An Alternative to Democracy?

(Photo: Kim)

With the U.S. presidential election nearly here, everyone seems to have politics on their mind.  Unlike most people, economists tend to have an indifference towards voting.  The way economists see it, the chances of an individual’s vote influencing an election outcome is vanishingly small, so unless it is fun to vote, it doesn’t make much sense to do so.  On top of that, there are a number of theoretical results, most famously Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem, which highlight how difficult it is to design political systems/voting mechanisms that reliably aggregate the preferences of the electorate.

Mostly, these theoretical explorations into the virtues and vices of democracy leave me yawning.

Last spring, however, my colleague Glen Weyl mentioned an idea along these lines that was so simple and elegant that I was amazed no one had ever thought of it before.  In Glen’s voting mechanism, every voter can vote as many times as he or she likes.  The catch, however, is that you have to pay each time you vote, and the amount you have to pay is a function of the square of the number of votes you cast.  As a consequence, each extra vote you cast costs more than the previous vote.  Just for the sake of argument, let’s say the first vote costs you $1.  Then to vote a second time would cost $4.  The third vote would be $9, the fourth $16, and so on. One hundred votes would cost you $10,000.  So eventually, no matter how much you like a candidate, you choose to vote a finite number of times.

What is so special about this voting scheme?  People end up voting in proportion to how much they care about the election outcome.  The system captures not just which candidate you prefer, but how strong your preferences are.  Given Glen’s assumptions, this turns out to be Pareto efficient — i.e., no person in society can be made better off without making someone else worse off.

The first criticism you’ll likely make against this sort of scheme is that it favors the rich.  At one level that is true relative to our current system.  It might not be a popular argument, but one thing an economist might say is that the rich consume more of everything – why shouldn’t they consume more political influence? In our existing system of campaign contributions, there can be little doubt that the rich already have far more influence than the poor.  So restricting campaign spending, in conjunction with this voting scheme, might be more democratic than our current system.

Another possible criticism of Glen’s idea is that it leads to very strong incentives for cheating through vote buying.  It is much cheaper to buy the first votes of a lot of uninterested citizens than it is to pay the price for my 100th vote.  Once we put dollar values on votes, it is more likely that people will view votes through the lens of a financial transaction and be willing to buy and sell them.

Given we’ve been doing “one person, one vote” for so long, I think it is highly unlikely that we will ever see Glen’s idea put into practice in major political elections.  Two other economists, Jacob Goeree and Jingjing Zhang have been exploring a similar idea to Glen’s and testing it in a laboratory environment. Not only does it work well, but when given a choice between standard voting and this bid system, the participants usually choose the bid system.    

This voting scheme can work in any situation where there are multiple people trying to choose between two alternatives — e.g., a group of people trying to decide which movie or restaurant to go to, housemates trying to decide which of two TV’s to buy, etc.  In settings like those, the pool of money that is collected from people voting would be divided equally and then redistributed to the participants.

My hope is that a few of you might be inspired to give this sort of voting scheme a try.  If you do, I definitely want to hear about how it works out!

Leave A Comment

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.



  1. Adit says:

    What about the poor who cannot afford to pay, but nevertheless care about the outcome of the election results, particularly in developing countries, like India?

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    • Jerome Solanum says:

      Easy… make the first vote free.

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      • wiggly says:

        One person one free vote for the poor: one person, limitless votes for the rich. Sure, there’s a solution!

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    • Neil (SM) says:

      They simply sell their votes to more wealthy supporters of their preferential candidate.

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  2. Howard Brazee says:

    Isn’t that what we’re doing now? When Sheldon Aldeson calculates out the cost/benefit ratio of his investments in bribing political campaigns, it is an investment that helps him.

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  3. Sully says:

    I’d like to see the voting curve steeper. 1 vote = $1, 2nd vote = $10, 3rd = $100, 4th = $1000, 5th = $10,000, 6th = $100,000, 7th = $1,000,000 etc… each vote more expensive by a factor of 10.

    However, if this were ever to be implemented, it still wouldn’t change the fact that the rich are going to donate to campaigns more than the poor. It won’t eliminate political advertisements or PACs or Super-PACs. Hence, this will actually ENHANCE the rich’s influence, not equalize it as assumed in the “The first concern…” paragraph.

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    • Dave says:

      It doesn’t matter how steep you make it, the better ‘buy’ is direct purchase of others’ first votes, which is where the money will go.

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      • Tommy Schouw says:

        In “normal” democracies, it’s Illegal to purchase votes. Would the aim still be to keep it illegal, or would that just be seen as a rational extension of the system?

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      • Rob says:

        I agree, Dave. Rather than spend the money on voting your own votes 500 times, a multimillionaire or billionaire would use that money to buy the votes tens of thousands of others. Those others would profit exponentially from selling their vote for more than the dollar it would cost to use it.

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      • Clancy says:

        More important than it being illegal, a secret ballot (which I assume is preserved under this scheme) makes it impractical to buy others’ votes because there’s no proof that they voted the way you paid them to.

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      • Travis says:

        Well, on the other hand it would be much easier under such a system to buy the first, say, 20 votes of 50 people than to buy the first vote of 1000 people. While it may be cheaper to do the latter, it will be more practical to do the former.

        While it increases cost, it will reduce risk of both being caught, as well as the risk of the payees voting for the adverse candidates.

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      • JAM says:

        In reply to Dave,

        This may be true, but by raising the price of subsequent votes, you will also be raising the market value of people’s 1st votes if they choose to sell them. In the end you will still increase the cost to people trying to buy elections.

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      • Andy says:

        It’s actually still possible to buy votes even with a “secret ballot”, depending how it’s implemented. One way is to have people vote absentee (by mail). Another way is to give voters prefilled ballots. Another is to have voters take a photo of their ballot along with some unique identifier (like their ID).

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      • Me says:

        That’s right, Dave. The wealthy buy votes. Levitt says this is a problem….then allows the crickets to go back chirping.

        Good grief. Did Levitt even bother to do the math? For $1.4 billion an election could be completely purchased and delivered.

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    • Eric H says:

      Think of the revenue that would generate! :)

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    • Adam says:

      Interestingly enough, let say we remove the secret vote policy, and allow vote buying. Also, at the same time, make the cost of buying votes scale with the amount of votes you buy, regardless of whose doing the voting. There are some details to work out there, for example who gets the money of the more highly valued votes, but two points. First, I’m not smart enough to game out what that does to the political system, but I think it would be incredibly interesting. Second, that would have the effect of directly distributing money from the incredibly rich to the not so incredibly rich, wouldn’t it?

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  4. Dayna says:

    What about money or volunteer hours or other charitable donation? This system could do a lot of good, both for our federal coffers and understaffed charities. Too bad it’s so anachronistic to the American ideal of democracy that it doesn’t stand a chance of implementation.

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  5. Tommy Schouw says:

    As an european, it’s always interesting to see both how “bad” your voting strategy is, and to see the Stockholm syndrome caused by the widespread corruption.

    Economists are no longer trying to stop the corruption, merely systemize it.

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    • Steve O says:

      I’m very interested to hear about this “widespread corruption” in American voting that you seem to be an expert on.

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  6. Democracy Rules says:

    Like many economic and political science theories, this may sound good on paper, but end up being pure crap in reality.

    Do you think that mine owner who sent his employees the “if Mitt doesn’t win you could all lose your jobs” would hesitate one bit to add $5 to each employee’s pay (or more likely threaten to withhold $5 FROM their pay) to entice force them to vote for Mitt. Or that Sheldon guy who’s given $50 million to Newt and Mitt won’t try to buy the election?

