A voting advice system can change the game--not by removing money from the campaign equation, but by making it irrelevant to the election process. In effect, it "takes the money out of politics." That single change can enable a wide variety of progressive reforms that have found themselves mired in the mud of political inertia.
Let's play a thought experiment, to visualize the effect that a voting advice system could have.
You go to a website, or fire up a special RSS reader, and you get every recommendation available for an
upcoming election--but only for the issues and races in front of you, and only from people and organizations
Once you know you can do that, why would you listen to a radio ad? If Greenpeace
and Citizens for Science in the
Public Interest recommend Joe, what would care what Joe has to say about himself, or what his opponent has to say
Your organization knows 5 people worth recommending, in races all across the country. You can make those recommendations without spamming your entire list, because only people who have those races before them will see your recommendations.
With that capability, you are free to make recommendations all across the
country, in elections large and small. It
enables true "grass roots" politics, because you can help put people into minor offices, setting the stage for their
growth into larger things.
Next, imagine the network effects:
As an informed individual (on some subjects, at least), you get recommendations from several analysts you trust (in my case, I listen to experts on nutritional health like Dr. Mercola, Dr. Colgan, and Dr, Hyman). You collect advice from those experts, and pass it on to people who trust you. (Having declared yourself as an analyst, you could elect to receive every recommendation they make.)
The network of interconnections produces a broad "fanout" of information. So the advice of one analyst can wind up influencing millions of voters, in this system--even if those voters are not directly connected to the advisor. So when a politician enters the ring, they need only make their case to perhaps as many as a thousand analysts--but that is a far easier than attempting to reach millions of voters!
So, with this system, thoughtful analysis and trustworthy recommendations become the dominant factor in politics, rather than sound-byte politics and personal attacks, coupled with the money to repeat them until they are believed.
And imagine this:
Your organization, Greenpeace, and CSPI can discover that the number of people who are taking your recommendations in district X represent a "controlling interest", so to speak. Rather than making independent recommendations, for three different candidates--which throws the election to a fourth--you pool your intelligence and agree on one candidate, who is then highly likely to be elected.
In effect, the system has enabled multi-party politics in cyberspace, where
multiple organizations can form a
coalition to win an election. With such a system, the voting machines simply record the outcome, rather than deciding it. The real decisions are made in cyberspace, by people who are doing sufficient analysis to make a recommendation--and by the people who, in effect, have decided to be a willing proxy for them.
Finally, imagine this:
Politicians who get elected without having had to take a dime will have a whole different outlook on things. They'll be interested in a public health option for the good it does humanity, rather than its effect on the bottom line. They'll be interested in policies that protect the environment, rather than those that protect profits. The lobbyists will be there, and they should be. Corporate interests have a right to be heard. But suddenly, the analyst who represents a million votes will be ushered into the inner office--ahead of the lobbyist who merely represents a million dollars!
When money becomes irrelevant to campaigns, things will change rapidly.
Existing technologies suggest that such a system is eminently practical. Meanwhile, it would only take a relatively small percentage of voters to make a huge difference. And they system could even be self-supporting:
RSS feeds: Blog technology shows us that is possible to connect feeds from advisors to those who trust them enough to want to hear from them. In this case, the advice needs to be stored so it is always available, rather than disappearing from view, but the principle is the same: People only get advice from people and organizations they trust.
Voting Database: The League of Women Voters has a SmartVoter website where you put in your address and telephone number, and you get back a page that lists every issue and race you'll be voting on in the next election. With that information in hand, it is a simple matter for a specialized RSS feed agreggator (i.e. blog reader) to filter out any recommendations that do not concern you, the voter.
Independent Voters: In any election that is in doubt, independent voters determine the outcome. In general, 45% vote one party, and 45% vote for the other. That leaves 10% of voters who are "undecided". Those voters are crying for sources of information they can trust. As a group, they not to be all that active, politically, so they would love the convenience of having all the information they need to make an intelligent decision, all in one place. In short, it isn't necessary for everyone to use the system--it is only necessary to reach that critical 10% of the voting public--a population that would leap at the chance to use it.
I started treelight.com in 1998 in response to the ubiquity of a single harmful ingredient in the public food supply. (See What's Wrong with Partially Hydrogenated Oils?). Since then, I have become concerned about a number of other harmful substances. (See What's Wrong with American Foods?.)
