When Weirdos Get Elected
For readers who missed part 1 of this series of posts, I am summarizing a fictional novel written almost forty years ago.
Let’s be flies on the wall as a young woman journalist interviews a very old man about the changes that occurred in the United States as a result of abandoning the ballot and substituting selection-by-lot.
Journalist: Sir, can I get you a nice cup of tea?
Very Old Man: You can get me a double Dewar’s on the rocks, young lady.
She gets him his scotch—and a cup of tea for herself—and pushes his wheelchair out onto the sun porch.
The best change
J: Can we start by identifying what in your mind was the single best outcome of the switch to selection-by-lot?
VOM: Sure. We got rid of politicians. And we’ve got public officials who are actually representative of the population.
J: So no more electioneering, no need to pander for votes, no complaints about white males, that sort of thing?
VOM: Right you are. But also no more influence of big money, big lobbyists, no back-room deals. No opposition to otherwise sensible policies because they were proposed by this elite or that elite. There aren’t any elites any more, at least not among our public officials.
J: You don’t consider people with IQs—I mean, CQs—over 130 to be an elite?
VOM: No, because they—we—are perfectly representative of the broad public in every way except that high-CQ people are more capable.
J: Schopenhauer’s “despotism of the wise?”
VOM: Oh, I don’t know if smart people are any wiser than anybody else. Selection-by-lot works so well not because we’re starting with smart people but because we’ve eliminated all—or most, anyway—of the ways public officials get compromised.
J: So you would be in favor of reducing the qualifications for public office to, say, CQs of 120?
VOM: I would. In fact, I would be in favor of continuing to reduce the required CQ until we start having trouble. A CQ of 120 would still put you in the top 10 percent of the population.
J, nodding: Okay, let’s move on to something else. The United States didn’t completely eliminate the vote. Why not?
VOM: Why not have the best of both systems? Let’s face it, there are some… well, weirdos out there and some of them are going to be selected for high office. We needed a mechanism to get rid of them and that mechanism is the recall election. It has a noble history, by the way, going all the way back to ancient Athens, where, like here, it was ensconced in their Constitution.
J: But has it ever been used? I don’t seem to recall an instance.
VOM: That’s because you’re younger than my necktie. Does the name Max Lustburg mean anything to you?
VOM: Mild-mannered actuary for the Wisconsin Department of Insurance, sixty-two years old, CQ of 142, was randomly selected to be the Mayor of Milwaukee.
VOM: As soon he realized the power the mayor could exercise, Dr. Jekyll turned into Mr. Hyde. The SOB couldn’t get any of his weird bills through the city council, so he started issuing executive orders, claiming there was a crime emergency. One time he issued nineteen executive orders in one month alone.
J: I see. The power went to his head and the good people of Milwaukee recalled him.
VOM: After only eight months in office—must be some kind of record.
J: What happened to the guy?
VOM: Nothing! He went back to the Department of Insurance and stayed there till he retired. They threw a nice retirement party for him.
J: The new Constitution also provides for ballot initiatives, but they haven’t been used much.
VOM: Interestingly, when people could vote for public officials the people were often extremely annoyed by the things those elected officials did, so we had lots of initiatives. But now that officials are selected by lot, people seem more satisfied.
J: There were the ballot initiatives in California and Oregon a few years ago.
VOM: Yes, and those were interesting. Before selection-by-lot there was a strong tendency for elected officials to raise taxes endlessly on high income people.
J: Well, they could afford it.
VOM: Sure, but I could “afford” to pay $10,000 for a bottle of scotch whisky. That doesn’t mean it would be a smart thing to do.
J: What you’re suggesting is that taxes were raised on the rich because there aren’t that many of them. If politicians raised taxes on the middle class they would get voted out of office.
VOM: Exactly. But as a result, in many states and cities 1% of the people paid 50% of the taxes. Most citizens paid little or nothing and weren’t invested in their own societies. They were just free riders.
J: I’ve heard it argued that those citizens were worse than free riders—they were hypocrites.
VOM: You mean that elected officials and advocacy groups would always talk about how important it was to fund certain programs—early childhood education, various antipoverty programs, direct payments to members of disadvantaged groups. And yet they wouldn’t think of paying the taxes required to fund those programs. They would only fund them if they could tax the rich. Hypocrites.
J: And now, with selection-by-lot there’s suddenly a lot of resistance by public officials to raise taxes on the rich, maybe because people with CQs over 130 earn high incomes in private life. The rich don’t want to be taxed any more than anybody else.
VOM: It’s certainly true that people with CQs above 130 tend to earn more than other people. I hope that doesn’t surprise you. But what happened in California and Oregon was that public officials raised taxes—and kept raising them—on almost everybody, rich and middle class alike.
J: And the middle class revolted?
VOM: You bet. Ballot initiatives in both states approved Constitutional amendments limiting tax increases over any five-year period.
J, checking her watch: It’s 9 p.m. Should we start over again in the morning?
VOM: Well, hell, you’ve kept me up an hour past my bedtime!