    Just because the current system does not do enough to restrict the wealthy from bastardizing democracy does not mean we should say “screw it” and let them win – even if the theoretical methods create better (but NOT best) results.

    One person, one vote – period.

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    • Travis says:

      It seems to me this would be most problematic in small, rural counties that depend on mining or other energy industries. When the energy co employs a large number of the county population, it would be very easy for them to say to all their employees “If this county votes in Candidate X, everyone gets a $100 bonus.”

      While it would be arguable whether this is “buying” votes or not (because technically they aren’t soliciting directly), it would be even easier to do under the proposed system.

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    • Neil (SM) says:

      I suppose the mine owner believes (or wants his employees to believe) that if his guy doesn’t win then his operating costs — be it from taxes, indirectly through regulations, whatever — will become so great that he will be out of business. In that case, there’s really only so much he can do. If he spends enough on voting to influence the election, the net result is that he may very well be shelling out the same amount of money he would have been had he simply lost the election.

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  7. David Bley says:

    Our system already allows those with more money to exert more influence.

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  8. Seminymous Coward says:

    One huge problem with letting real elections work like that would be the fact that electoral systems are used to decide on the rules for those systems. No amount of television selection bidding will affect the way televisions are selected, but politicians can and do alter the way that they are themselves elected.

    Imagine the following progression: The first new election uses $1 to start with quadratic growth. Later, the rich vote that this changes to the “more fair” system starting at $2. Several more iterations later, the rich have voted that the best system is $1,000 with linear growth fully tax deductible, and the poor have long since stopped having the ability to meaningfully influence results, even in aggregate. Somewhere along the line, restraint in rigging the economic rules to favor the rich would likely have dropped off, too.

    The self-modifying nature of election rules makes their balance precarious. Slippery slope arguments very much apply when there really is an analogue to momentum in the system.

    I’d also note that a system that overtly and explicitly favors the rich is very much at odds with both our inherent sense of fairness and the manufactured consent view of democracy. It’s probably not great for the long-term stability of the country trying it, either.

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    • J. Goard says:

      Seems like long before that point, the relatively poor masses would have realized another factor that influences the type of electoral system we have, namely, the potential to riot, smash department store windows, loot and burn, pull rich people out of their cars and string them up in the square. Whatever incremental change gets made, it has to be rhetorically successful at keeping the vast majority of people complacent, right?

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  9. Ian M says:

    This voting scheme can work in any situation where there are multiple people trying to choose between two alternatives — e.g., a group of people trying to decide which movie or restaurant to go to, housemates trying to decide which of two TV’s to buy, etc. In settings like those, the pool of money that is collected from people voting would be divided equally and then redistributed to the participants.

    Sometimes someone buys the “election”. We’re going to this restaurant (which you may not want to go to). It will be my treat.

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  10. Ian Woollard says:

    You didn’t quite get it right, each vote is proportional to the number of times you previously voted; so it’s 1+2+3+4+… which is a triangular number; goes as a square of the number of times you voted.

    The other cunning thing is that the cost of voting is given back out evenly to all the other voters or registered voters.

    That means that even if somebody buys the vote, everyone else gets compensated.

    So (for a fictitious example) even if Donald Trump spends more than a million pounds to buy an election that has a thousand people voting, they each end up with a thousand pounds to compensate for the fact that they would no longer have a wind farm or whatever next door.

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  11. Nico says:

    Would we be able to deduct voting payment from our taxes?

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  12. bob says:

    I think the fallacy is in the article itself where the argument is made that the rich SHOULD have more political influence because they are rich. That’s a circular argument. Perhaps we should be looking at ways to balance the system to make the influence of the rich less than it is now, rather than more.

    But there’s also a scaling here. Casting 500 votes would be $40M. Right now that’s a bit less than greedheads like Sheldon Adelson are paying to buy the current election. So if the richest 500 Americans paid $40M for 500 votes each this would be 250,000 votes. And it would cost $20B. Of course they’d write this off their taxes, etc. And would 250,000 votes be enough to swing an election?

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  13. Nylund says:

    Isn’t money a poor metric of “how much people care” due to the fact that money, like most things, provides decreasing marginal utility.

    That is, if Bill Gates and I both equally “cared” about the result, we wouldn’t necessarily assign the same dollar value to that level of caring because the marginal utility he gains from those extra dollars is much less than me purely because he has so many of them.

    $1,000 means a lot more to me than it does Bill Gates. If both of us spend $1,000, that expresses a lot of “caring about the income” on my part, but very little on his. $1,000 is pretty meaningless to him.

    Just because someone spends more does not mean they care more. They could actually care less. It all just has to do with the relative value we place on the dollars spent, which, in turn, is a function of the total amount of dollars we have at our disposal.

    It’s sort of funny how integral the idea of diminishing marginal returns is to so many economic theories and how often it’s so utterly forgotten once people start talking about the efficiency of the price mechanism, totally forgetting that the units of that price are subject to the same diminishing returns as everything else and are a function of the buyer’s total stock of dollars.

    The assigned dollar value is NOT purely a function of how much they care about the thing they’re buying, but also a function of how much they care about those dollars. Two separate issues are being conflated in one number.

    Now ponder that idea within the context of extreme wealth inequality and what that means for the efficiency of the price mechanism.

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    • Andy says:

      There’s no reason that marginal utility of money has to decrease. It could just as well increase. For example, say Bill Gates only cares about eradicating malaria, and nothing else gives him much utility. Then until he has enough $billions to achieve that goal, his utility is very low.

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    • Neil (SM) says:

      I wonder if it would change if it were something like the Swiss speeding tickets which are calculated proportionately to one’s income.

      Although this may just lead back to vote buying — the multi-milionares simply pay

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      • Neil (SM) says:

        Oops sent too early. Continued:

        — the multimillionaires simply buy their votes from the poor.

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  14. Dan says:

    We should be able to vote multiple times on this topic.

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  15. Tyrone M. says:

    Money is a ridiculous mechanism. A much better system would be a 10 question knowledge test, that confirms your understanding of the political positions/philosophies of the conservative/liberal agendas: ie supply side taxation vs progressive taxation. You answer all questions right you get 10 votes. You answer none or 1 right you get 1 vote. The politicians spend so much money and time blurring the lines, that if you don’t know which party favors climate change legislation then your vote should not count as much.

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  16. Clancy says:

    Ok, I see two potential improvements:
    1. Since it’s important to have as few barriers to voting as possible, make the first vote free, and apply the cost structure to any additional votes.
    2. The reason this system favors the rich, is that the rich have a declining marginal value of their money. So the system is not measuring the strength of your political preference, but the ratio of your political preference to the marginal value of your dollar, which for a very rich person might be high, even if his political preference were weak.
    Index the cost of additional votes to the person’s income (from that year income tax returns) say 0.01% of gross adjusted income.

    So the formula becomes: C=I*(0.0001)*(n-1)^2

    Sure the system would be a huge pain to implement, but as long as were wishing, I’d like a pony.

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    • Seminymous Coward says:

      This is hugely better, but it’s still problematic for two reasons. First, the marginal utility of money is not directly proportional to its percentage of income, although it’s substantially closer than dollar amounts. Second, the tax-related definition of the word “income” is warped to the point of inaccuracy, particularly for the wealthy.

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      • Travis says:

        Not to mention the fact that we would hear all sorts of noise about “class warfare” and other practical political problems and other incentives it may create.