But even more troubling than the immediate issues (which have yet to be fixed), is the "systemic" nature of the problem. During the 20 or 30 years it takes to alert the public to one danger, industry is free to institute many more. In effect, a health site such as mine (which represents the search for a healthy lifestyle) can wind up in a continual game of "catch up"--a game in which the public pays a heavy price for the time-lag in information transmission and dissemination.
On my way to becoming an activist, of sorts, I became alarmed about a number of other facets of a culture dominated by corporate wealth. To list just a few:
In 2005, I spent 5 months working on a book to examines the interplay of these societal facets at a systems level. The work quickly expanded to encompass 9 volumes, and I ran out of time before I could finish any one of them!
I have recently come to realize that "evil" is the act of harming others while
improving life for oneself. That's why we consider parasites as bad. There
are a few cases of "pure evil" (those who do harm for the sheer joy of it),
instances of real evil are accompanied by justifications that explain away the harm and/or a narrowing of focus that sees only the benefits while ignoring the costs to others.
So profit above and beyond all other considerations is a case of "evil", pure and simple. Profit, of course, is not intrinsically evil. When it derives from beneficial activities, it is a good thing, because it enables you to do more good things. But when the focus is on profit to the exclusion of all else, the question of benefits to others falls by the wayside. The question instead becomes, "What can you get away with?" The answer, when corporations effectively control government, is "quite a lot".
For another way to do things, a new book is coming out in January 2010 that should be a good read:
Today, money plays a significant role in the outcome of elections. Were it being spent on only one candidate, there might be a plausible argument for that role. But it isn't. Corporate money goes to both sides of most campaigns. Candidates who accept the money owe deference to those organizations, when elected. Those who don't find it hard to compete.
There are ethical organizations, of course. They are devoted to profit only to the extent that they achieve benefits for society. But such organizations are necessarily at a financial disadvantage when it comes to funding campaigns. Because they are not devoted solely to profit, their profits are more limited. That limitation, in addition to the relative scarcity of such organizations, effectively puts the legislature into the hands of the lobbyists for the less-than-truly-ethical. In effect, one of the teams owns the umpires, making it virtually impossible to get a fair game.
So if a company is devoted to profit first, foremost, and always--and if that company effectively controls the legislature--is it any wonder that laws protect profits, rather than people? Some examples:
In Europe, no ingredients are allowed into the food supply until they are proved safe. In America, any ingredient is allowed into the food supply unless (and until) it is proven harmful. The American policy protects the public against immediately deadly poisons, but it provides no protection from long term harm. Since it can take 20 or 30 years to produce the levels of obesity, heart disease, and cancer that raise an alarm, and since it then requires a sophisticated statistical argument to prove it, food companies have many decades in which to secure huge profits at the expense of long-term consumer health.
Today, conglomerates control industrial agricultural concerns, food manufacturers, drug companies, insurance companies, and financial companies. So they maximize profits on adulterated foods, sell drugs to counteract their harmful effects, sell insurance that covers the drugs (but not safe, effective nutritional remedies), and finance only those organizations that "fit in". The profits go into the bank while the consumer takes it in the neck.
Those factors represent powerful impediments to change.
But what if money were irrelevant to elections? What if people were making money based on the advice of organizations they trust, analysts who have time to investigate issues deeply, or even their pastor? In that scenario, corporations do not determine the outcome of elections, and impediments to progress simply vanish.
The goal can be accomplished. The fundamental components of the technology we need exists today. It's just a matter of putting things together in the right way.
In Newsweek (l4 Dec 2009), Dr. James Hansen wrote:
I believe the biggest obstacle to solving global warming is the role of money in politics,
the undue sway of special interests.
I could not agree more with that assement. But in addition to enabling climate reform, taking the money out of politics will enable many other needed reforms, as well:
People working to make improvements in those areas, and many others, may suddenly discover that the intransigent resistance they have encountered for so long effectively vanishes. It may take a decade, but the change will be swift, when it comes.
The concept of "election reform" is noble. But as long as it requires money to be effective, proponents of such changes find themself in a downward spiral. Lacking money, they can't be heard, and since they can't be heard, they can't change the system to one in which they can be heard.
The only solution to a losing game, game theory teaches us, is to change the game. A voting advice system is just that kind of change. It disseminates information across the network so rapidly, and so effectively, that money becomes irrelevant to the election process. In effect, the money is taken out of politics.
For an internet database that tells you exactly what you can vote on, and gives you direct access to at least some recommendations, see:
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by Eric Armstrong. All rights reserved.
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