2012
It is inevitable and in fact the process has already started as evident from economic crises all over the globe.

For this not to happen, the constitution should bar a government from engaging in any form of subsidies/charity. Charity should be left to charitable institutions. Charity is not the government's job.

Sound heartless but ....

Oct 10, 2012
The root problem then is taxation, which guarantees that each payer gets in exchange, something different than what he pays. That's also the problem with Social Security, where every single person gets an amount back different (ignoring inflation) than what they paid throughout their career. In "political democracy", it's guaranteed that nobody gets equal value for equal pay. In "economic democracy", where you buy a product only if you judge it to exceed the cost, every time someone buys, they win. Economic democracy is therefore far superior. Interestingly, the ratio of economic is far smaller between the wealth of the richest person and the average, than between the voting power over millions held by a California senator, for instance, over 6 years, voting dozens of times for 20,000,000 people each, over that of the single vote held by each person every 6 years... for what is essentially a popularity contest where you get no refund if the product's description lied. The only recourse is an exchange 6 years later, of either the same identical product you wanted to return, or another product you can't exchange or refund.

+1
Oct 10, 2012
I don't think it would make much difference. Partisans would assume any projection favoring the other guy is biased propaganda.

+7
Oct 10, 2012
I don't think it would make much difference. Partisans would assume any projection favoring the other guy is biased propaganda.

Oct 10, 2012
Well, having poor people vote their own short-term economic interests would certainly be a switch from a bunch of rich people funding candidates who will lower their taxes at the expense of everyone else. That's short term thinking too, and based on our debt, it seems just as likely to bring down the Republic as anything Franklin believed the poor could dream up to do with their votes.

Oct 10, 2012
What you're describing is basically what the CBO does, when scoring a proposed piece of legislation. The CBO's scores, in retrospect, have no bearing on reality.

As for fact-checkers, I think people have largely tuned them out. I've personally seen a lot of them that follow this formula: "Fact Check: FALSE. While what the candidate is literally true, it is highly misleading, because ...". There are lots of variations on this theme.

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