        Under a system such as this one, A Wal-Mart employee may only cost a few hundred dollars for 10 or 20 votes. While say, the owner would be paying thousands of dollars for his second vote.

        Under such a situation, there is a huge disincentive for the owner to take part in the process in the intended (and legal) manner. So then if the owner really cares about the election, it would make more sense for him to set up some other method to secure votes, such as paying his employees (or giving bonuses depending on the outcome, or threatening firing as we’ve seen in this election).

        Further, you might argue that what makes this an even more perverse incentive is that it would give the owner a strong incentive to artificially depress the wages on his employees, to ensure that it remains cheap to buy their vote. Then, he can use the money saved to sweeten the deal further with each employee.

        Seems like there would have to be iron clad checks against such behavior in such a system, and I am not confident that such checks could be instituted.

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  17. Michael says:

    It WOULD be a nice way to gather taxes… With the added incentive that the rich would actually volunteer to pay more…

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  18. txdave22 says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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  19. Eric M. Jones. says:

    “…So restricting campaign spending, in conjunction with this voting scheme, might be more democratic than our current system…”.

    …when pigs have wings and Hell freezes over….

    I would like to see long prison sentences for major vote fraud. I mean Diebold (lawsuits and investigations still pending), whose voting machine division was acquired by Election Systems and Software (ES&S).

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  20. Jorge says:

    I find it troubling that you would state

    ” In our existing system of campaign contributions, there can be little doubt that the rich already have far more influence than the poor. ”

    in this article when previousely (and consistently) you’ve argued for the non-influence of campaign contributions in outcomes…

    I’m not saying one denies the other, but it sure looks quite disrupting… As for the rest, sincere admiration from an anonymous economist

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  21. Johnson says:

    I like this idea and even went to the trouble of RTFS. I think a change that would make it slightly more palatable to the US populace is to shift the signs on the first vote. Instead of “paying” $1 to vote once, you “get” $1 to vote once. Then every vote after that is exponentially price.

    – This incentivises all people to vote (even economists), thus [probably] balancing the 500 votes one person might buy with 500 people voting once.
    – The cost is paid for by people who vote more than once (3:1), so it’s cost free.
    – It somewhat mitigates “vote buying” in that the buyer has to cover the second vote price (plus the voter’s cut) which is much higher than buying one vote.

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  22. Mark says:

    Isn’t this already being tested on InTrade ( where you can bet on the election?

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  23. NoahLuck says:

    It’s instantly obvious that it’s much cheaper for the rich to donate to their fellow partisans in order to buy votes. So it’s pretty much guaranteed that this system would fail.

    If you want votes to capture the strength of preferences, then just use range voting. Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem and the related theorems simply don’t apply to it because it’s cardinal rather than ordinal.

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  24. NoahLuck says:

    Donate all the money raised to the people who voted for the losing candidate. That way everybody’s happy.

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  25. Charles L. says:

    I don’t like squaring. I’m tempted to say X^10, but after 3 votes most people would just give up. Another idea would be to try X^2 for the first say 4 or 5 votes, and every consecutive vote costs 10 times as much, so as to dissuade excessive vote-buying. Alternatively, you could have every additional vote be weighed less and cost more. The second vote costs $4, but only buys you half a vote, the third vote costs $8, but only buys you a quarter. This way we can say that no one individual has even twice the democratic say of his fellow man.

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  26. David Leppik says:

    Others have mentioned numerous faults with this system. I’ll mention only one.

    Explicitly tying money to votes turns voting from a purely civic activity to a monetary activity. As with many things,* once you bring money into the equation, it changes how people view it.

    (*A colorful example mentioned in the Freakonomics book is sex.)

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  27. Bob says:

    The other snag with this scheme is that it basically introduces a poll tax, which have been declared illegal pretty much everywhere on the basis of disenfranchising voters who cannot afford the fee/tax.

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  28. SunnyvaleCA says:

    I’d turn the payment on its head: your vote counts proportional to the square root of the amount of taxes you paid in the previous 4 years. People who put the most money in in taxes should be entitled to the largest consideration in the election process. People paying less than $1 in taxes would get a default value of 1. I think this system would create a feedback loop that would drastically reduce tax rates; a default, followed by greatly reduced government services, would follow. Perhaps the resulting new policies would be seen as more “fair.”

    While I’m serious about the above suggestion, here is one that I don’t think is a good idea… if you want to increase voter participation and allow people to feel that their vote “counts” then each vote is written on a raffle ticket, a ticket is drawn on November 6th, and that luck winner’s vote determines the outcome. For the voter’s safety, the owner of the winning ticket would not be disclosed.

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  29. Larry A. says:

    This idea is ridiculous and fundamentally goes against the steps taken towards inclusion of all historically discriminated against groups in the political process for the past 100 years. I think it is a useful to have this sort of conversation though, as the current system is far from perfect…
    I see no purpose for tying payment to this system. Why not let people vote as many times as they want without paying. Time is a resource just like money. If I have the time to vote 100 times a day then why limit my access to vote because I do not have the financial resources? It doesn’t limit the ability for someone to buy my votes…but what’s to keep me honest. Obviously time is money, so those with income who can afford to take time off from work to devote unlimited hours to voting would also be an issue, but that’s an even stronger case for removing the cost/vote idea from what was proposed. Those with money will still be able to vote as much as they can afford to…and those who are unemployed will have new day jobs during political season.
    Good read though.

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  30. Jason M Stewe says:

    How about this: You can vote on any candidate, but your vote will be randomized, because acctually doesn’t matter who is the president.

    Just kidding.

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  31. Brent says:

    I think sortition would more effectively solve the problems of our representative democracy.

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  32. Michelle Ma says:

    I think that flatly, that sounds really stupid. It’s just a roundabout way of buying votes, and in the Roman systems, buying votes kind of operated that way. To get he first 50 votes, might be relatively easy, but it gets harder and harder with cross-candidate competition, geography, finding people to go around getting people to comply. It’s remarkably stupid to just justify the ‘rich’ and it makes no sense. How can people even say that in our albeit elusive democracy where people have little power but a small and dinky vote to cast every 4 years. There are disabled and old people out there who proudly cast their vote. IT is significant for people, and it cannot be measured by money.

    Obviously, there are major problems with election politics like the exaggeration of stances during election and then the commonality of policies in very institutionally bound practices of actual governance. Not to mention that you have the problem of wars of rhetoric and people just not wanting to hear things that might actually help them. Anyways, I think economists should read some theory from places that are not the products of childish fantasy.

    Also, has the friend studied fascism? Corporations would buy many votes because then they could have their candidate pass ‘reforms’ that bring them even more wealth!!!! It will not be people paying, it will be corporations paying! How is that for a cute little economic ‘what if’ spouting into a situation that results in the colonization of the people by state and corporate machinery?

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  33. Jim Hubbard says:

    I have a better idea. Let’s license people to vote.

    We have to get a license to open and operate a business. We have to get a license to drive a car. We have to get a license to shoot a squirrel. We have to get a license to catch a fish. But, currently, we do not have to be licensed to elect the people that will make decisions that can wreck our country and even the one person that could plunge us into a trade or nuclear war. That’s not even logical.

    According to key, in a study of 1,000 Americans, 38% of them could not pass the U.S. citizenship test to become a U.S. citizen. That means that almost 40% of American voters know less about our country and government than immigrants that become naturalized citizens. That should scare the hell out of you. It does me.

    We have people voting that have no clue how our government works, don’t know even basic facts about our country and have no clue what powers the persons they are voting for actually have. This means that they are easy to fool. They believe whatever they are told by any dishonest politician, and vote for politicians that promise what they can never deliver. This behavior is wrecking our country.

    If you want to save the U.S.A., teach people about the U.S., our Constitution, the powers of each political office and basic economic theories. Then license them to vote.

    We don’t let the mentally impaired enter into legal agreements or even live on their own, in many cases. We don’t let 3 year olds choose what vaccinations they will and will not take. We make choices for those not capable of making intelligent, informed choices on their own when they are ill-equipped to do so. So, why do we allow people that don’t understand our form of government or basic economic theory to decide who gets to old the nuclear football and who makes the laws and sets the taxes for us all?

    It’s high time we set aside childish notions of “fairness” and started acting in the best interest of us all. That means licensing people to vote.

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  34. Julien Couvreur says:

    How about no political system? How’s that for an alternative?
    The mechanism for voting is the least of the problems with democracy. The deeper problems are a monopolistic system, coercive power, misaligned incentives, rational voter ignorance, lumpiness, and more.

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  35. Alina says:

    This most certainly favors the rich and would seem very unfair.

    In an effort to place importance in how strongly you feel for a candidate, I propose that instead of paying for a vote, you need to give hours of community service for the right to vote in addition to voting multiple times after meeting certain quotas. This would allow equal footing in the electoral process and develop a scheme to better suited all people who feel strongly about a candidate.

    Say that in order to vote you need 100 hours of community service. Above that amount, additional votes would be in increments of 25 hours for additional votes. Alternatively if you are rich you can pay someone to work your community hours and gain votes that way while lowering unemployment. Hmmm…I may have stumbled on something here.

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  36. Vasu Malhotra says:

    Shouldn’t 100 votes cost 1+4+9+16+…+10000=$338350.

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  37. joey gates says:

    so who is going to win the election

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  38. Gomez says:

    How about instead of $1 for the first vote, $4 for the second, its 1% of (income+assets) for the first vote, 4% of (income+assets) for the second?

    This way, the rich don’t have an advantage.

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  39. txdave22 says:

    2012 Presidential Election Winner (Individual) (22 Markets)

    Barack Obama to be re-elected President in 2012

    Event: 2012 Presidential Election Winner (Individual)

    Mitt Romney to be elected President in 2012

    Event: 2012 Presidential Election Winner (Individual)

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  40. Chris Poulos says:

    Although the idea of buying votes as described sounds interesting, I think you’re really missing the point. The reason economists feel like voting is a waste of time is really due to our unique system of first past-the-post voting. In any given election, nearly half of all votes are wasted. Only the voters who cast for the winner end up with representation in our winner take all system. That’s the real problem, and it’s a shame.
    In the story, you mentioned that no single vote would ever decide the outcome of a given Presidential election in America, and that’s true, but not because voting is futile, but rather because in our plurality system we only give representation to a very small percentage of the electorate. In many other democracies there are very elaborate proportional representation systems that try and eliminate wasted votes, and ensure that every vote cast actually leads to representation. Instead of monetizing votes, we should just use a more equitable system of representation. This would involve changing the entire status quo, but is really the only viable solution to the problem of wasted votes. Even in a scenario where people can pay more to vote more, there will still be a huge chunk of the electorate who isn’t represented. They will be less inclined to vote next time, and feel left out of the system as they do now. This is why we have such low turnout in our country; people know that there’s a good chance their vote won’t even count, so why bother.
    If we switched to Proportional Representation, or PR, voters would at least get some representation if their party didn’t achieve plurality. Changing to PR would mean voters would vote for the party not the candidate. Although, there are some interesting variations that allow for individual preference. We could go with an open system, where voters choose either a block of candidates, or select ones in order of preference. We would have to change our congressional districts from single-member districts, to multi-member ones. But this would have a positive effect on reducing the effectiveness of gerrymandering.

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    • NoahLuck says:

      Yup. PR is clearly the best option when electing multiple candidates is feasible. I don’t see how we could use it to elect a President, though! A modification of Range Voting called Reweighted Range Voting is a practical way to have a Proportional Representation system that doesn’t require party lists or blocks of candidates, which I’ve been told tend to insulate corrupt politicians.

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  41. Jorge says:

    There´s a mistake in the calculations; if the first vote costs $1, the second would cost $4 and the 100th would cost $10.000, so the cost of casting 100 votes would be $338.350 (not $10.000 as stated)

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  42. W.T.F. McAstounded says:

    An idea “so simple and elegant that I was amazed no one had ever thought of it before…”

    Professor, I am certain that many, many people have thought of something like this before–for example, those who wish to suppress the poor or those who let the idea pass quickly through their brain because they recognized it as unworthy of further processing. You have mistaken the combination of idiocy and obliviousness for genius. If Professor Weyl were a strategist for the Plutocratic party, this would, indeed, be a wonderful idea. But if his goal is (as I imagine it is) to improve on democracy, then this is just another sad example of why economists who do not understand the nature of their subject matter (and by that I mean “social life as it is actually experienced by humans,” not “economic theory”) will invariably produce breathtakingly stupid ideas. Speaking of which, I think that this revolutionary voting scheme would make a fine first chapter for SuperDuperFreakonomics. You could call it “How is Everything in the World like a Mathematical System” and just get it all over with in one superstorm of sophistry.

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  43. Steve Nations says:

    If I pay extra, can I give comments on this blog more than one like/dislike vote?

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  44. Zach says:

    You’ve got me laughing all the way to the bank with this idea:

    “one thing an economist might say is that the rich consume more of everything – why shouldn’t they consume more political influence? … restricting campaign spending, in conjunction with this voting scheme, might be more democratic than our current system.”

    Oh you economists are just too funny! The problem with your ideas is that they all revolve solely around money. Which works great, so long as money isn’t corrupt, inefficient and harmful to most people.

    Your above statement is a great example of how to optimize the corrupting influence of money. And arguing that it’s “better than what we have now” completely misses the point that what we have now is already pretty terrible.

    Voting in a Democracy is probably a waste of time. Voting in an Economocracy is definitely a waste of time.

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  45. Nick Mastronardi says:

    Weyl’s recommendation would, I think, result in a first-price all-pay auction between the two parties; expenditures toward a single outcome not recovered if you loose. Parties would then have an incentive to coordinate expenditures between constituents to ensure maximum votes cast per dollar spent by party constituents.

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  46. johnwerneken says:

    Gee I thought of this decades ago, it gets at what is wrong with politics: to vote is free of charge. No one cares about anything that is free. Hence we get all the problems we have. If you can vote FOR every expenditure that pleases you, and AGAINST any tax you would prefer not to pay, or have someone else pay, PRESTO! Instant societal bankruptcy, which is what we have! As usual a good description of the PROBLEM or question is also a good description of the SOLUTION or answer.

    I think the philosophical breakthrough is deciding that morals values desires principles and the like are just so much baloney, except to the extent that they facilitate practical accomplishments, or not. As practical accomplishments tend to be measurable – goods and services or even better, their money cost or value in the eyes of the individual humans considering acquisition of an output or the provision of an input, running EVERYTHING by individual free choice and money measures just makes sense. It is something we can all agree on/ It is the ONLY something conceivable that we could all agree on. So what’s not to like?

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  47. Neil (SM) says:

    It’s not just giving more voting power to rich individuals that’s the problem. This seems like it will just give an extraordinary amount of voting power to large corporations who can afford the most votes. So every candidate will simply pander to them.

    Sure, I suppose they can make a rule that all of the money has to come from real-live humans if they deemed this problematic, but certainly there would be ways around that. And then we get into the problem of auditing where all of the voting money comes from.

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  48. Neil (SM) says:

    Also there’s this problem standing in the way:
    U.S. Constitution. Amendment 24

    Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.

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  49. Peter says:

    How about a system of deferred voting? So, if you vote in one cycle, but prefer not to choose amongst the alternatives available your vote could accrue for a future election. Bypass choosing a Presidential candidate for 8 years and cast 3 votes in the 12th.

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  50. INTJ says:

    Since this would be considered a poll tax, against which the Supreme Court has already ruled, the exercise is pretty much academic. That said, it’s also a pretty stupid concept. “People end up voting in proportion to how much they care about the election outcome.” It is absurd to equate the ability to spend with caring. A billionaire has a lot more money to spend than I do, but that means that, by definition, the money has less value to him. Spending more of a resource that is inequally distributed doesn’t demonstrate more caring. As any economist ought to know. In the end, the people who pull the lever have all of the power, and that’s as it should be.

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  51. Tim says:

    Well, how about this scheme, that recognizes the State for the corporate entity it is, with citizens as shareholders:

    Everybody gets one vote
    One additional vote for each ($XXXXX) paid in taxes

    Pretty simple…

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  52. pawnman says:

    It could be a way of collecting more revenues from the 1% as well. At least this way, they’re buying something with their money instead of forking it over because the government says so.

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  53. Branden Gemzer says:

    For the record, i think its a horrible idea, but fun as a thought experiment. I think it needs an offset of -1, so the price would be free for the first vote, 1 for the second, and then 4,… so on and so forth. That way everyone gets 1 vote for free.

    In reality, we could give every voter a tax credit of say $5 for voting in the general election, and fine people $5 for not voting if we wanted to monetize voting.

    The vote is the only defense nonmoney individuals have remaining against corporate and wealthy interests. If Sheldon Adelson is willing to put forth 100 million to have a chance to sway votes, how much would he be willing to put forth to directly buy them? Alone thats 10,000 votes, enough to sway electoral college seats in battle ground states. A handful of billionaires could easily buy our government directly through this system.

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  54. Brad says:

    I like it. I think there would be ways to limit vote buying

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  55. Alex says:

    This post is just deceiving. I am all about thinking outside the box and that’s why I like sites like freakonomics. But do you really think this would work? what happens when there is a company (person) that has more money that a country? Can they buy the whole country using this system? It is naive to think that democracy is free of economic interests, democracy has always been about economic interests. The problem is that the actual democratic system doesn’t represent the interest of the whole free market, it represents the interest of different monopolies. How fast a system like the one that’s been proposed would evolve to a oligarchy or a totalitarian regime ie. the absence of democracy?
    To me a really innovative idea from an economic perspective would be to incentive the supply side of the democratic market, this means giving incentives to make people care about the outcome of the elections. Because even if it is true that an individual vote can’t affect the outcome of an election; the inverse is also true, the result of an election affects everyone no matter how much you’d cared.

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  56. David Naas says:

    I am reminded of an old proposal by Robert Heinlein, wherein a voter would place one ounce of gold on deposit outside the polling booth. Once in the booth, the door would be sealed, and before voting, gthe person would be required to solve a quadratic equation. If the person successfully solved the equation, they would proceed to vote. If they failed, they would be “disposed of”. while the proposal was certainly tongue-in-cheek, it would improve the gene pool. Similarly, the idea in Starship Troopers (the book, not the execrable movie of the same title), wherein in order to vote, one had to serve a minimum of two years in public service, said service not necessarily to be of the individual’s choice. (can anyone imagine current candiates working two years as garbage collectors before running for public office?)

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    • NoahLuck says:

      Go Heinlein. :) But more seriously, change the question and we’ll get a different answer.

      Forget “What is the best system of voting for aggregating preferences?”. Under what system of voting are the right decisions most often made?

      “Competence-Weighted Democracy”
      Votes are weighted by the posterior log odds of the voter correctly predicting Yes/No propositions about matters that are expected to hinge on the vote. The votes of voters with negative weightings receive zero weight until they are right often enough to bring their weightings back to a positive value. Before a voter has recorded votes on a particular topic, his/her prior log odds are zero.

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  57. polistra says:

    I’d rather see a system that lets you express relative enthusiasm without involving money. For instance, say this year’s ballot has 30 sets of choices. You get 30 ticks, to distribute any way you want. You can distribute them evenly, one tick per choice as usual. Or you can put all 30 ticks into No on the school bond and ignore everything else. Or 15 for Libertarian Mary Jane Blunt for Governor, 5 for Yes on the legalize-pot referendum, and 10 distributed elsewhere.

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  58. Nate Curtis says:

    Excellent post. Our little Econ group was batting around similar ideas at lunch this week and went down a similar path. However, we speculated that progressively expensive voting iterations would be inefficient since the voters would just be stumbling about in isolation for a fair market value of their political will.

    We speculated that an Ebay-style vote market would be more efficient at producing results that most closely matched collective political will. For example, being from Arizona, I don’t care much about who wins the senate seat, I might put a minimum bid of $20 on my senate vote. However, I care a great deal about the outcome a certain proposition, so I might put a minimum bid of $5,000 on that vote.

    Then let the market decide the collective value of our political will. If the vote on the proposition goes against what I want, I have no one to blame but myself, but $5,000 might make me feel less guilt.

    Did you come across any research or have any thoughts pertinent to the Ebay hypothesis?

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  59. Ben Mingo says:

    a better idea would be to have everyone take a test that is non-biased on the current stances/world affairs/etc and depending on what they receive score is how many votes they receive. Obviously this idea is too simplistic and comes with its own problems, but makes much more sense compared to the money suggestion. What drives me crazy as a voter is how someone who spends way too much time trying to informed on all the candidates positions (at least I think I do) vote is equal to some random persons vote who is swayed by some emotional political ad.

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  60. Chris O says:

    In the Sci-fi classic Starship Troopers, only those that served in the military “earned citizenship” and could vote. Perhaps if there was a strong domestic civil service program, akin to Americorps, you could create a scenario where military and Americorps members could vote twice, earning that “extra” vote for service to their country.

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  61. Aveek says:

    I think this is an interesting idea, but there are few reasons why I’m sceptical (diminishing marginal utility, behavioural economics). If you’re interested, I’ve blogged on it:

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  62. Gkm says:

    This is a ridiculously bad idea. You think people who are deterred to pay nothing to vote will pay to vote? The only ones will be those looking for financial gain ie the rich will hold more sway.

    That is unless vote buying is encouraged without verification. Then people would get paid to vote and the rich would have to believe they voted in the way they contracted. But then the rich would figure this out and change the law again or just not do it.

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  63. Elliot says:

    Depending on where the proceeds would go, wouldn’t this be a tax? Everyone will benefit from more people voting. Even those who don’t vote.

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  64. RobRob says:

    Instead of pay money, make the voters run. For every mile you run throughout the year you get one vote. Tackle obesity and voter interest with the same stone.

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  65. Randy Hudson says:

    In corporate governance, it’s one share, one vote. One can also spend one’s money to acquire proxies, the right to vote others’ shares, or less commonly, to rent shares (and temporarily control their voting rights). Have these methods not been studied in “business” schools? Wouldn’t the results of those studies be pertinent to social governance and voting?

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  66. anadromy says:

    I believe the English invented the term “wanking” for ideas such as these.

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  67. Eric says:

    Hurray for plutocracy!

    I can’t even believe anyone is taking this seriously, even for a few seconds. You would realize more concrete success if you were trying to build a time machine.

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  68. Avash says:

    So the big innovation is taking into consideration the strength of voter preferences? I get that this is pareto efficient but having a just system is much more important. This is a cute economic idea, but I’ll stick with democracy.

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  69. Sethblink says:

    Any time you tie money to votes, you are inviting disaster. I want to run for President on a platform that says that businesses shouldn’t pay taxes, capital gains taxes are 5% across the board and individual income tax maxes out at $1 million per year.

    There are over 10,000 people in America that earn over $5mm per year. If every one of them gave me 1,000 votes, it would cost them $1mm each (a drop in the bucket compared to what they would save) and they would cast a total of a 10million votes for me. If every one of them offered people $20K to vote 100 times for me (it would cost the voter $10K so he’d pocket $10K) for another $1mm, they’d buy 5,000 votes. Multiply that by 10,000 and I’ve got another 50million votes.

    I’m oversimplifying, but this system would make it so beneficial to any candidate to favor the rich. The free market economy already does that enough and sadly, so does our electoral system. Why do it more. This is one of the worst ideas I’ve ever heard of.

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  70. Matt says:

    First, this whole scheme would likely be deemed to be a poll tax, and thus unconstitutional.

    Second, I’m grateful that the author is honest enough to acknowledge in the title that the system described would NOT be a democracy, as the concept of purchasing access to the political system is the purest definition of oligarchy and plutocracy there is.

    Third, the author’s suggestion that such a system would favor the rich more than our current model is blindingly obvious. Even if the cost of purchasing additional votes increases exponentially, the rich are still going to have the resources to purchase these extra votes while the poor do not. Thus, it becomes “one man, one vote, one CEO, 20 votes, one corporation, 20,000 votes”. The only way such a system could be even remotely balanced would be if there was some kind of cap in place that mandated a limit to the number of votes a person could purchase, but consider, in light of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, what would there be to stop a Sheldon Addleson, George Soros, or any other mufti-billionaire from forming a bunch of SuperPAC’s with the sole purpose of raising money to purchase additional votes for the candidate of their choice while masking the sources of the money. Truly, truly frightening.

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  71. Kevin says:

    Problem: President is not the only elected office. On my ballot this year, I had the president, my U.S. Representative, my state Rep. and Senator, my state’s attorney, my county recorder of deeds, three spots on the Water Reclamation District board, an Illinois Supreme Court vacancy, four ballot questions including two constitutional amendments (one Illinois and one U.S.), dozens of judges running to retain their seats, and a few more that I’m forgetting. With all of the races on every ballot, and local races every year, and primaries every other year, one of two things would happen: voting would get prohibitively expensive very fast, or anyone could easily buy their way into an elected office.

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  72. Aaron says:

    Hi Steven, long time reader first time commenter–and I love thought experiments like this.

    Doesn’t such a system fall prey to the same problems as, for example, video lottery terminals? An individual does not correctly calculate their risk or likelihood of rewards and ends up drastically overspending. And just like video lottery, the people most likely to overspend are those who can least afford it.

    I mean, imagine a person taking out a second mortgage to buy extra votes because they believe that it increases their expected value on the election’s outcome? Now imagine they’re in, say, downtown Manhattan, and so even a billionaire’s investment isn’t going to be able to rock the boat.

    My second objection would be the patronage angle. Imagining a hypothetical world where no one can donate or spend a dime in election advertising or issue advocacy, only buy votes, wouldn’t corporate benefactors directly quantify their support in number of votes to campaigns, expecting patronage in return? Presumably for privacy purposes, ballots would still be secret, but for transparency purposes, the number of ballots cast would be public–what’s to stop an agent of an interest group from “voting” 1000 times, and reporting to each of the campaigns that their votes went there? Or even assuming there’s no secret ballot, what’s to stop an actor from voting for both parties simultaneously as a hedge, in proportions that reflect the candidates chance of winning?

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  73. chris9059 says:

    “What is so special about this voting scheme? People end up voting in proportion to how much they care about the election outcome.”

    This statement is simply false. Like a great many arguments made by economists it ignores the fact that wealth has declining marginal utility. David Koch could spend $10 million on votes without sacrificing the fulfillment of any other desires (indeed it is reported the Kochs have spent $50 million in this election) that does not mean he “cares” more about the outcome of an election then someone who can only afford to spend $10 on votes.

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  74. crash_dt says:

    If done right on a national scale one could imagine a small economy of vote trades, like on eBay :-) … guess it’d have to be a lot more secure and vote proving would be difficult. ie. There’s no way to know that the person whose vote I bought on the other side of the country will cast it in the manor which we agreed, even a computerized system to track this or ‘lock’ votes in at time of sale wouldn’t be trusted nationally, and would be prone to hacking as any system is no matter it’s encryption.
    That mess aside … sounds very economical. But I suppose you’d have to set a minimum sell price that is quite high, then it may have an effect to help almost stimulate the economy directly from the rich to the poor. Then I suppose “vote crime” would spring up … hmm interesting system in small groups for an outcome that is not so potentially or perceptually life affecting.
    heh … that was wordy, my apologies … just got me thinking as Freakonomics always does!

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  75. Todd Sullivan says:

    There seems to be an overwhelming assumption that folks will sell their votes to folks who want them to vote inconsistently with their own views. If the Republicans and Democrats are similarly funded, can’t you sell your vote to the candidate you want to elect? And wouldn’t that be the optimal solution? If voting 10 times costs a total of $375, aren’t you going to be willing to sell those 10 votes to the candidate you support for $375 (i.e., without profit), while voting against your personal interest would require a premium.

    And I’m not sure how this system creates an opportunity to buy other people’s votes that did not exist already. This system only creates an opportunity for volume purchasing.

    I don’t think deviating from one vote per person could ever get popular support, but I think it would be a nice government revenue source and it could funnel money away from the other irritating campaign expenditures. And I don’t think a secret ballot minimizes corruption, I think it merely changes its form. If you have in excess of a million dollars passing hands within each voting station, well I don’t think you can have money, politics, and not have corruption.

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  76. Richard says:

    There’s a good theoretical reason why this isn’t a good idea. What Steve suggests is a Bayesian prior: the strength of conviction should also be weighed in the vote-as-assessment. But what if, as in a neural network, an equally-weighted distribution is better, since you don’t necessarily believe that strength of conviction necessarily achieves a better outcome?

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  77. Clifton says:

    If your goal is to let people who care more vote more, why not scale the price by net worth? Say, first vote free, and then nth vote costing .01% of net worth times n^2. That way everyone can have between 1 and 100 votes. This would save Levitt’s voting scheme from being based on obviously false assumptions about the marginal utility of wealth.

    One could also allow for other ways of showing that one cares. Perhaps one’s vote could count as the square root of the number of minutes you’re willing to spend waiting. (Suddenly Republican election officials would discover that they actually could do something about wait times in Broward county.)

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  78. Richard Townsend says:

    I think 1oo votes would be more costly than $10,000.00 as that is only the cost of the one hundredth vote. Would you not have to add up the costs of the previous 99 votes to the tally? 1, 4, 9, 16……..the 99th vote would cost $9801.00. I’m sure someone can do the math.

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  79. Jeroen says:

    The obvious problem seems to be that this assumes that dollar value and preference are somehow linked. Surely, this would only be the case if you priced the votes according to peopl’s income.

    The 10th vote costs a poor person relatively more (v-a-v his income) than the 100th vote of a rich person.

    So why is dollar value used instead of percentage of income?

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  80. Jaime Hammond says:

    Why not instead of being able to buy votes with money, you buy them with time? Like, say, you get an extra vote for every 4 hours spent doing some sort of volunteer work. While the amount of available leisure time to convert to votes might not be evenly distributed, it’s certainly much more so — after all, nobody could possibly have more than 24 times as much as anyone else. What’s more, how much work you’re willing to do is a much better indicator of how much you care about something than how much you’re willing to spend.

    Of course, we actually have this kind of system somewhat in place already: if this election cycle has shown us anything, it’s that the returns from a strong ground game — more volunteers making phone-calls, knocking on doors, getting out the vote — diminish a heck of a lot slower than those from as spending.

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  81. JA says:

    The 24th Amendment would get in the way, too: The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.

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    • pawnman says:

      Well, if the first vote is free, is it really a poll tax? You can still vote, just like normal. If you want the privilege of voting more than once, you pay for it.

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  82. Paul says:

    The rich wouldn’t actually be paying anything since they can get their money back in the form of government contracts and payouts (ie. tax reductions and grants). Even if it became apparent,
    there is now no way of getting rid of the corrupt government since the people with the money can just keep buying the government in an endless loop.

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  83. Ed says:

    I suggest a slight modification to Glen Weyl’s voting mechanism. Let’s charge for voting, but the first vote costs 0.1% of your net worth, the second vote costs 0.4% of your net worth, the third vote costs 0.9% of your net worth, etc. Of course, this still favors the rich. A voter with a net worth of $100,000,000 could vote three times and still have a net worth of $99,860,000 which is much more than a person with a net worth of $10,000 who votes three times and reduces his net worth to $9,986. Okay, I rescind my suggestion. Let’s stick with one vote per person.

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  84. Ed says:

    Let’s look at the intended objective: “skin in the game.” Using dollars to represent skin in the game assumes a constant value for each dollar. For a father with a disabled, unemployable wife, three young children, and two $8/hr, 30-hr/week jobs, a dollar represents much more “skin” than it does for a multi-millionnaire with two homes, no mortgage, and two years worth of liquid assets.

    The father making minimum wages might have just as much passion about the outcome of the election as the multi-millionnaire. However, his ability to cast paid-for votes is not equal.

    So, is the intended purpose really to give those whose dollars are worth less skin a greater voice in our government?

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  85. Frank says:

    Democratic arrangements ideally make those in political office answerable to an electorate. One person one vote remains the least biased way of achieving this ideal. Skewing voting influence according to disposable wealth would obviously favor the wealthy, who tend to benefit from the kind of financial incentives that discount the well being of the collective, and especially those with less disposable income, like progressive taxation. Bush tax cuts and the rise of the Superpac shows where this can lead. Fortunately for democracy in the US, the demographic shift and Democrat efforts to galvanize voting neutralized the impact of Superpacs in 2012, but only just. One person one vote also ensures that those with most to lose have most incentive to vote, which overcomes the natural inclination not to make the effort because each individual vote has a negligible impact (an argument of those with least perceived skin in the game).

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  86. Betty Chambers says:

    I would like it that when someone who IS a living, breathing American citizen can only vote once, from wherever s/he likes on this planet (or off planet), and it counts.

    We have the technology to handle this. Even countries that are supposedly less advanced than the US handle voting in a better matter.

    I’m infuriated by states that take days or weeks to count votes. It’s ridiculous. That kind of sloven incompetency is deliberate.

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  87. William Sears says:

    I think it would work better if you got one free vote, and then paid k*exp(n) for the nth extra vote. (K is the base price–it could be small, like a dollar or so). This makes it cheaper to buy a few votes, but more expensive to buy a lot of votes. That seems fairer to me, and it fits Zipf’s law better, which is a decent approximation to wealth distribution.

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  88. liybpg says:

    How about a % of income / assets? That way we can really tell who it matters to the most. As $1 to rich person is not the sames as $1 to a poor person. But 1% is probably the same.

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  89. Imad Qureshi says:

    Would the money I am going to use to buy votes be tax deductible?

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  90. BillKnous says:

    I’m open to the concept, and Goeree and Zhang’s paper is intriguing….but where (or better yet to whom) would the money go? To the candidates to finance campaign costs?

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  91. Denman Gordon says:

    Can I get a more informative detail of why voting does not work?

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  92. Richard says:

    It’s more important that the candidates be improved.
    It does us no good if we can only choose between evils of one degree or another.
    What I would like is a super parliamentary system.
    Each person can assign their votes via proxy to a candidate.
    Get enough proxies, you can vote on legislation.
    Even more, you are allowed to propose changes to legislation.
    Even more, you are allowed to submit the legislation to be considered.
    Voting rights are in proportion to your level, perhaps even down to the # of voters.
    Proxies are revokable at any time, but may only be reassigned to a new candidate at
    defined intervals (or perhaps a set number of times per year to prevent abuse).

    So, a jerk can be quickly reduced in stature and power if need be.
    I’m sure we would need some safe guards here, but you get my point.

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  93. t301 says:

    This is madness, totally.

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  94. Jeff Byers says:

    This system ignores the fact that $10,000 is nothing to some voters, who might see it as an investment on preventing the capital gains tax from rising, something that could cost that individual tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. Meanwhile, the wage-earning elementary school teacher who sees what budget cuts has done to her school couldn’t dream of spending $10,000 to vote in equal proportion to that rich voter. This would simply make it easier for the rich to buy a government that favors their interests at the expense of the common good.

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  95. Julianna says:

    I honestly think this idea would work overall. It would effectively separate those who are more interested and had a higher stake in the outcome of an election from those who vote to get the little “I voted” sticker. I can see the draw back that the rich would have a higher influence but that really is no different than the already existing campaign contributions and kickbacks received.

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  96. Whitney says:

    I think that Glen’s voting mechanism could work for our country. I think using this method of voting would of course have its advantages and disadvantages. An advantage would be people who are more interested and informed are more likely to put more effort and money behind their cause. A disadvantage would be some people may not be able to afford to vote as many times as others.

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  97. Jamie Parrish says:

    The voting scheme presented here is an interesting way of looking at the voting system, more straightforward than the already heavily influenced campaigns of today. Also, given limited knowledge of candidates in America today already, votes being bought out in Glen’s system is not much unlike the constant commercial bombardment that is experienced.

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  98. Kelsey says:

    Although charging for a vote would probably call attention to the most wealthy and arguably most educated of our people, these people would most likely have similar views to one another and the vote wouldn’t accurately reflect how the country feels as a whole. Also, when the wealthy have their own best interests in mind they probably aren’t going to vote for policies to strengthen the poor and middle class, so inequality in our country would increase.

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  99. Laurie says:

    A woman I knew directed that on her death all her possessions were to go to auction and her surviving family members should bid at auction for anything they wanted. Family members bid against each other, and against the general public. When the auction was over the proceeds were split equally among her beneficiaries. One of the outcomes was that prices were driven up, but if a beneficiary won an item they would also get it at a steep discount because they received a portion back when the auction proceeds were split. If a non-beneficiary won an item presumably it was because they were willing to pay more than a family member. If one beneficiary had more money than another (and could bid on more items), one of the poorer beneficiaries could bid them up in an attempt to get more proceeds after the auction. Also poorer beneficiaries could pool their resources against richer ones.

    Voting should be like that. How much are you willing to pay for a vote in an auction? All those people who don’t care to vote would benefit by selling their votes. Anyone who wanted to, could vote at no cost, and if you cared enough to pay the going rate you could buy as many as you could afford.

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  100. Warren D. Smith says:

    see this analysis majorly refuting Weyl and Goeree/Zhang:

    “Monetized score voting” is my name for
    an idea advanced in atrocious work by several economists
    (2012-2013) and improved/corrected/examined by me.
    The idea is by PAYING to cast your score voting ballot according to
    certain carefully designed price formulas, you will become inspired by the
    profit motive to vote honestly. Unfortunately this disregards some massive
    real world problems, but it might be ok in some corporate votes and also
    (if the whole max-profit-motive-theorem is abandoned instead merely
    seeking to discourage exaggeration in range voting)
    as modifed by us even perhaps in governmental ones.

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  101. Anonymous says:

    Democracy does not determine what is right, it determines what is fair…

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  102. Brittney says:

    so, the percentage of Americans that aren’t wealthy don’t have as much say as the people with money?

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  103. B says:

    How about you can vote however many times you want but you get an electric shock every time you vote.

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  104. Xabier Burgos says:

    The currency is wrong, we can always print more paper, the only real currency for humans is time, everyone without exception has a limited amount of it, and extending it (a significant amount) is nearly impossible.

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  105. Bill says:

    So, have you read Catch-22? I first read the book in the early 60’s and I think it was the first time I ever saw the proposal that rich people should have more votes. Of course it was a satire, but apparently you take the idea seriously.

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  106. Sah says:

    This system not only seems to exacerbate the inequalities between rich and poor by creating a cost some people cannot afford, it also tweaks the system in favour of the ones who have the most extreme political ideas, since they put higher value on getting them enforced. Hence a squeeze of the centre and an over representation of the extremes.

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  107. Chloe says: implements quadratic vote buying (actually exponential vote buying) for social news voting. It aims to be an objective, unbiased source of fact-based news without censorship.

    @Adit RE: the poor: actually the poor benefit by voting one share, because not only do they get their vote back, but they receive any excess from extreme people that vote multiple times. In the current system, the poor have no say anyways. Many poor don’t even bother to vote; there’s no incentive!

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  108. Denis Afonin says:

    “This voting scheme can work in any situation where there are multiple people trying to choose between two alternatives — e.g., a group of people trying to decide which movie or restaurant to go to, housemates trying to decide which of two TV’s to buy, etc.”

    Let’s say 3 people are trying to decide which of the two restaurant to go to.

    Person 1 really wants to go to McDonalds and bids 2 votes, paying 4$;
    Person 2, on the contrary, want to go to KFC and bids 2 votes for that, paying 4$ as well;
    Person 3 prefers KFC, but not as much as Person 3, and bids 1 vote, paying 1$.

    There are more votes for KFC in the end (3 against 1), and the tax pool is 9$. Single paybacks to each participant are 3$.

    Now question: How come Person 1 lost in voting and lost 1$ was well? And how come the most moderate voter (Person 3) gets both to go to KFC and earn 3$?

    In this example, both unfortunate voter 1 and the fortunate voter 2 both compensate another fortunate but less active voter 3.

    Any ideas on this weird outcome?

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    • Chris Magyar says:

      The beauty of this system, to me, is that this is exactly the outcome in any even election — moderate voters are compensated for their support, providing them an incentive to make a decision. Die-hards are effectively subsidizing voter turnout. People will quickly realize that there’s financial benefit in registering and showing up to lodge their vote. For this to work, however, there’d need to be two crucial features in the system.

      1) First vote is free.
      2) Dollars collected are distributed evenly to all participating voters.

      Otherwise there would be an arbitrage opportunity in not voting at all, or registering but not bothering to vote.

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  109. Peter says:

    Read this post in your new book – love the bathroom-visit-sized chapters :)

    I tried this once with deciding on the master bedroom with my roommate. There were two of us and two bedrooms. We liked the total price and location. Last item was to decide on who got the master bedroom. We considered a few options (like splitting rent 50:50 and deciding on a coin flip) and decided to do an auction of sorts, here were the rules:
    – we each start by writing the highest price we would pay for the master room.
    – we then share the numbers.
    – the highest bidder gets the master and pays the average of the two numbers.

    For example:
    – rent is $1000.
    – I’m willing to pay 700 for the master
    – my roomies highest bid is 600
    – I get the master and pay 650.

    This seemed to be a pretty rational and effective method. Everyone wins as you either get the large room or pay less than expected for the smaller room. Many people did not understand or agree – figure you’d get the same response for changing our country’s voting system – many better ways to do it, but many people feel “icky” about it. Maybe in 1000 years!?

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  110. Guy Griffith says:

    Loved your books Freakonomics and Super Freakonomics! And I just started reading “went to rob a bank”… All of the stories in your books are fantastic at the moment of reading,,, but just like good food that we put into our bodies , your stories break down into the vitamins and supplements of thought that are needed to strengthen our ideas and help build new ones.
    Voting multiple times is an idea I have thought about for many years, and with the rise of technology there is no reason we should be limited to voting on one single day, or having no recourse to change our minds. I enjoyed the story about multiple voting in your new book “went to rob a bank”, but I think it barely scratch the surface of what could be a need to change,and may have missed the whole Mark when it comes to elections with the monetary approach, which does seem valid in small group decision dynamics.
    I would love to see a world where we vote as many times as we wish, (not that we get multiple votes, I’m saying we can change our vote as many times as we wish, four days or even years before the final date of the election) and there will be a deadline when the decision must be made for the new president or Government official, and on that zero hour the votes will be counted, and even if they are or disputes there can be a day or two of reconciliation (in other words you can verify that your Social Security number actually corresponded to the candidate you desired) all social media and other websites could keep a current calculation of who the people want in office all through the year. i’ve also been sad when torn between multiple candidates and have often wished that there would be a formula for determining how many you can pick. Such as,,, if there are 20 candidates running you get to pick five, or if there are 10 candidates you get to pick three. (this would prevent splitting votes) .
    In my thinking there is no price per vote, and I know you guys or economist so that may make you sad, but I just don’t think that would be Democratic, however, you would like that I think you must have skin in the game, if you want to vote. In other words there may be some qualifier, whether it’s your level of education or acreage of land, or time spent in the military, or some worth to your existence…

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  111. Chris Magyar says:

    You’d definitely have to make the first vote free, or there’d be an arbitrage opportunity in not voting.

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  112. Cheryl says:

    Applying it in theory, indeed it will make the voting appear to be more just and depicts the actuality of outcome more appropriately.

    However, did you consider that in the US political parties are essentially made up of two with supporters having a substantial gap in terms of their relative income?

    Republicans have always favored the free market ideology which cuts tax and allows them to have more autonomy in conducting their businesses. Surely they will not hesitate to cast as many votes as they can, afterall, what they spent can be reap during the 4 years to come by many more times.

    This is unlike the other group, which are the ’employees’ which face limitations to cast as many votes as they can.

    Just consider that the market we live in is very extreme, with Bill Gates and Donald Trump’s annual income, they each can easily make up to more than 50% of the annual income in the work force of America, how can we make sure that this system is fair with the already great disparity in incomes by capitalist to workers?

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  113. Clay Shentrup says:

    See Weyl’s snake oil scheme reduced to a pile of smoldering rubble by a Princeton math PhD with 15 years of experience in electoral system design.

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